Stoning is a particularly barbaric form of execution still carried on in certain fundamentalist cultures, notably Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia and other places where zealots rule. Women are particular victims of this appalling practice since the fundamentalist rules of oppression for women can find a woman guilty of just about anything that deviates from what the male rulers dictate. Perhaps the most famous near-victim of stoning was Mary Magdalene, accused of adultery, whom Jesus saved with his famous challenge to the mob, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Modern western culture finds the actual practice of stoning repulsive, but we seem to practice the metaphorical equivalent with glee, throwing rocks at whomever we deem in need of punishment. The “comments” section of online news articles seems to be the modern stoning pit.
Christians and Catholics, who supposedly follow the New Testament call to charity and love, too often engage in verbal stoning of each other with particular enthusiasm. Scores of “Catholic” organizations, newsletters, blogs and websites seem engaged in little other work than tallying the sins of those with whom they disagree. These organizations are fond of condemning people, as if the writers were God’s appointed judges here on earth.
Politicians are particularly favorite targets for these groups because they necessarily have public positions on issues, an occupational hazard for our elected representatives. Last week in the Washington Post we saw yet another shameful example of Catholics publicly stoning another Catholic politician — former Mayor Anthony Williams who was seeking membership in the Order of Malta, a Catholic service organization. While the membership process in that organization is supposed to be private, someone leaked Malta’s internal deliberations to the media, resulting in a stunning embarrassment for the organization and the individual. People are entitled to their opinions, and organizations are entitled to their decisions, but this public stoning of Williams is the real scandal.
Even the bishops and the Pope are not immune from the self-appointed stoners. A plunge into the Catholic blogosphere is a depressing and exhausting journey into a world where too many people have forgotten the real meaning of our faith.
“As the editorial in this week’s paper points out, ‘hardly a day goes by that there are not magazine articles, newspaper ads, letters to the editor, blogs or other public declarations in which some people are denounced for being less Catholic, less orthodox, less open, less progressive, less faithful, less whatever than the person pointing the finger.’ Incrimination of others has become a hallmark among some groups and individuals in the Catholic Church in our country today.”
“…We are called to a higher level of respect for the truth and for each other than often is witnessed in some radio and television talk shows. The intensity of one’s opinion is not the same as the truth. Speaking out of anger does not justify falsehood.“Even those who describe themselves as polemists or are complicit in the adulation of being so named are bound by both the commandment, “You shall not bear false witness” (Deuteronomy 5:20), and Jesus’ instruction, “love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34).
“The more I reflect on our current level of Christian discourse, particularly in some of the highly opinionated publications, I sense the wisdom in the homily by my brother bishop when he reminded all of us that the division of the house into sheep and goats is really the task of the Lord in his role as Judge. In the meantime, unless we can truly say we are without sin, we should not cast the first or any stone.”
Archbishop Wuerl is right. We need to elevate the level of Christian discourse to end both literal and figurative stoning throughout the world.