This is a tough time for Christians. Implacable foes such as ISIS demand at the point of a sword that believers deny the Lord. I cannot fathom the terror and anguish that such believers face. I’ve heard first-hand accounts from Middle Eastern Christians, and before that from Christians whose families fled from Communist governments. I can’t know what I would do if put in their place.
Like most of you I have taken religious liberty as a given — as the “first freedom” on which the United States is founded. Surely nothing that we in the West are likely to face compares to the pressure that persecuted Christians must shoulder from day to day. It’s our solemn duty to do what we can to lighten those fellow believers’ burdens.
A fine example is Stream columnist Johannes de Jong, who works in the European parliament on behalf of Syrian Christians. We should support groups like Samaritan’s Purse and Aid to the Church in Need. They funnel material aid to believers who face the naked blade of Caesar, from Syria to Nigeria, from China to Cuba. In our own small way, each one of us can act like Simon of Cyrene, and lighten the weight of the cross.
On our shores the threats are less manly and candid. And more insidious. Here Christians who cling to the plain word of Scripture as known via Christian tradition aren’t terrorized. They are tempted, pressured, confused. Suborned, deceived and flattered, cozened, bribed and slandered. Here the church’s enemies use a wider array of weapons. The physical threat is less, but the spiritual danger greater.
How heavy must be the burden on our pastors. If they know the stakes that they play for, that is. They have read the warnings of Jesus — especially this one: “whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matt. 18:6) They know that this verse points to them. For this reason, the great Church father St. John Chrysostom said that “the floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” I’m amazed, in light of this, that men are actually willing to risk it.
And I’m all the more impressed when men do it right. When they act in the spirit of the actual apostles whose heirs they are said to be. No matter the cost.
A man like that is Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Illinois. That Catholic bishop has spotted the runaway train that is sexual hedonism and narcissism, which threatens millions of souls with misery in this life and the absence of God in the next. And instead of climbing on board or standing aside, he did what bishops should do (even more than ordinary Christians): He is standing on the tracks, pulling his sheep out of its path. And those who are driving the train are eager to run him down.
Last week, Bishop Paprocki showed the love of Jesus to homosexuals in his diocese. He did it not by “welcoming” them to abide in sin, draping his altars in rainbows and veiling the Christian gospel. He didn’t publish a book like the slippery Jesuit Fr. James Martin’s, which tortures the words of scripture to suit the whims of Caesar. No, Paprocki issued a document that was shocking for being obvious. He reminded his flock that marriage is still a lifelong chaste commitment between one man and one woman. The church cannot pretend otherwise, no matter what federal courts, wealthy pressure groups, or angry activists demand.
A church that denies or conceals this primal truth that goes back to the Book of Genesis is the vessel of Antichrist. Plain and simple. Caving on this issue now is no more honorable or compassionate than twisting the Bible to justify American slavery or German anti-Semitism, when those were the sins in fashion.
Bishop Paprocki, concerned for his own soul too, said, “Not on my watch.” So he made it starkly clear that Catholic priests in Springfield won’t do take part in it while he is bishop. His recent decision is bold, prophetic and honest:
If we believe what Christian churches have always taught about sex, these steps are obvious. To do anything less is to wink at sin. It’s to say out loud that the Gospel is less important than fitting in with the culture. That the souls of those trapped in sin matter less than our feeling comfy in 2017 America.
And of course, when you stand up to the culture, its guardians and enforcers are going to come for you. Bishop Thomas has called down upon himself all the forces of secular outrage, all the legions of “anti-hate” activists who rule over campus and chancery, media and government. Perhaps he won’t be physically attacked, as members of the Family Research Council were in 2015 by a gunman. But he will be picketed, barraged with hate mail, and see his religious services disrupted by protestors.
Perhaps the worst of all: Paprocki will find his fiercest critics among fellow Catholics. Not genuine believers who struggle with same-sex attraction. (For a powerful testimony by one of those brave souls, see Joseph Sciambra’s blog.) They know that Paprocki is courting violent hatred and legal persecution, out of love for them and their souls.
No, those who target this bishop will be Catholics who have already drunk the rainbow-colored Kool-Aid. Who have convinced themselves that the church has been wrong, dead wrong, about sex for 2,000 years. But Caesar, the culture, George Soros, and the secular courts are profoundly, prophetically right. Men like Michael Sean Winters at magazines like The National Catholic Reporter are already doing Caesar’s job for him. Winters is demanding that Pope Francis remove Paprocki as bishop for taking this stand. God forgive him.
And God bless Thomas Paprocki. He deserves outside support — our prayers, our letters, and yes maybe our money. (Fighting lawsuits isn’t cheap, and those are coming, count on it.) If we want courageous pastors, they need to know that we have their backs. That they’re not alone. That we thank the good God for them.