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Chapter 4 - Put Faith Above “Religion”

Woe to you, religious scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you shut the doors of heaven against men.
You neither enter yourself,
nor let those who are entering go inside

Woe to you, religious scholars and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you devour widows houses,
then make a great show out of your long prayers;
therefore you shall receive the greater damnation

Woe to you, religious scholars and fundamentalists, hypocrites!
For you cross both sea and land to make one convert,
and when he is converted,
you make him twice the child of hell as yourself.
- Matthew 23:13-15

The Bible shows that Jesus reserved his strongest words of condemnation neither for the prostitutes, adulterers, and corrupt officials who surrounded him; nor for Judas, his betrayer; nor even for Pilate, his executioner. Rather, his strictest sermons and harshest words were directed against those commonly considered the most righteous men of their times, a group of pious religious fundamentalists known as the Pharisees.

In the same way, it is the duty of the Christian Hero to speak out not only against the crimes and failings of the secular world, but also against those who misuse religion for their own ends. The fact that someone proclaims himself or herself a Christian does not mean that every word from his or her lips is gospel truth; nor should a self-proclaimed Christian be held to any less of a moral standard than anyone else. We live in a time where some of the loudest voices proclaiming their own Christianity are preaching messages of greed, intolerance, violence and self-righteousness, in direct opposition to the true teachings of Christ. No Christian Hero can remain silent while the Christian religion is abused by false prophets for profit and political gain. It is important for those who believe in Jesus message of love to identify themselves as Christians, and for those who are Christians to advocate Jesus message of love.

This week, take each religious message presented to you, and test it against the words of Christ.
Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day
Put Faith Above “Religion”

Dorothy Days views often led her and the Catholic Worker newspaper she founded and edited to put faith above religion by taking stances counter to those adopted by many other Catholics, especially when it came to the issue of war. For example, during the Spanish Civil War, most Catholics initially supported General Franco, despite his fascist politics, because he was against Communism, and a supposed Catholic. Unlike some of her radical friends, Day did not feel comfortable endorsing the Spanish radicals, some of whom had shown a willingness to attack and persecute the Catholic Church. She neither felt comfortable, however, supporting a figure as repressive and brutal as Franco. Instead, she called for both sides to lay down their arms. This pacifist stance caused the paper to lose over two-thirds of its circulation, and virtually all its support from within the Catholic Church. Her position, however, was later vindicated by Francos alliance with Hitler and Mussolini during the Second World War.

there were a very great many who had seemed to agree with us who did not realize for years that The Catholic Worker position implicated them; if they believed the things we wrote, they would be bound, sooner or later, to make decisions personally and to act upon them.
Dorothy Day, The Long Loneliness

Toyohiko Kagawa

Reverend Toyohiko Kagawa (Kagawa Toyohiko)
Put Faith Above “Religion”

Christianity is a minority religion in Japan. Even so, religious leader Toyohiko Kagawa was always willing to put faith above religion by speaking out against those who were straying from Jesus' message, even if they were members of his own church. This was a habit he gained at age sixteen, when he became the youngest person enrolled at the Meiji Seminary. There, he became notorious among his classmates for his outspoken opposition to Japans then-ongoing war against Russia. Even though the war was going badly, most people still considered it treason to make any criticism of Japans government or foreign policy.

One night, Kagawa found a group of older seminary students waiting for him outside the dormitory. Sullen-faced and hostile, they questioned him on whether it was true that he thought Japan was making a mistake by continuing the war. Kagawa did not hesitate to answer. His reading of the gospels had convinced him that Jesus would support a path of peace. "Yes," he said boldly.

That was all the others needed to hear. Without another word, they began beating Kagawa with their fists. True to his belief in non-violence, however, he refused to fight back. A moment later, the ringleader of his tormentors signaled the others to stop. "What do you say now?" he said.

Bruised and bloodied, Kagawa made his way back to his feet. "Forgive them, Father," he quoted, "for they know not what they do."

It is most unfortunate that Protestants carry with them a sort of spirit of antagonism, and that the Roman Catholics take an attitude of intolerance.
Reverend Toyohiko Kagawa (Kagawa Toyohiko), Christ and Japan

Archbishop Romero

Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez
Put Faith Above “Religion”

Archbishop Óscar Romeros calling to speak Gods truth brought him not only into conflict with the Salvadoran government, but also with members of his own church. Once he had been like them, a believer that the church should maintain a good relationship with the government, and keep its own focus firmly on spiritual matters. As he became more aware of the injustices taking place around him, however, he became ever more sure that he could only be true to the teachings of Jesus through placing faith above religion, and aligning himself with the poor and the oppressed.

One of Romeros first and most controversial acts as Archbishop was what became known as the "Single Mass." It was held in memory of Father Rutilio Grande, who had been murdered because of his work on behalf of exploited farm and plantation laborers. Two Sundays after Grandes death, Romero issued a cancellation of all other Masses throughout his archdiocese. Every Catholic in El Salvador who wanted to celebrate Mass that week was forced to attend the commemoration of Father Rutilio's life and work. The hundred thousand who arrived on Sunday, from around the country, witnessed the previously mild-mannered and conservative Archbishop preach a fiery sermon against the persecution of the church.

Among those outraged by Romero's unprecedented act was El Salvadors papal nuncio (ambassador from the Vatican), who called the Single Mass "irresponsible, imprudent and inconsistent." It was the start of three years of tension, not only between Romero and the nuncio, but also between Romero and many of El Salvadors other bishops, including some he had once counted as close friends. Before long, things had degenerated to the point where there were bishops openly attacking Romero in their reports to Rome, with some going so far as to accuse him of fomenting violence and supporting terrorism.

It was difficult for Romero to face opposition even within his own church, but his allegiance remained with God and Gods poor. Accordingly he persisted in the path that he knew to be right, despite the accusations that he had sold out religion for politics. Eventually he was vindicated, both by the support given him by Pope John Paul II during his life, and by being declared a candidate for sainthood after his death.

A religion of Sunday Mass but of unjust weeks
does not please the Lord.
A religion of much praying but with hypocrisy in the heart
is not Christian.
A church that sets itself up only to be well off,
to have a lot of money and comfort,
but that forgets to protest injustices,
would not be the true church of our divine Redeemer.
Archbishop Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, The Violence of Love

Closing Prayer (inspired by First Kings 19:11-12)

Dear Lord, help me distinguish between your voice and all the noise that can surround it. Amen.
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