Tunnel vision is the loss of peripheral vision resulting in a constricted circular tunnel-like field of vision. For people with tunnel vision, driving a car, crossing a road…..or speaking on behalf of a religious community…..the consequences can be fatal. For the vision-impaired as well as for the community.

When one cannot see beyond his or her restricted little circle, reality becomes unreal, truth becomes personal ideology, and virtue can become vice. Tunnel vision in church, mosque, or synagogue produces unhealthy religion.

Some tunnel-vision-church-leaders look at the community of faith and see only men. Or only married people. Or only married parents. Or only straight people. Or only those in the pews, ignoring the growing exodus of “believers-but-not-religious.” Make your own list. Expressions of belief — official “church teaching” — are then formulated with only these groups in mind.

Impaired vision leads to impaired belief, and impaired statements of belief, even when written and proclaimed in grand style. We have seen that it in U.S. political history as well, although some people bristle when I say it. In 1776 a group of men — the Founding Fathers — gathered in Philadelphia and issued our Declaration of Independence. That historic document proclaimed that “all men are created equal.” The Founding Fathers ignored, however, the dignity and rights of African Americans and Native Americans; and did not acknowledge that women could vote or be members of Congress.

Official belief and teaching — especially in the church —  is a work in progress. Never static. We study, we explore, we learn, and we re-formulate. The “we” involves non-ordained believers, theologians, and ordained leaders. An essential element in the process is being alert to the day-to-day experiences of believers: the signs of the times.

Rooted in Scripture and Tradition we ask: What does it mean to be a believer today?  What is appropriate ethical behavior today? Are my young neighbors bad Christians or bad parents if they have a child through in vitro fertilization? What institutional structures need to be adapted or simply abandoned to meet the needs of contemporary believers? Should bishops live in episcopal palaces and wear Renaissance clothing and ornaments that cost thousands of dollars? While people in their dioceses cannot make house payments? Where are our institutional blind spots today? What does it really mean to be a church of mercy? Mercy for the divorced and remarried? Mercy for the young boy or girl who cannot be altar servers because their parents are gay? Mercy for the teacher in a Catholic school who loses her job because she wrote on Facebook that she supports same-sex marriage? Can an institution move beyond its human sexuality blind spots if its leaders are still a group of older, unmarried men? How long can covertly gay bishops continue to publicly condemn other gay men as innately disordered? What do people really believe today? Why? Most Roman Catholics in the United States see no immorality in artificial contraception. They favor women priests. They respect the dignity of gay and lesbian people and have no problems with same-sex marriage. They do not resonate with the teaching of their bishops. Men and women today are looking for spiritual direction and a deeper understanding of God. Many do not find God in church. Why? What do you believe today? Why? What again is your experience of God? How would you explain that to your teenage neighbor or to the young people in your classroom?

At every place and within all groups in the church, we need to acknowledge and combat pious tunnel vision. So what is your reform agenda? What is your reform strategy? Which group in the church will you endeavor to empower? All church is local. Nonsense and ignorance have no place in the community of faith.

3 thoughts on “A Lenten Reflection about Tunnel Vision

  1. Jack, great ex[lanation. I really appreciated “Expressions of belief — official “church teaching” — are then formulated with only these groups in mind”. Realistic insight.

  2. The homily today was about how john 3:16 has been used so often as a way of distinguishing between us and them, whether them is other Christians, or ethnic groups, or sexual orientations. Scripture at the service of tunnel vision. Yet the very next verse rejects condemnation and judgement as God’s way of doing things. Too bad it is ignored.

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