Richard Rohr on social and moral issues

This is Part 3 in this series.

My Experience with LBGTQ+

I spent two years in the LBGTQ+ community. Then I had a life changing personal encounter with Jesus, which led me to embrace all the magisterial teachings of the Catholic Church. I was interviewed on the BBC. Testimonies are here. What I have in common with others who've had this experience is:

  • We love the Bible. The words leap off the page and we want to conform our lives to it. We don't want to argue with it, minimize it, or make it fit our previous world view.
  • We find ourselves attracted to chastity and want to reconcile our gender expression with the gender that God gave us at our conception.
  • We want to orient our sexual expression to the teachings of the Church. We don't want to change the Church to fit our previous expression.
  • We are attracted to Church doctrine and find it interesting, engaging and life giving. We don't argue with it.
  • We love the Church like our Mother. When there is an attack on her from the outside or inside we feel as if someone is attacking our mother. 
  • We are less attracted to navel gazing on our neuroses and we find ourselves thinking about how we can help others.
  • We love Jesus and want to evangelize, not because we need people to agree with us, but rather because of what he's done in our lives.

Richard Rohr would not value any of these indicators of an authentic spiritual experience. He's constantly undermining the Bible, telling people to sexually express themselves as they see fit, fighting the Church on just about every sexual and doctrinal issue. He advises people to let their subconscious drivers run the show, he calls our love of the Church "tribal", and advises Christians to not evangelize when talking to non Christians.

Marriage, gender and sexuality

Although Fr. Rohr's teachings cover a wide spectrum of subjects there seems to be a clear "binary", "dualistic" fault line between his supporters and his critics. His supporters (and protectors) are generally gay affirming and want to see same sex and attraction celebrated in the life of the Church. His detractors generally think that Catholics with same sex attraction would do better if they (like all Catholics) bring disordered attractions to confession, take up our Cross and follow our Lord and help others do the same. Through this process we show the world the miracles and the joy we find when we give Jesus our lives.

On healing retreats for men, Fr. Rohr would place a number of pictures at the front of the room of various types of romantic and sexual encounters between various genders and ask participants to stand in front of the ones that illicit the greatest response from within them either positive or negative. He was running these retreats in a Baptist Church hall and when it was drawn to the leadership's attention, they asked him to leave and not to come back. (source)

Although it is healthy for human beings to examine what is true about their attractions and feelings, what is absent in Richard Rohr's narrative is any discussion on how to reconcile those attractions and feelings with Church teaching. Instead Richard Rohr challenges the Church to change its teaching.

Misuse of Scripture to justify sin

... any God worthy of the name must transcend creeds and denominations, time and place, nations and ethnicities, and all the vagaries of gender and sexuality, extending to the limits of all we can see, suffer, and enjoy? All of our human differences are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).

Richard Rohr (Source)

Notice moral issues of "gender and sexuality" grouped with human differences that have nothing to do with morals, such as race and ethnicity. Then he references Scripture to legitimize his position. However, Col 3:3 says:

  2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth 3 for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God

This has nothing to do with gender and sexuality or even human differences.

Misuse of meditation and contemplation for political and moral issues

Another tactic he uses is to leverage mystical contemplation as a pry bar to get Christians to let down their objections to sin and legitimize same sex activity. After three paragraphs on the benefits of meditation and contemplation, demostrating to us how deep he is, he launches into the political and moral topic of gender and sexuality.

Gender and Sexuality

The most common human responses to a new moment, or something that does not fit neatly into one of our dualistic categories such as male or female, gay or straight, are mistrust, cynicism, fear, knee-jerk reactions, a spirit of dismissal, and overriding judgmentalism. It is so dis-couraging when we have the courage to finally see that these habits are the common ways that the ego tries to be in control of the data instead of allowing the moment to get some control over us—and teach us something new!

The Reverend Elizabeth Edman, an openly queer [1] priest in the Episcopal Church, focuses in her book Queer Virtue on “‘authentic Christianity’ as a spiritual journey that prioritizes the ancient Christian impulse to rupture simplistic binaries, especially those pertaining to the relationship between Self and Other.” [2] Edman’s book doesn’t focus on issues of sexual morality but on all the cultural and religious boundaries Jesus transgressed.

With all the changing ways of understanding gender and sexuality, most of us truly need contemplative eyes and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to “rupture simplistic binaries” and be compassionate and respectful of difference and diversity. It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead. Source

Notice the reference to "simplistic binaries" and "dualistic categories". His assertion is that dualistic thinking is immature. The Bible says love is the indicator of spiritual maturity (1 cor 13) and this is independent of dualism. Jesus is sometimes very dualistic, especially when it comes to sin. We have a full discussion on Richard Rohr's assertion that non binary thinking is an indication of spiritual maturity here.

