Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Just Faith program is not Catholic

Occasionally I get queries about different parish programs and whether or not they are "safe" for parish use. Case in point is the JustFaith program, put on by Just Faith Ministries. Just Faith was founded in 1989 by a fellow by the name of Jack Jezreel, which is an interesting name from a Biblical standpoint; the Valley of Jezreel was where King Jehu had the apostate Queen Jezebel slain (2 Kings 9:1-10); it is also the location of the Battle of Armageddon at the end of time. But I digress. The program's website states:
JustFaith Ministries provides programs that transform people and expand their commitment to social ministry. Through these life-changing opportunities, members of a church or parish can study, explore and experience Christ’s call to care for the poor and vulnerable in a lively, challenging, multifaceted process in the context of a small faith community.
Have any of you come across the JustFaith program in your parishes or dioceses? Here is a run down of the program and some of its problems from Phyllis Sower. Mrs. Sower has practiced law for 33 years, now part-time, in Franklin County, KY. She is the co-founder and principal of Our Lady of Guadalupe Academy/Corpus Christi High School in Simpsonville, KY. and recently exposed the JustFaith program for the Los Pequenos Pepper publication in the Diocese of Santa Fe. So, is the JustFaith program Catholic? The following is from her article:

"I had already heard a little about the JustFaith program and some concerns regarding it just prior to the time that two members of our parish came to me to share their concerns. One of them had enrolled in the course and brought to me the full set of materials she purchased for the course requesting that I review it. I submit herein the results of my review in a spirit of fraternal correction and concern and to assist pastors and lay persons who lack time to read all the materials; a close examination of the program by the competent ecclesiastical authority is warranted to determine the advisability of its continued use.

In short, the program is a product of liberation theology and promotes the ordination of women, recognition of homosexual marriage, the feminization of God, extreme pacifism and environmentalism, using non-Catholic and Catholic dissenters to present “Catholic Social Teaching.” The JustFaith program is a partnership effort of Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Catholic Charities USA and Catholic Relief Services. It is billed as a ministry of the Church, “an invitation to a rich spiritual journey into compassion,” to “look more closely at the troubling issues of our times through the lens of compassion and Catholic social teaching.” According to page two of the Notes to participants, week 2, the program sets out to teach the "rich tradition of Catholic Social Teaching." However, there is little reference to the encyclicals, Catechism, conciliar documents or the Summa Theologica where the Church’s authentic social teaching is to be found. (Nota Bene: one of my sons is taking a course on Catholic Social Teaching at a Catholic University; the curriculum consists of: Rerum Novarum, Mater et Magistra, Quadragessimo Anno, Pacem in Terris, Gaudium et Spes, Popularum Progressio, Octogessima Adviens, Laborens Exercens, Sollicidudo Rei Socialis, Finitessimus Annus, section 10 of the 5th Lateran Council, and sections of the Summa on Justice and Cheating/Usury).

The very opening sessions of the JustFaith program are problematic. For example, in week 2, the opening prayer invokes 21 “witnesses of hope,” including Mohandes Gandhi–“great soul of peace,” Flannery O’Connor (note: from my acquaintance with the life and writings of this great American writer, I submit that she would strenuously object to JustFaith and being prayed to for she was a devout Catholic), Thomas Merton (much of his later work was heterodox), Martin Luther King, Jr., Joseph Bernardin, Albert Schweitzer, concluding with, “All you holy men and women, salt and light for our world, Pray for us.”Attachment B of the same week lists discussion and dialogue goals, including the search for the best “view,” incorporate varied perspectives, etc. There is no reference to seeking, teaching, or understanding the truth as taught by the Church. As Pope Benedict has reiterated, “real education is not possible without the light of truth.”

There are 4 books in the program: Cloud of Witnesses by Wallis and Hollyday, Compassion by Nouwen, et al, The Challenge and Spirituality of Catholic Teaching, by Mich, and Amazing Grace by Kozol. None of them has a Nihil Obstat or Imprimatur despite the pretensions of this course to present the “rich tradition of Catholic Social Teaching.” An examination of the content of the texts reveals significant reasons there is not and should not be an official stamp of the Church’s stamp of approval on any of these books or the program.

