On John the Baptist & Contemporary American Beheading

speaking-truth-to-power

 

John the Baptist, who was imprisoned by Herod, was executed and martyred after a drunken Herod promised his beautiful stepdaughter anything that she wanted at the conclusion of her seductive dance before his friends at a banquet. In rereading the story (MK 6:14-29), one quickly realizes that Herod did not hate John the Baptist or want him killed – he realized John was a holy man and despite being “very much perplexed, he liked to listen to him.”

 

It was actually his wife, Herodias, who intensely hated and wanted John the Baptist killed because he publicly proclaimed the faith’s truth – that Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife – was immoral! When her daughter shared Herod’s drunken promise and asked for advice, Herodias seized the opportunity to silence her detractor, John the Baptist, with execution.

In this story, a simple but powerful truth is revealed to any who will courageously seek to witness or proclaim the faith publically. John suffered mockery and ridicule, imprisonment and martyrdom – not for being a specific religion or denying another religion, but simply for courageously speaking an unpopular truth of the faith to power.

Jesus, John the Baptist and the Apostles were all born into a world very much like ours – where their religious values regarding marriage and human sexuality were not those of the mainstream culture. Multiple ways of understanding and living out human marriage and sexuality were practiced in the Roman world as it is today. Another historical reality shared between then and now is the way that the powerful and ungodly can use their power to ruthlessly punish and destroy those who courageously speak the faith’s counter cultural message of truth regarding marriage and human sexuality. As in the past, those who are courageous enough to speak these truths to the powerful – are often unaware or ignorant of those whom they have really offended and who have really ordered their execution.

Today in our secular and media driven world, these Herods’ and Herodias’ come in many different forms and can be found everywhere – not only outside but also inside of our Catholic Churches and institutions. Their undercover actions to silence and kill those courageously speaking the faith’s truth about marriage and human sexuality to power also takes many forms: from unjust lawsuits, firings and black listings to financially break and hush up the faithful who are poor and middle class, to all out media campaigns and public relation offensives against monied, orthodox and Christian individuals and institutions who publically take counter cultural stands proclaiming Christian truths regarding marriage and human sexuality. This is a fact: all who, by grace, courageously speak truth to power in history will suffer martyrdom – whether rich or poor.

In today’s secular world, there are a lot of John the Baptist walking around…

Since secularism allows all possible dialogue and discussion points in the public arena except those dealing with/grounded in faith, articulating Christian truths and arguments regarding marriage and sexuality – even if allowed Constitutionally – are simply ignored and omitted at best in public– if not openly disparaged, mocked or worse. When the worst parts of secularism surfaces, America’s freedom of speech simply no longer applies to stating Christian truths regarding marriage and human sexuality, which – even when stated simply and lovingly – are often still equated with the language of threats and hate.

For some, to believe in the traditional Christian teaching regarding marriage and human sexuality also means that that person is also completely incapable of living in a loving and respectful relationship with those choosing alternative lifestyles. This is an utter lie and a deceptively unhistorical belief which, in part, rests on highlighting the evil uses of religion historically and framing all possible future religious dialogue soley in terms of this very real but unfortunate lens. Note: we tend to do the very opposite with science and technology, ignoring its role in two World Wars while still proclaiming its ability to help and build humanity…

The reality of religious radicalism, hate and terrorism in our world shakes all of us to the core, yet equating whole religious traditions or any religiously grounded countercultural public dialogue with hate, ignorance and extremism is to choose – consciously or unconsciously- to ignorantly embody these very characteristics out of fear and to run from the real work of true change and growth through respectful dialogue and sacrifice. Such views often also fail to acknowledge that these same religious beliefs have given us the greatest examples – both individually and institutionally – of loving humanity that we have in history.

Yes, there are a lot of John the Baptists around today…

…even in this great country with its legal and historical traditions of free speech… As John the Baptist and many of today’s faithful have found out, courageous and faithful speech is not free – especially when aimed at the powerful. Speaking Gospel Truth comes with a cost, here in America as it did in Jesus’ times.

The downside of secularism for Catholics and Christians today, is that many Christians are willfully bludgeoning their Gospel call to evangelize in America, fearfully unable or unwilling to express the faith’s truths publically because of the very real risks. Like John the Baptist, they realize that there is a cost for courageously speaking Gospel truth to those who are powerful. I’m not sure this is the kind of America that the majority of Americans really wants for anybody…

John the Baptist and all who courageously follow in his steps are examples for us to follow today. Their example prepares and empowers us for that day, when we too will choose martyrdom, risking all by lovingly speaking the Christian truth about marriage and human sexuality in the face of very real power. By the grace we’ve received at baptism and the continuing power that we receive through the Eucharist, my prayer is that we can – in a loving manner – acknowledge, grapple with and publically dialogue about these hard truths regarding marriage and sexuality that God has challenged us with.

Yes, it is difficult and risky for most to speak and proclaim the faith’s truth about marriage and human sexuality publicly in America today…  Until you can do so lovingly in public, I propose starting with  Barry Sanders’ suggestion and accepting that initial challenge of seriously reflecting on, praying about and striving to live the faith’s truths about marriage and human sexuality in one’s own life…

Author: P. J. West, Jr.

Paul J. West Jr. is a cradle Catholic and native Chicagoan who has ministered in Catholic Schools, parishes and hospitals for over two decades. His current ministries are focused on both hospital chaplaincy and writing. Prior to this, he ministered as an educator for almost twenty five years teaching religion, scripture, philosophy and ethics at four Chicago area high schools and adults at the Chicago Catholic Scripture School. His parish ministry has included preaching, teaching, writing and serving as a Eucharistic minister. Mr. West, who is native south sider, has been married for almost 30 years to Dr. Joy West. They have raised four beautiful daughters who are all hardcore Bears and White Sox fans!!!!

5 thoughts on “On John the Baptist & Contemporary American Beheading”

  1. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this post and the rest of the website
    is very good.

  2. Hello there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after browsing through
    some of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
    Regardless, I’m certainly delighted I stumbled upon it and I’ll be bookmarking
    it and checking back often!

  3. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as neatly as with the structure to your weblog.
    Is that this a paid topic or did you customize it your self?
    Anyway keep up the nice quality writing, it’s uncommon to peer a great
    weblog like this one today..

  4. Neat blog! Is your theme custom made or did you download it from somewhere?
    A theme like yours with a few simple adjustements would really
    make my blog stand out. Please let me know where you got your theme.
    With thanks

  5. Good post. I learn something totally new and challenging
    on websites I stumbleupon on a daily basis. It will always be interesting to read
    through articles from other authors and use a little something from their web sites.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.