We have separate articles on is same sex attraction intrinsically disorder, gay marriage, gay sex and the Bible, and the Catholic Church an same sex attraction.

Richard Rohr vs Bishop Fulton Sheen

For Richard Rohr, those of us who see the world through the eyes of the Church have an "addiction" to "superficial habits … of believing our little binary mind". If we were deep souls like Fr. Rohr we would understand that our subconscious should rule our behaviour. Just follow your deep instincts and don't use your "little binary mind" to navigate your life. (Source)

This is exactly opposite of Venerable Bishop Sheen:

...the normal person is governed by reason and will. The abnormal person is governed by instincts, impulses and also he believes that the subconsciousness is the determinant of his life ... [he] live[s] in a world of dreams,... [that] have tremendous meaning and they are for the most part unfulfilled sex desires ... [it's an] exaggerated belief in the sub consciousness as the determinant of rational beings ... 

The normal person believes in repressing the excesses of the lower instincts in order to express reason and will and his potential for divine grace. 

There is also a repression for the abnormal [mind] but the repression here is not of the lower instincts it's rather a repression of the reason and the will in order to give an outlet for the lower instincts.... 

Positioning the Church as a power structure that hides institutional sin behind its condemnation of personal sin

One of Richard Rohr's strategies to justify sexual sin is to undermine the authority of the Church by pointing to historical errors such as the Crusades, etc. and then saying the Church focuses on personal sin management to distract the faithful from its institutional sins related to power.

“Jesus stood as the fully innocent one who was condemned by the highest authorities of both “church and state” (Rome and Jerusalem), an act that should create healthy suspicion about how wrong even the highest powers can be. Maybe power still does not want us to see this, and that’s why we concentrate so much on the private sins of the flesh. The denied sins that are really destroying the world are much more the sins that we often admire and fully accept in our public figures: pride, ambition, greed, gluttony, false witness, legitimated killing, vanity, et cetera. That is hard to deny.” 
― Richard Rohr,  The Universal Christ

Richard Rohr uses the prodigal son as a condemnation of the older brother and a justification of the sin of the younger brother (Lk 15:11-32).

Richard Rohr avoids the obvious, that it was the repentance of the younger brother that lead him to return and receive his father's love and mercy. Richard Rohr focuses on the older brother's resentment and draws the parallel of religious people who moralize. (Source)

He also fails to show that the younger borther had a very serious consequence. While he got the fatted calf and a party. That is all he got. The younger brother has no inheritance. The next day he is working for a wage. The father says to the older son "everything I have is yours".

I can say from my experience as a prodigal son. It is much better to do the right thing like the older brother, to avoid mortal sin and work through any pride, resentment, or jeolousy associated with doing the right thing, than to commit mortal sin and walk the ways of the world like the younger brother. There are countless teenage sons in the real world who die of overdoeses, sexually transmitted diseases, suicide, alcoholism, etc. They didn't live long enough to "come to themselves" as the prodigal did. That is why the father in the story is so happy. Because he knew that when his son left, the odds were he'd never see him again, alive.

This is a theme in Richard Rohr's writing. He sends the signal that it is OK to mortally sin because God will never condemn you, and anyone who says its wrong to sin is a stiff, moralizing, resentful, jealous, "older brother".

Richard Rohr doesn't think humans have greater dignity than anything else in creation

Abortion and contraception

As someone who has experienced abortion I can speak from my experience. I never heard anyone say abortion was wrong growing up. It led me to paticipate in a disastrous decision. Richard Rohr would be fine that I had never heard about the harms of abortion. Richard Rohr never talks against abortion. He says:

 if Jesus never talked about it once, the churches will tend to be preoccupied with it (abortion, birth control, and homosexuality are current examples) (Richard Rohr, Source)

That is the extent of his discussion on abortion and contraception. It's weird because in order to hold this position he adopts the fundamentalist protestant view that Christian doctrine should only be based on the red words of the Red Letter Bible (Jesus words).

If we contrast his silence on abortion with his shrill defense of animals used in science we begin to understand his priorities.

He says in the second half of life, if we mature then we see there are no distinctions between people, and in fact, if we are really mature we see no distinction between us, other humans, and all of creation, the rocks, the animals, etc. Richard Rohr says:

Don't start trying to love God or even people. Love rocks and elements first, then
move to trees, then animals, then humans. Angels will soon become real possibility and God is then just a short leap away. (Richard Rohr)

He's flipped the order of love on its head. Jesus said the two greatest commandments are "Love the lord your god love your heart, soul and mind strength, and love your neighbor it's yourself" (Mark 12:30-31). He says

"God loved creation so much that he became it." (Richard Rohr)

It's hard not to map that to Pantheism.