The Cloud of Witnesses book is most revealing of the agenda of this program and of content contrary to the authentic social teaching of the Catholic Church. It is clearly stated that, “The articles and interviews in this book have been adapted from material originally published in Sojourners magazine.” The author, Jim Wallis, was founder and executive director of Sojourners. He has written in favor of gay “marriage.” The author, Joyce Hollyday, is a minister in the United Church of Christ. Sojourners is described as non-denominational according to its website, but includes left wing Catholic peace activists and dissenters, a Masonic veterans group, favors gay/lesbian partnerships, has a policy statement in favor of recognition and legal protection for the same, including gay “marriage,” and favors ordination of women, claiming five female ordinations and female bishops. This background should constitute sufficient cause to question inclusion of the book as a source of authentic Catholic Social teaching.

In addition, out of 35 articles, only 11 appear to be about known Catholics. I say “known” because the faith of some was not identifiable. For certain, most were not Catholic at all and included a Living Waters pastor, Georgia minister, Episcopal minister, Martin Luther King, Jr., Sojourner Truth, a Presbyterian pastor, a Quaker, three Baptists, one now non-denominational former Methodist then Presbyterian, a Dutch Reformed preacher and a number of others not Catholic but whose denomination was not mentioned. Among the persons featured were a draft-dodger, proponent of the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church, one pastor and his wife imprisoned for non-payment of taxes, one whose “consciousness” came from liberation theology and another who said the truth was not the captive of any enterprise or religion.

Among the Catholics featured in the book were many known dissenters such as Father Daniel Berrigan, Sr. Joan Chittister, Father Pedro Arrupe and others who criticize the Church rather than advance her authentic teachings. Some examples will suffice:
  • Joan Chitttister’s unabashed advancement of the ordination of women is championed. She said, “There’s either something wrong with the present theology of ministry, or there is something wrong with the present theology of all the sacraments. If women qualify for baptism, confirmation, salvation, and redemption, how can they be denied the sacrament of ministry?” Her arguments that women are ignored in church language and for the feminization of God are given ample play in the text.

  • Jesuit superior general Pedro Arrupe openly rejected Humanae Vitae and his “restructuring” of the Jesuits did much harm to the Order; the circumstances of his removal are unclear to me, but Pope John Paul II passed over Arrupe’s designated successor for another.

  • Father Miguel D’Escoto is not permitted to celebrate the Eucharist in public or private.

  • Father Elias Chacour, a Catholic priest and pacifist in Israel, attacked the wealth of the Church and described his despair of the institutional Church and its hierarchy.

  • Archbishop Dom Camara, who certainly sacrificed for the poor of his native Brazil, was a devotee of Gandhi and criticized the Church for its programs and priorities; at the closing session of Vatican II, he proposed that all the bishops surrender their crosses of precious metals for meltdown and distribution of the proceeds to the poor.

  • Father George Zabelka is an extreme pacifist who accuses Christianity of seventeen hundred years of terror and slaughter.

  • Journalist Penny Lernoux had distanced herself from the Church but returned in the “awakening” of Vatican II, which she described as “set to turn the Church on its head,” while she was herself under the inspiration of liberation theology.

The magisterial authority of the Church was not recognized in this book. There was a nice article on St. Francis of Assisi, who was called the “greatest saint.” This book would be perfectly suited to a study of liberation theology, which, of course, has been soundly refuted by the Church beginning with Divini Redemptoris. Pope Pius XI stated that the Church could not cooperate with Marxists. Liberation theology would divert the Church from her mission of salvation to one of social welfare agency.

One of the authors of Compassion was Henri Nouwen, who was described in Cloud of Witnesses as a Dutch priest and contributing editor to Sojourners. His funeral Mass was described in the book as a “carnival atmosphere” where actors and actresses “breathed life into the gospel reading.” In the Preface, the tone of the book is set with a quote from theologian, Gail O’Day, “Just as it is false to the richness of the Christian tradition to use father language as generic language for God, it ....” This book does more to diminish than to advance the true faith, for example:

  • The authors assert that the Gospels support reference to the “womb” of God (pp. 14-16).

  • They say we should see compassion not in moralistic terms (emphasis added; the implication is that we should disregard sin, p. 28).

  • They wrote that choosing to suffer as “an obedient response to our loving God” is, for Christians, a “false belief that in so doing they were following the way of Jesus Christ.”

  • The section on the breaking of bread omits all reference to sacrifice and the Holy Eucharist as the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, the real presence; the sole emphasis is on community and eating bread and drinking wine as a memorial, where we become intimately connected “to the compassionate life of Christ.” (p. 111).

