A Time of Flux for Three Christian Groups

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The nation's Christian communities face changing times. Episcopalians are struggling with resolutions on gay clergy and same-sex unions. Changes in the translation of the Roman Catholic mass don't please everyone. And the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Frank Page, comes from outside the church establishment.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This week several of the nation's Christian communities have been struggling with change. In Columbus, Ohio, Episcopalians are wrestling over whether to apologize for electing an openly gay bishop without consulting other Anglicans. Delegates are considering a pledge not to elect any more homosexual bishops until there is consensus on the matter within the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopalians are also debating a moratorium on blessing same-sex unions.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also met this week, and they did agree on change in the wording of the Roman Catholic Mass. Church leaders say the new language is a more accurate translation of the original Latin.

Commentator Paul Wilkes does not welcome the new wording.

PAUL WILKES reporting:

America's Catholic bishops, worn out over what has become known as the Liturgy Wars, have sadly given in to Rome once again. The proposed changes in some of the most crucial and accessible words of our Mass send a clear signal: being an obedient son of Rome, instead of a caring shepherd of Joe and Mary back home, comes first. Twelve of the 19 responses we say at Mass will be changed, some of them dramatically.

Before approaching the altar to receive the Eucharist, we now recite a wonderfully straightforward plea for forgiveness and a statement of faith. Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed. It's a personal favorite of mine. But it soon will be, Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

What's the value of someone who comes in your front door but isn't actually received? And my eternal soul being healed seems to forget my daily needs and the temporal sickness of my mind and body.

We now respond, And also with you, when the priest says, The Lord be with you. We will soon be obliged to utter, And with your spirit. Well, we Catholics know there's a priest shortage, and perhaps not all of our priests are fully there for us. But responding to a spirit? The translation may be closer to the Latin, but further from our hearts.

Dogged word for word translation seldom works, and the very melody of Catholicism's rich liturgy, finally spoken in our native vernacular, becomes dissonant and distant when it adheres to the original Latin. There were ecclesial cheerleaders at the bishops meetings this week. This new terminology would give our priests the opportunity to explain a deeper language, they said.

Well, parish priests that I've talked to aren't greeting these changes with that much enthusiasm. These priests are already overworked, as they face the needs of a growing number of Catholics with their ever-declining number. As one priest grumbled to me, Well, with all the turbulence in the Church, this was one thing our people could count on, and now they're changing it.

Going into the meeting, the bishops were said to be split 50/50 on whether or not to bend to Rome's wishes on these changes. A few bishops had enough courage and pastoral concern to cry out against such literalism, but their voices were drowned out. God was confirmed as a blue blood Latinist. It seems He has no ear for the common voice of his people.

ELLIOTT: Paul Wilkes is the author of the Seven Secrets of Successful Catholics and many other books about Catholic life and practice. He lives in Wilmington, North Carolina.

And one final bit of religion news, from the Southern Baptist Convention. The denomination elected a new president this week in a contentious race. He's the Reverend Frank Page of First Baptist Church in Taylor, South Carolina. Reverend Page has been described in press reports as an outsider, not aligned with the Southern Baptist conservative establishment.

I asked him if the reports were accurate.

Reverend FRANK PAGE (President, Southern Baptist): Hmm. Yes, they are correct. I am indeed a conservative, but I have not been politically involved with the power structure that has normally nominated pastors or persons for the top office.

ELLIOTT: And it's been years, I understand, since someone not endorsed by the old guard, so to speak, has been elected president.

Rev. PAGE: That was 1994, in actuality, so you're correct. It's been a long time.

ELLIOTT: Is your election some sort of turning point for the nation's 16 million Southern Baptists?

Rev. PAGE: Indeed it is. It's a defining moment and a turning point altogether because Southern Baptists were saying we want a change. We want more involvement in the process. They were saying that we want a more democratic convention, and indeed they rose up in large numbers and made that very, very clear, and I think that is extremely healthy.

ELLIOTT: What kind of change are you talking about? When we think of Southern Baptists, we think of a very conservative organization. Are we gonna be hearing something different from Southern Baptists now?

Rev. PAGE: Different, but not different in a - there's not gonna be no - there will be no change in overall conservative direction regarding moral issues. That will not change. But I do believe that some methodology is going to change. We're gonna make a concerted effort to reach out to younger pastors, to small church pastors of every age, medium-sized church pastors of every age, to involve more people in the process.

ELLIOTT: The Rev. Frank Page is the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Thank you for speaking with us, sir.

Rev. PAGE: You are very welcome. Thank you for letting me on the program.

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