A few weeks, The Rev. Fr. Cutie, aka “Father Oprah” the most famous Latino Roman Catholic priest in Miami, and possibly the world, was received as an Episcopalian. In a year, he will be consecrated as a presbyter in the Church of God, Anglican division.
Apparently, he’d been thinking about the switchover for about two years. Which, coincidentally, was about the time he met his fiancée.
Is it a scandal? Not changing religions. We fought those wars. Luther changed the order after being irked by Italian impiety. Soon after, the English King and a handful of other skeptical types reformatted the faith, offering a freedom from the imperial church, who seemed to be opposed to good times and making money for anyone else except its own cardinals.
Change? Old news. If you aren’t forced to do it by the sword, maybe there’s another church that will make you richer and establish you with the right crowd.
Denominational fluidity has especially been a hallmark of our American Culture. It’s more about who’s parties you like than the distinctions between goats and sheep. Fortunately, we all think we’re in the right place when we get there.
For a variety of reasons, Roman Catholics find it harder to switch. It’s not because most actually believe that the pope is the best dressed guy in the world, or that the RC church has the stairs to the kingdom in some Vatican back alley. It’s a family, and nobody wants to abandon the family. To leave out of personal convenience seems tawdry. Sometimes we don’t agree with everything our mom says, but we don’t go and get a mother who agrees with us. We don’t go sleeping around with a bunch of younger, sexier religions just because our partners are getting a little dowdy. It’s for life.
It’s an old story. Catholic priest wants to get laid. God calls him to be a priest. And he thinks that Episcopalians are Catholic enough. So again, the Roman Catholic church has lost a guy who couldn’t remain in the church because he liked an adult women. To rub salt in the wound, he’s hot.
The real reason this is interesting is not the conversion. What’s wild is that he is a a celebrity. How many Episcopal priests have a TV show that’s not cable access? Most of the hand wringing isn’t because he’s moved over, but because the media does what it always does: compress time and space so that everyone is shocked and left feeling a bit bruised. Modernity allows us to create our own identity, to seek truth apart from culture. Postmodernism just speeds it up a hundred times.
More interesting, he chose the Episcopal Church. It would have made more sense to some if he had become Pentecostal, which is growing immensely in the Latino Community. Instead, he joined a church whose roots are not in Latin America but in the British Isles, a church that was once called the “Republican Party at prayer,” had FDR and Thurgood Marshall as members, and has ordained a gay bishop.
How was this possible? He chose the church for theological reasons. This is an example of a faith delinked and unmoored from cultural identity. If it had only been sex he could have stayed Roman and remained a layperson. But his cultural identity as a Roman Catholic was challenged by the cultural hegemony of American Protestantism.
Perhaps what has happened is that he represents the continued alteration of European-American culture by the Latino community. America, by making religion another commodity in the spiritual marketplace, will unmoor Latinos them from their own geography and traditions. That one can choose a faith demonstrates the cultural power of capital. Like most Americans, Latinos will find it easier to choose whatever faith suits them. Cutie chose the Episcopal Church.
I suspect, however, this will not be a one way change. What will also change is the Episcopal Church. I’m not sure if he will be eating cucumber sandwiches and drinking Gin and Tonics at our garden parties. Instead, we Episcopalians will be serving beans and rice and drinking Mojitos. Not a bad change for us. Let’s welcome it.