  • Our “bread connections” are a “call to action.” He writes that when people eat bread and drink wine in his (Christ’s) memory, "smiles appear on strained faces" (p. 132).

The Mich book has some good quotes, including some references to encyclicals and Saints, but they are interlaced with error. For example, St. Boniface’s challenge to the god Thor inspired conversions but led to the unintended consequence of “diminished awe for the sacredness of nature.” (p. 34). We are instructed that every creature, animate and inanimate, can be a “sacrament.” Life issues are discussed with no reference to the evil of contraception.

We are told that there was an early Catholic attitude, still present, that saw humans as the apex of creation and this too often led to exploitation of nature (p. 41). Quoting Sister Elizabeth Johnson, the author explains that “previous theologies would have human beings with their rational souls as superior to the natural world.” Such a ranking, he writes, easily “gives rise to arrogance, one root of the present ecological crisis.” We are told that we need ‘species humility’ (p. 43). I read this and wondered whatever happened to Genesis: man is made in the image and likeness of God and has dominion?

On pages 43-44, we read that we must “reimagine our place in creation” with these questions, each of which is directly or by implication in conflict with the truth:

  • How to preach salvation as healing and rescue for the whole world rather than as solely an individual relationship with God?

  • How to let go of contempt for matter, contempt for the body and sexuality, and how to revalue themas good and blessed?

  • How to interpret human beings as primarily “earthlings” rather than as pilgrims or tourists whose real home is elsewhere?

  • How to recognize the sacraments as symbols of divine graciousness in a universe that is itself a sacrament?

  • What kinds of new spiritualities will emerge as we become creation-centered?
The author references Familiaris Consortio, then trashes it and exposes his real agenda:
"Today, Catholic theology and spirituality does not view the love of another human being as distracting from our love of God. In fact, love of a spouse and child is viewed as participation in divine love. Sexuality is viewed in more positive terms as a gift of God to be enjoyed and celebrated within committed love and not only tolerated for the sake of procreation. These positive themes provide the starting points for a reinterpretation of marriage and family within the Catholic tradition. This revisioning is only in beginning stages. Catholicism and other Christian denominations are still working on understanding the role of women in the church and society and the meaning of committed homosexual relationships." (p. 81, emphasis added)

No sugar coating can cover the bitter taste of this poisonous error!

The Kozol book contains wrenching stories from the author’s experiences in South Bronx, significantly centered around St. Ann’s Episcopal Church with its pastor, Rev. Martha Overall, who “confesses” the children. What this book contributes to an understanding of Catholic Social Teaching is a mystery. The book is interesting private reading, although the heralding of it by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund would have otherwise steered me clear of it.

Interestingly, both of the parishioners who brought to my attention that Just Faith was in progress at our church are converts. They are actively engaged in learning the Catholic Faith. One said to me, “Something about this (Just Faith) material is really bothering me. I don’t know why, but I am disturbed and irritated when reading it.” She wants to deepen her understanding of the true Faith; most of this material does just the opposite, leads away from it. The disturbance of the spirit is easily understandable.

We possess the truth in all its beauty, richness and wonder; we possess the authentic Magisterium. Why not use it? As the Holy Father has reminded us, real education is grounded in truth."

Click here for another great article on the danger's of Just Faith from the Restore DC Catholicism blog, which has already amply documented the issue.

Click here for a follow-up article on the Marxist tendencies of JustFaith.


Lee said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this concise work. I have also had a negative gut reaction to JF ever since it was first introduced to our parish. There are a couple of us who have written to our pastor and asked him to review the program. Recently, the new recruiting efforts for JF were cancelled. Praise God!

We must always be on guard with programs such as these. I also read their guide to a teen lesson on the environment...in part it has the teens standing in a circle around the trappings of materialism, and while they bless themselves silently, the leader is to say aloud - "in the name of the one above us, the one below us and the one around us"


Thank you again - I pray more people will come to know this wolf in sheep's clothing and that this program will be denied access to our parishes.

Another convert -

JD said...

At the local Novus Ordo parish here in Gainesville, Fl they use "Why Catholic" which is a RENEW program. They also used Cardinal Mahony's "We Gather Together Faithfully" to explain the Mass and the Eucharist and one of the guys running for parish council president said of Mahony "I sure hope he sticks around he is a really good catechist." When I told the group and the leaders of it that "Why Catholic" does not teach the Catholic Faith at all they sort of just stared at me dumbfounded.

