You may have noticed a few weeks ago that the Christian practice of Communion was making the news. It only made the news for a few days because it didn't garner the reaction that I think the media was hoping for, but it was enough of a blip that it's worth talking about.
Communion is just one of those things we can't talk enough about. (And if you're a member of my church, you know how much I love Communion.)
The headline was that the Catholic church was trying to decide if American President Joe Biden could still receive Communion or not because of the way he shapes his public policies on abortion. That is, he has a politic that allows for abortion and is very pro-choice in his governance. Biden's defense on the matter is that his public policy may not reflect his private faith. So he's drawing a line between what he believes and how he can expect others to act. In other words, he can't make everyone else be Catholic. Or even act Catholic.
If you don't believe there's a ton to dissect in this story, then I don't know what to tell you. There's a TON here worth talking about. And we're going to start with Communion.
The news that the Catholic church is trying to decide who can have Communion and who can't is shocking to some Christians. That's because not every Christian practices Communion in the same way, and what we have here is the concept of a 'closed' Communion.
Many churches practice an 'open' Communion - anyone who wants to have the bread and wine can have it. No questions asked. No admittance tests. No commitment tests. If you're in our presence and we're breaking bread, we have a piece of bread for you. Here you go. That's that. I happen to belong to an open Communion church/movement (the Restoration movement).
Other denominations and churches and congregations, however, have a 'closed' Communion. A believer must be baptized or must be a member of the church or must have professed a certain doctrine or must be living a certain life in order to be welcome at the table.
If you are living outside of the church - or if you're part of a church that doesn't celebrate Communion at all - then you probably don't care that much. It doesn't make sense to you, it's not meaningful to you, and it doesn't matter to you what the church decides to do with its members. (This was the general reaction from the world at large when the media tried to push the story - "who cares?") If you're part of an open Communion church, you think this seems harsh and not at all like Jesus. After all, didn't He break bread with Judas? Who are we to judge?
But if you belong to a closed Communion church, you get it. It means something to call yourself a Christian. At least, it's supposed to mean something. It's supposed to mean something to call yourself a member of a certain church. It's got to mean more than where you spend your Sunday mornings. So having a closed Communion is a way of saying that we are a fellowship who wants to do more than say nice things; we want to live lives that line up with our faith. We want to be a fellowship that requires a commitment, that facilitates a change, that marks our lives by something more than a bumper sticker or a logo shirt.
And that doesn't mean that you don't fellowship with those who haven't made that kind of commitment, who aren't marking their lives by the things of Jesus that are central to your faith. It means that you have separated your common fellowship from your sacred fellowship. It means that you have a different relationship with those you're still trying to show the way in than you do those who are already standing next to you.
It also means that you are planting a hedge of protection around that thing that is most meaningful to your faith. If someone were to look at Joe Biden, hear him declare his Catholic faith, and watch him enact pro-choice policies, they might not understand the church's teaching on abortion. They might not understand God's passion for life and life abundant. They might get the wrong idea about who you are as a collective people and what it means to be a people like you because this one person is misrepresenting something that is very important to you.
Abortion is not the only litmus test for Communion in closed Communion congregations. There are all sorts of standards that different peoples of God have adopted. And it's for this very reason - because it means something to be the kind of people they are striving to be, and they want to make sure that everyone who bears their name is committed to the same thing.
So that's how we get to the question: should Joe Biden be able to receive Communion from the Catholic church when his public image doesn't line up with what he claims is his private faith?
We'll keep talking about some of these dynamics this week. Stay tuned.