How relevant are the messages coming from new millennium pulpits? For some, the pulpit is filling the pews, while in others, people are filing out of the pews. Religious Commentator Dr John Coulter uses his Fearless Flying Column today to throw down some poignant gauntlets to the modern clergy.
The clerics of Ireland have a spiritual imperative to get people talking about the values and virtues of the Christian faith again, and what better way to do it than take their flocks to the flicks.
The last number of years have seen two blockbuster movies which sent shock waves through the Christian Church hierarchies – Mel Gibson’s The Passion of The Christ, and the Tom Hanks’ masterpiece, The Da Vinci Code.
The former is a bloody reconstruction of Christ’s last years on earth including his brutal crucifixion, while The Code focuses on the fictional nonsense that Christ married Mary Magdelene, fathered a child and the blood line exists today as the Holy Grail.
Gibson – a devout Catholic – had his movie damned by Protestant puritans as a propaganda film for the Catholic Church. The Code was branded by the Catholic Church as heresy, and was especially attacked by the secret conservative Catholic order, Opus Dei.
But like them or loathe them, both movies sparked considerable debate about Christ and His true role on earth. Indeed, the ripples caused by The Code are still being felt in parishes and congregations across Ireland.
Ironically, the more conservative Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant clergy spoke out against The Code, the more people seemed to sneak off to see what all the fuss was about.
Organised religion may be waning in influence across the island, but interest in a personal faith is growing – and the clergy need to cash in on this.
Okay, so the clergy have had a rough ride when it comes to sitcom on TV. The Vicar of Dibley, Dad’s Army, and Father Ted all portray our clergy as incompetent buffons. We’ve got to go back to The Exorcist in the mid ‘70s to see a real kick ass cleric.
The situation for the Christian faith got worse when popular American shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Charmed came on the scene.
Gone were the cross-waving, dog-collared clerics – and in came white witchcraft, good demons and even vampires with souls!
The bond between the pulpit and the cinema has not been exactly helped with controversial films such as The Last Temptation of Christ, which again examined the opinion Christ had a sexual relationship with Mary Magdelene.
Then there was Monty Python’s irreverent look at Biblical times in the satire, The Life of Brian, which featured the hit single – "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," which was sung in the film by a choir crucified Christs and thieves.
Its been a long time, too, since we enjoyed the Hollywood legends like Ben Hur, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and The Robe.
But the time has come for the Church to develop a new relationship with Hollywood rather than leaving all the talk about faith to the American satellite tele-evangelists with their ‘you pay, we pray’ mentality.
So here’s a message you can give to clerics when you see them: take note – if you want to start filling your pews again, then start showing films. If you want to get people attending, you’ve got to get them talking.
And speaking of something to talk about, allowing priests, bishops and nuns to marry is the main way the Catholic faith will win back its credibility amongst its own people.
This would be true Evangelical Catholicism in action – and it would also become a platform to build a Scriptural unity with Protestants – especially with the increase in the numbers of migrant workers entering Ireland with islam as their main faith.
There’s a few home truths the Catholic bishops have to face if they want to win the respect of substantial sections of the Irish people again. Here’s my Ten Commandments to follow to get the Church back on track:
Realise the Church has allowed itself to get in such a mess because of the child abuse and secret love child scandals;
Digital revolution has proved more entertaining alternatives to traditional Catholic teachings;
Make celibacy a matter of choice for priests or members of the holy orders – married priests or nuns with families could inject new life into the male dominated worlds of the parochial houses, combatting the perceptions of the Father Ted analysis;
Make a direct role for women in leading parishes as female preachers as happens in the mainstream Irish Presbyterian and Methodist Churches;
Less ritual and more worship of God in services;
Scriptual unity with Protestants using 'saved' or 'born again' doctrines rather than liberal unity of church structures as emphasised by the ecumenical movement;
Combat the effects of pluralism, secularism, materialism, commercialism which turns major religious festivals into money-dominated spending sprees at Christmas and Easter.
Allow the Protestant Loyal Orders more parade routes in the Republic, such as the isolated coastal Donegal village of Rossnowlagh.
Challenging the ‘born again’ section of the Orange Order and Protestant fundamentalism to work with the ‘born again’ section of evangelical Catholicism to combat Biblically classified heresies as portrayed in the published so-called Gospel of Judas and in the blockbuster fictional thriller The Da Vinci Code.
By allowing marriage for clergy and sisters, the Church will be in a much stronger position to challenge views on abortion, divorce, homosexuality, same-sex partnerships, and non-married couples living together.
And while we are on the subject of commandments, here’s a weekly point to ponder: read the Holy Bible, King James Version, New Testament: St John Chapter 3 verse 16:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
Listen to religious commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 9.30 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online at www.thisissunshine.com