It would seem that this sort of thing is everywhere today. There is a total revolution still going on in the Catholic Church and almost zero leadership on any level that is trying to stop it. Those of us who have learned the Faith in spite of the rotten catechesis are proof that grace is real. Thanks for showing this program for what it is.

Anonymous said...

Ok Boniface don't do too many things at once.
If I were you I would keep my blog and not play by ruining it all because you might have too much on your plate.
Your knowledge of the Church and its history is greatly value as a blog, just like it is now.

I would caution you not to enlist too many endevours as exciting you might think it will be you will soon find out that you cannot do it all, and on top of it do it well.

Again it is none of my business but I thought I would share my thoughts. The reality is that time is going faster and there is no time for everything, but anyhow good luck with all your plans.

God Bless!

Boniface said...

Haham thanks Anonymous. Don't worry, though - I just copied and pasted most of this article, so it's no trouble.

Everybody is perpetually worried that I am doing too many things!

Rose Berger said...

Wow! You guys are really out there. JustFaith is a wonderful program that is bringing people back to church. It deepens faith, teaches a living Catholicism, and encourages Catholic witness in the community. If you don't like the program, or don't find it helpful to what you want in your faith, then by all means don't join a JustFaith group. I've attended several and led a few. I found the information, books, and discussion to be a great help in strengthening my Catholicism and drawing me closer to the Eucharist.

Anonymous said...

Rose, we shouldn't confuse people just because we see some goo results out of the efforts. Truth matters and when you mic truth with lies, people end up with a poorly formed faith. There are plenty of people who have learned good things from the Koran but that doesn't make it good. We should love our faith enough to demand authentic teaching each and every time we discuss/study the faith. Our faith is precious from God and we should expect the best.
God bless an I am glad you have been brought closer to the Holy Eucharist.

Restore-DC-Catholicism said...

Just Faith is a quintessential snake in the grass. Yes, these folks surround themselves with Catholic trappings, but subtly promote liberation theology and dissent from the Church's teachings on sexuality and life. I've blogged extensively on this topic, as this Just Faith mess has infiltrated even my own parish. Please visit http://restore-dc-catholicism.blogspot.com/ and put the words "Just Faith" in that little search box. Read all the posts, as well as the links which are also useful. Thank you.

Boniface said...

Thanks, Restore-DC. I linked your article up at the bottom of the post!

Anonymous said...

I have taken JustFaith, and am in my second year as a volunteer facilitator. I have been participating in daily Mass for over 30 years, have gone through the formation of Disciples of Jesus and Mary, and certainly would not accept any teaching of error of our beloved Catholic Church. If there were errors, I would seek to do something about it with those responsible for the curriculum.

I experienced much spiritual growth in the weekly prayer, Scripture, the book and documentary discussion. I have seen much fruit from graduates in our parish—one starting a homeless ministry, another organizing business and community leaders for a civil discourse forum on immigration, another educating that the Church teaches that we are to respect life from conception to natural death, and the problems then with the death penalty, another going door to door in a low income neighborhood. Everyone seems to be inspired to be more involved with helping those in need on a personal level, rather than writing a check.

JustFaith is not about the teaching of sacraments of ordination or marriage, so does not discuss and does NOT promote ordination of women or homosexual marriage. The environmentalism is about stewardship of resources. Social Justice is NOT synonymous with liberation theology, and such articles I think confuse people that they are one and the same.

JustFaith is a dynamic program, and improving. There are more than 4 books in the current curriculum. Two of those criticized here (Cloud of Witnesses and Amazing Grace) have been replaced by others over a year ago. I am not impressed by Phyllis’s effort to dissect and find what she thinks was lacking, or wrong. Instead of tearing down, why is there no mention that she offered her knowledge, gifts, and talents to contribute to the program? If she went to the decision makers, and her concerns were rebuffed, and she enlisted ecclesiastical support, and that too was disregarded, then I would want to hear the concerns that went unheeded.

I invite those who want to grow in understanding, and thereby love of those less fortunate, JustFaith is a great program to facilitate that growth.

God bless,
Janet, dJM

Anonymous said...

It appears that the author and responders is more catholic than Christian. I've been through JF and no, I don't agree with everything but then I don't agree with everything in the catecism. Go back to the Scripture.


Boniface said...

"More Catholic than Christian?"

To be Catholic is to be Christian in the fullest sense. Go back to the Scripture? We do. That is why we are Catholic and not wishy-washy pan-Christians. If you do not agree with the teachings of the Church, why even call yourself Catholic? Go find a Church that suits *your needs* better. Catholics are expected to follow the Catholic faith.