Here is Catholic Teaching on Human Dignity

356 Of all visible creatures only man is "able to know and love his creator". He is "the only creature on earth that God has willed for its own sake", and he alone is called to share, by knowledge and love, in God's own life. It was for this end that he was created, and this is the fundamental reason for his dignity:

What made you establish man in so great a dignity? Certainly the incalculable love by which you have looked on your creature in yourself! You are taken with love for her; for by love indeed you created her, by love you have given her a being capable of tasting your eternal Good. (Catechism 356)

Richard Rohr and Parenting

And I remember when I gave teen retreats to young Vatican II Catholics in the 1970s, they all love me of course, because I was telling him God loved them unconditionally even when they had premarital sex—which they just loved, of course—but it was what Luther would call “cheap grace.” (Richard Rohr, source)

One can assume they loved him because of the permissive attitude. He was not saying "God loves you and wants you to stop hurting yourself and your partner with this sex before marriage."

Richard Rohr embraces Liberation Theology

For Richard Rohr, Jesus' parable of the workers where they start at different hours and get paid the same daily wage (Mat 20: 1-16) is proof that everyone should get exactly the same thing materially, socialism.

He flattens out the parable to two dimensions, reduces it to a class struggle on earth, which is liberation theology. He leaves out the 3rd dimension, heaven.

Most theologians would say this parable is about God's mercy, that someone could be on their death bed after a terrible life of debauchery and repent.

Fr. Rohr says:

Liberation theology focuses on freeing people from religious, political, social, and economic oppression (i.e., what Pope John Paul II called “structural sin” and “institutional evil”). It goes beyond just trying to free individuals from their own particular “naughty behaviors,” which is what sin now seems to mean to most people in our individualistic culture. Structural sin is accepted as good and necessary on the corporate or national level. Large organizations—including the Church—and governments get away with and are even applauded for killing (war), greed, vanity, pride, and ambition. Yet individuals are condemned for committing these same sins. Such a convenient split will never create great people, nations, or religions.

Liberation theology, instead of legitimating the self-serving status quo, tries to read reality, history, and the Bible not from the side of the powerful, but from the side of the pain. Its beginning point is not sin management, but “Where is the suffering?” Our starting point makes all the difference in how we read the Bible. Jesus spends little time trying to ferret out sinners or impose purity codes in any form. He just goes where the pain is. I dare you to try to disprove that. (Richard Rohr, source)

Notice the reference to Pope John Paul II, an authoritative source, when he is trying to legitimize a condemned position. Under JPII, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) warned the faithful about the Liberation Theology. It is dangerous because it fuses “the Bible’s view of history with Marxist dialectics.” The CDF called Liberation Theology a “singular heresy". This is an example of how Richard Rohr weaves in and out of orthodoxy using misquotes and misleading sources as his justification.

It is also notable that Richard Rohr steers away from established social doctrine of the Church such as property rights.

We have a full discussion of Liberation Theology here.

Pride parades

“Colorblindness” is actually harmful in the face of measurable inequities for people of color. Pride parades and other cultural celebrations of identity are valuable expressions for many groups whose voices have been silenced. People with privilege and power like myself are called to move to the bottom and to destroy the illusion of our supremacy. (Richard Rohr, source)

This is a Black Lives Matter narrative. One might wonder, how in the last 10 years, the voices of the LGBTQ+ community have been silenced. They are the shrillest. The abundant evidence is that it's the opposing views that have been silenced. Pride parades are public demonstrations of S&M, nudity, bondage, and foul speech with tons of children under 10 years old present.

It's the kind of decadence one would image if "The Capital" had a parade in the Hunger Games. Isaiah 3 may provide a narrative on Pride parades.

Their insolent airs bear witness against them, they parade their sin like Sodom, To their own undoing, they do not hide it, They are preparing for their own downfall ...They are haughty and walk with outstretched necks, glancing wantonly with their eyes, mincing along as they go, tinkling with their feet; ...In that day the Lord will take away the finery of the anklets, the headbands, and the crescents; the pendants, the bracelets, and the scarfs; the headdresses, the armlets, the sashes, the perfume boxes, and the amulets; the signet rings and nose rings; the festal robes, the mantles, the cloaks, and the handbags; the garments of gauze, the linen garments, the turbans, and the veils. Instead of perfume there will be a stench; and instead of a sash, a rope; and instead of well-set hair, baldness; and instead of a rich robe, a binding of sackcloth; instead of beauty, shame. (Isaiah 3)

Controversy at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC)

Rohr leverages the failures of Christians throughout history as a springboard for his theories. However, his organization, the CAC, has its share of dysfunction. In February 2021, Teresa Mateus made allegations of inappropriate sexual misconduct against a key CAC staff member, and subsequent minimization by the CAC leadership. The CAC executive director, Michael Poffenberger, posted a written response to "allegations of abuse" where he fell on his sword in the place of Richard Rohr and said "In this instance, I fell short." Its interesting that Richard Rohr has never said this compromises his teachings, which is what he does to the Church.

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