Purging the Faithful
July 14, 2014
Do people use Rolodexes anymore? How many people under the age of 30 even know what a Rolodex is? Pictured here, it is, according to Wikipedia, “a rotating file device used to store business contact information.” The word was created from the words “rolling” and “index”. I imagine that most people, these days, store contacts on their smart phones, eliminating the need for rolodexes and “telephone books”. As a parish priest, my Rolodex was perhaps the most important thing in my office. Each and every parishioner had a separate card with their name, address, phone number and other important information relevant to their relationship to the parish.
My Rolodex was vital in keeping in contact with not only parishioners, but others who visited and expressed interest in the life of the church. Records of important spiritual events such as baptisms, conversions, marriages and funerals were kept in separate record books. These books were large, imposing, old and semi-sacred registry books known as “metric books”. The books in my previous parish went back to the early twentieth century when the parish was first formed. Recording each event was a milestone for the individual, his/her family, and the parish community. When a parishioner passed away, a record of their burial was entered in the metric book. But there was another action, less formal, but just as final. If there were no longer any living family members of the deceased, who had any contact with the church, I reluctantly removed the index card with their name and address from the parish Rolodex. Their memory was kept alive however, through the prayers of the community. Still, the removal of the card was somehow very sad and final. It was a visual reminder that the person no longer had any earthly contact with the parish. Reluctantly, I used to throw the cards away.
Parish churches were not the only places with index cards in Rolodexes. “The Normal Heart” is a play written by Larry Kramer that was recently turned into an HBO movie with the same name. The movie recalls the early days of the AIDS crisis in the 1980’s and the terrible toll that it took on the gay community in particular. One of the characters, Tommy Boatwright, played by Jim Parsons in the movie, delivers a stirring eulogy at the death of a close friend who has died from AIDS. Boatwright says:
I have this tradition,” he states, “it’s something I do now when a friend dies. I save his Rolodex card. What am I supposed to do? Throw it away in the trash can? I won’t do that. No, I won’t. It’s too final. Last year, I had five cards, now I have 50. A collection of cardboard tombstones bound together with a rubber band.
Tommy kept a visual, a very emotional remembrance of loved ones who had departed. In analyzing the action of his character, Parsons stated: “when you see something as simple as a Rolodex card being taken out because the person is no longer with us, it says more than the grandest gesture ever could. You don’t have to be gay and you don’t necessarily have to have known anybody who’s gotten sick to understand the depth of what’s being told here and the heartbreak of it.”
How many index cards has the Orthodox Church deliberately thrown into the trash? How many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered, baptized and chrismated Orthodox Christians have been covertly or overtly removed from lists of Church membership simply for expressing who God made them to be? How many people have been turned away by the Church because they were honest about who they loved and who they wanted to share their life with? How many parents of gay and lesbian children have been counseled by the Orthodox Church to reject their children because of their sexual orientation? How many times has the Orthodox Church committed spiritual and psychological malpractice by pushing gay men and lesbians into harmful “conversion therapy”? How many Orthodox gay couples have had to seek the sacrament of marriage outside of their own Church, because they were refused a marriage in their own parish? How many times has a gay or lesbian individual been unable to properly mourn for their deceased spouse or partner at a funeral, due to the prejudicial and unpastoral restrictions placed on them by the Church?
Does the Church mourn for the faithful it has purposely discarded into the trash? Do they somehow comfort themselves by continuing to cling to the sad adage of “love the sinner, hate the sin”? Do the bishops of the Church wonder about the souls they have rejected based on archaic interpretations of Scripture, and canon law? Are the priests of the Church concerned about the precious souls they might have spiritually damaged, because of a lack of knowledge of modern science, psychology and gender? At what point does the laity of the church, especially those with LGBT children, siblings, and friends say enough is enough? The Church needs to stop the continued practice of throwing souls and lives away. Stop throwing the Rolodex index cards in the garbage! The cards still fit, and if they do not, it’s time for the Church to change the container.