Kelly said...

I just went to an inquirers meeting at my Church to hear a presentation of JustFaith, held for the purpose of gaining people to join for this year. I had that FIF (funny internal feeling) as I listened and watched. Not that God was sending me vibes. But nevertheless, I felt uneasy. So I stumbled on your site. I'm going to print the article and give it to my pastor. This will be awkward, because I'm "new," and a recent convert, and may where out my welcome at this parish, since I've already submitted a paper to the pastor on "centering prayer," which he allows to be promoted at this parish also.
Thanks so much,

Boniface said...

Wow, awesome Kelly. I am glad to help. There are two more posts on this blog about JustFaith - click the JustFaith label at the bottom of the post.

DeniseT said...

I just learned of this blog post yesterday and was dumbfounded. I went through the entire JustFaith program 3 years ago and had a wonderfully positive experience. Every single session included Scripture, prayer and respectful dialogue about complex issues. The members of our small group ran the gamut of the political spectrum, and every single person had a positive experience. For some it was truly life changing: 2 women in the group participated in the parish's mission to Jamaica for the first time ever, both saying it never would have occurred to them to do so before JustFaith. I, and the rest, learned about the Church's encyclicals in a way that we never did before. The average Catholic has no idea what 'Rerum Novarum' means, and this program not only introduced us to the rich aspect of Catholic teaching, but gave us the opportunity to explore it in our everyday world. And never never never was there any mention of the radical views that are described in the blog above. Never. If you are wondering if this program is good or bad, right or wrong, for you or your parish, I encourage you to give it a try and see what it is really about, rather than relying on hearsay.

Boniface said...


I suppose one's experiences can be different depending on who moderates the sessions, but please note, this post is not based on hearsay, but on quotations from the actual books used by the program. Did your program not use these books?

Unknown said...

I was exponed to The JustFaith Program as part of The Aspirancy Year for The Permanent. Diaconate in The Archdiocese of Atlanta. From the very beginning I was uneasy with the program: new age rituals, an overdose of Thomas Merton, no official church teaching and a slip of the tongue when the Deacon instructor openly questioned why his daughter could not celebrate all the Sacraments his son could. Ummm...what could he possibly mean? And then there was the film, "Portrait of a Radical," which does nothing to engender a deeper understanding of the Church's social justice doctrine. When I raised concerns about the program, I was brought in to the Archidiocese office and told quote: "You're no longer welcome in the Aspirancy Program." I was dismissed halfway through the Aspirancy Year in Aug 2013. In my opinion, this program is not in keeping with the official magisterium of the Church, is liberation theology and most importantly, not Christ-centered. 6 months later, I have to admit, I am still bothered by the way Iwas treated in a most unchristian like manner. It was shameful.

Unknown said...

I was exponed to The JustFaith Program as part of The Aspirancy Year for The Permanent. Diaconate in The Archdiocese of Atlanta. From the very beginning I was uneasy with the program: new age rituals, an overdose of Thomas Merton, no official church teaching and a slip of the tongue when the Deacon instructor openly questioned why his daughter could not celebrate all the Sacraments his son could. Ummm...what could he possibly mean? And then there was the film, "Portrait of a Radical," which does nothing to engender a deeper understanding of the Church's social justice doctrine. When I raised concerns about the program, I was brought in to the Archidiocese office and told quote: "You're no longer welcome in the Aspirancy Program." I was dismissed halfway through the Aspirancy Year in Aug 2013. In my opinion, this program is not in keeping with the official magisterium of the Church, is liberation theology and most importantly, not Christ-centered. 6 months later, I have to admit, I am still bothered by the way Iwas treated in a most unchristian like manner. It was shameful.

Katherine Hess said...

JustFaith deals with the heart of the Gospel. It appears that many people don't deal well with Jesus' intense compassion and love for the poor and suffering. My suggestion is to go back and use the four gospels as your starting point to critique JustFaith and you will come out with an entirely different point of view.

Anonymous said...

Wow, your criticism and staunch ideological extremism is part of what is killing Catholicism.I suspect you are secretly hoping that Pope Francis fails in his quest to bring Jesus' humanity back to a dead or morally dying church. JustFaith is the best thing to happen to our stilted parishes since Vatican Ii set the Holy Spirit free from the shackles people like you put on it in the name of authority and regiment.