APRIL 28, 2003
Martin E. Marty
Call this column "Exclusion II." We can't answer your e-mail responses, though we welcome them and learn from them. And we rarely repeat attention to a topic, since there are so many objects of our "sightings" out there to treat. But thoughtful response to last week's "Exclusion" column (April 21) prompts a return to the theme, a report on your comments, and a bit of elaboration.
No respondent had trouble with the second of two examples, which dealt with the issue of public space, public time, public events. This referred to what happens when a religious group -- usually one that sees itself representing the Christian majority, but in a particular way -- stages a community event, e.g., a fast or prayer or repentance day and excludes other brands of Christianity, to say nothing of other religions. Such occasions prompt community debate, summarized in my two words, "No yawn," when it happens.
If that half of the column was "everybody's business," the first half talked about the "nobody else's business" kind of exclusion when one religious group, in its own space and time and world of events, takes down the "Everyone Welcome" sign. It's so common that I cited the public response: "Yawn." Some respondents thought we were suggesting that no one has the right to exclude.
No responses were critical of our Protestant in-group illustrations, but several readers-turned-writers thought I had lost my ecumenical bearings when commenting on Pope John Paul II. He had just issued a letter banning divorced-remarried Catholics from communion and forbidding Catholics to commune elsewhere. Didn't I know Catholic doctrine, they wondered? (Two readers had something wrong: they thought all Protestants believe that the bread and wine "merely represent" the body and blood of Christ. Check out us Lutherans; we and Catholics long ago agreed on the "real presence" and since 1529 have opposed the "represents" school.)
I believe that each group has a right to define its holy mysteries and control access to them, and if I did not believe that, it would not make any difference. When I said that the pope was signaling that Catholicism had gotten it right and everyone else was wrong, a reader or three said that was unfair. I've been to every kind of ecumenical gathering for almost a half century at which "intercommunion" was discussed, and respect the discussants. But while my characterization may have been colloquial, it is accurate. In official Catholic teaching, also after moderation at and after Vatican II, that is surely the assertion of the Catholic church (just as it is of huge numbers of Protestant bodies around the world).
We may regret policies of "exclusion" by those with other versions of our faith or other faiths, but it's "their business."