Catholic extremists on the left will not be satisfied until the church elects our first openly transsexual or lesbian pope; extremists on the right are worse—they live in fear. Those with extremist views are unreasonable and illogical; they are often scrupulous and many suffer from mental torment. It is, of course, impossible to exterminate extremism just as it is impossible to squelch racism. But it might be possible to redirect it.
Jesus was a radical but not an extremist. “Radical” comes from the root word, radish, meaning, ironically, rooted. Like our Lord, we should be strongly rooted in what we believe so that we can willfully advance God’s mission for creation. Christ is rooted in love, not fear. As newly sworn-in Democrats and Republicans take their seats across from one another in our nation’s capital, citizens hope that they, rooted in caring for those they have been elected to serve, will advance the mission of our country and not get caught in the mire of extremist conundrums. Though present in nearly every earthly community ours will be a much better society when we squelch or redirect extremism.
Jesus is the model for our church; if the church walked hand-in-hand with Jesus, it would be the model for government. As the vine and branches image reminds us, Christ is rooted in God and those who are rooted in Him will branch out to bring the extremes that prefer gridlock closer so they can reach across the aisle—it would be radical. Jesus was radically committed to God’s will. This is what inspired Him to question rulers and challenge authorities, toss money-changers from the temple, educate scribes and Pharisees on the proper role of rubrics and regulations, and preach history’s most famous sermon on re-examining God’s law that was often misused by both ill-intentioned and well-intentioned people. The extremists in His days condemned Him for sabotaging the Sabbath by breaking religious laws, for allowing His disciples to not follow rules for fasting, for eating without properly washing, and for schooling them on the truth that God is love, not score-keeper.
Extremist attitudes divide, paralyze, and polarize. They are what led to Soviet gulags, Japanese kamikazes, German Nazis, China’s great wall, the horrendous tragedy of 9-11, and the crucifixion of Jesus. Extremists are dotted throughout the landscape of our parishes and families and they are attracted to partisan politics. In church settings, they replace God with ecclesial laws; they are people who have not experienced love in their own lives but have been taught how to respond to rules as a love substitute—they can’t seem to shake it. I suspect, for many of them, earning their parents’ love got equated with obeying their parents’ laws (rules, regulations, rubrics…) and has, in numerous cases, resulted in fundamentalist attitudes, scrupulous behaviors, destructive cults, sinful clericalism, and defensive interactions. Many pastors agree that they suffer from a mental illness that could be labeled “pharisaicalism.” I don’t know if there is a cure for the illness but I pray that it can be redirected to a place where they come to know Christ and encounter His radical love, while allowing their obsession with rule and rubric to slide off-center.
Being a radical can keep us close to Christ, rooted in the Source that created us out of love and inspires us to create, with the Holy Spirit, a better world. But being an extremist will only obstruct and destruct. Maybe 2019 can bring us closer to God, the center of existence, by moving us away from the extremes.