Responsibility and The Church

We all have responsibilities to meet. To be charged with the care of others, and to be in the care of others, encompasses much of what it means to be a human. We are creatures of God that come into the world in need. It was not good for us to be alone. Many of the needs we experience throughout our lives can be satisfied only through the presence of other human beings, and when we recognize and respond to these needs in others, then we are in the presence of Christ.

Sometimes our responsibilities are clear. We know our family obligations and professional obligations; we grasp what it means to make and keep a promise to a friend, and we understand the idea of patriotic duty. But sometimes, our obligations conflict with one another. At times, we are uncertain what our obligations are. How much must I do to meet my obligation? Exactly who does this obligation include? Am I really my brother’s keeper?

We bear some responsibilities alone, but many we share with others. People join groups that accept responsibility for specific tasks: to clean up a roadside or to protect a place of natural beauty, to raise money for a worthy project, to feed the hungry. And Christians have responsibility as members of the Church. We are obligated to each other as members of the body of Christ, as well as to our neighbors outside the church and to all of creation.

The essays in the Trinity 2013 issue of The Cresset consider the Church and its responsibilities. In “A Church of Their Own,” Martha Greene Eads offers a new interpretation of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, one of the most compelling recent works to address the Catholic Church’s failure to protect children from sexual abuse. As terrible as this failure was, Eads argues that Shanley’s drama points to connections between this failure and another within the Church, an ancient tradition of patriarchy in theology and practice that has justified the oppression of women and protected the Church’s hierarchy from accountability. In making this connection, Eads finds that Shanley echoes the writings of the English writer Virginia Woolf.

In “From Commodity to Community,” Gilson A. C. Waldkoenig urges the Church to take seriously its responsibility to creation, not only by engaging in public advocacy for wilderness preservation, but also by recognizing how the properties owned by the Church are interconnected with the rest of creation and are thus part of the very ecosystems that it wishes to preserve.

And in “The Development of Liturgical Artist Ernst Schwidder,” Joel Nickel details the career and presents examples of work by an artist who captured the theology of the cross in the media of wood and bronze. The work of Schwidder—a former Valparaiso University art professor—is found inside church buildings of many Christian denominations across the United States. What is the Church’s responsibility in this case? It is to keep and preserve the treasures entrusted to it. No comprehensive catalogue of Schwidder’s work exists. Many of his sculptures are probably enjoyed by congregations who worship in their presence every week even though these pieces remain unknown to the wider Church. A group is forming that is committed to locating examples of Schwidder’s art and to make sure that they are not destroyed or lost as churches are renovated. (If there is artwork by Ernst Schwidder in your church, feel free to contact the editors at cresset@valpo.edu, and we will put you in touch with those committed to this project.)

The Church, like each of us, has many different responsibilities. And also like us, sometimes the Church knows what it must do, and sometimes it is uncertain; sometimes it does as it should, and sometimes it fails. We may think of ourselves as autonomous and independent, but the reality is that our lives are tied to others, to the rest of creation. We bear these responsibilities every day that we draw breath in this world, and as members of the body of Christ, we bear them together.



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