The book is about the hospice care program at the Angola State Prison in Louisiana -- a program in which prisoners help other prisoners who are dying.
A small c catholic
I can't get those debased Marines off my mind -- the ones who turned up in a video a few weeks ago urinating on the bodies of dead Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.
Just a few days after Christmas, a historic Presbyterian church in midtown Kansas City, Mo., burned to the ground.
Westport Presbyterian Church had only a few dozen members, but my friend Scott Myers, the pastor, and some members of his aging congregation had figured out how to continue serving the kicky neighborhood that has been the church's home for 176 years.
One reason I've cherished my long and extinguished career as a columnist is that, as you well know, columnists have the gift of prophecy.
In fact, we have a double gift of it. First, we speak resolutely with our prophetic voice, calling on the world's many wayward people to do the right thing, which always means urging them to do what we columnists want them to do. Or at least what we think will amuse us if they really do it.
The sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church has awakened many people -- even some bishops -- to the sickening realities of how this could happen. But just when we think we understand abuse, we hear another story that makes it clear our knowledge is insufficient.
That happened again to me recently when one of my readers (call him Dave) shared his story with me by email.
At a clergy seminar on Catholic-Jewish relations I attended recently, Catholic scholar Philip A. Cunningham reminded us that Jews and Christians haven't been in serious, respectful dialogue for very long.
Indeed, this important effort has lasted but a tick of the clock compared with the century after century of anti-Judaism preached from the church almost from the beginning of the Jesus Movement within Judaism in the first century.
Probably when anyone thinks about clergy sexual misconduct, what first (and maybe only) comes to mind is the priest abuse scandal in the Catholic church.
And, for sure, it has deserved the attention it has received, given the appalling behavior of some members of the clergy and given that most victims have been children, the most vulnerable members of the family of faith.
But the result of this misguided myopia is that faith communities have not paid nearly enough attention to the wider issue of clergy sexual abuse happening with disgusting regularity in Protestant churches and other traditions.
A new book has helped me understand the widespread nature of the problem. And it has offered some ideas for how to deal with it when it happens and, beyond that, how to prevent it.
The recent charges against Kansas City's bishop and his diocese for failing to report suspected child abuse have been analyzed six ways from Sunday, including by me on my "Faith Matters" blog.
And they have deserved all the commentary, given the shocking nature of the failure alleged in the indictments.
But I want to look at this distressing case from the perspective of a Protestant whose form of church governance is not hierarchical but, rather, republican, in the lower-case-r sense. And I want to suggest that the two approaches to polity yield different results, though each has its strengths and weaknesses.
It may be too simplistic to put it this way, but the system of governance used by the Presbyterian Church (USA), to which my congregation belongs, is essentially bottom-up. The congregation elects its ruling elders. In turn, some elders, based on the size of the congregation, become voting commissioners at meetings of the presbytery, which is our regional governing body. Clergy also are voting commissioners of the presbytery.
Despite several obvious differences between Catholics and Mainline Protestants, we confront many of the same problems.
Lots of our congregations have been losing members. Many of our youth are drifting away from the faith, some never to return. Biblical and theological illiteracy run rampant among our members. And on and on.