Richard Rohr on the Church

First, let me apologise for the delay since my last post. Di and I have been to Queensland for a school on cutting edge ministry with Peter and Heather Toth – . It was mind-blowing, and I’m sure I’ll say more later. But for now, something else.

A few weeks ago Richard Rohr, a modern mystic, was interviewed on The Religion Report on Radio National .
He says some provocative things about church and ministry. (Thanks for the heads-up Gary – Here’s an excerpt of what Rohr said:

Richard Rohr got some flak from readers of his column in the National Catholic Reporter recently when he suggested that few transformations happen in church, that the places where real transformation happens in our world are Alcoholics Anonymous, Ground Zero, the cancer ward, and of course the mountains of New Mexico.

Richard Rohr: Well I did say that. I wrote a whole Lenten series on the concept of liminal space, liminality. It’s amazing how interesting that subject has become to people. But in that, I said are the typical Catholic liturgies liminal space? Do they pull you out of business as usual, into an alternative universe where you have a different frame of reference, which Jesus would call the Kingdom of God. And I have to say it’s overwhelmingly obvious that they don’t. They’re very much a confirmation of the present consciousness, of the present politics of the present self-serving world view. And I’ve often said I go to Switzerland, God looks like a banker; I go to Germany, God looks like a policeman; I got to America, God looks like a businessman. I don’t know yet what he looks like in Australia. But it’s so obvious to me that we’re not leading people into alternative transcendence experience, but for the most part largely affirming and confirming. I mean talk about feel good, we’ve been the people in the church into feel good, in terms of making people think that American politics and wars are wonderful. I mean only today are we finally waking up to what a tragedy this war has been.

Stephen Crittenden: You’re talking there clearly, about more than just dead liturgy, aren’t you?

Richard Rohr: Well really, a whole consciousness, that’s right. The whole understanding of priesthood itself, which has so aligned itself with power, money, control, and I’m not saying that in an angry or malicious way, but it’s just to join the clergy is to join an establishment world view of status and security. And I think that’s what my father St Francis was trying to oppose. When I joined the Friars, first of all we were not encouraged to become priests. You know, Francis himself was not a priest, he refused ordination. And then they said, ‘If you are going to accept ordination, at best we’re blue-collar priests’. I don’t know, do you use that expression over here? Yes. We’re not white-collar priests. Our job is to live on the edge of the inside, so we can lead people into the larger world of the Gospel instead of mere churchyanity, and churchyanity is far too often, (and I think I’m being fair) become a substitute for Christianity.

Stephen Crittenden: We often hear secularisation accused as part of the big reason for the collapse of churchgoing and so on, that there’s a failure going on in the outside world, with all its false allures and so on. But it often occurs to me that perhaps a big part of the failure has been a failure of imagination on the part of the church and its leaders, and that’s what it sounds to me like you’re talking about.

Richard Rohr: Yes, I think so. When religion doesn’t move to what I’m going to call the mystical level; now don’t let that be a too far-out word. As far as I’m concerned, mysticism simply means when you move beyond external belief systems to inner experience, where you know something, you’ve experienced a love and a life and a quality of being that we would call God, for yourself. When religion doesn’t move to the mystical level, almost always the substitute for mysticism is morality. It gives the ego a sense of boundariedness, of superiority, of control, of earning God’s love, in fact I’d say the more you become preoccupied with moral minutiae –

Stephen Crittenden: And doctrine, perhaps.

Richard Rohr: Well that’s what I mean by external belief systems, when it remains at the external level of belief systems and rituals, to the degree you’re preoccupied with that, it’s almost a litmus test of how little you’ve experienced the real.

Stephen Crittenden: As a sociologist friend of mine says, ‘Doctrine is death’.

Richard Rohr: When that’s all you have. When you don’t know, you have to pretend that you do know. When you don’t really know the goodness of God; when you haven’t really experienced mercy, or forgiveness, the generosity of God, you have to bolster it up with all kind of heroic affirmations about the nature of God, and you can tell it doesn’t mean very much….

Richard Rohr’s website: The full transcript of this interview can be found at

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