Communion is Not a Prize for the Perfect

Today I was asked about the fact that Joe Biden, a practicing Roman Catholic, was denied communion in a Roman Catholic church because of his pro-choice stance in his public life. I’ve always found it interesting when a priest has done this to a pro-choice politician, because, as far as I know, it’s never been done to a politician who is pro-death penalty, even though both of those positions run contrary to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis was in full accord with the teaching of the United Methodist Church when he wrote:

“The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. These convictions have pastoral consequences that we are called to consider with prudence and boldness. Frequently, we act as arbiters of grace rather than its facilitators. But the Church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems.” [1]

Jenny and I try to make sure we state the United Methodist requirements for receiving communion every time we celebrate the sacrament. The only requirements are contained in the words of invitation:

“Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.” [2]

If you want to receive the sacrament, Jenny and I don’t have the authority to deny it to you. In line with United Methodist teaching, everyone who presents themselves (United Methodist or not, baptized or not) for communion will be given the bread and the cup. [3] Want to learn more about how the UMC understands communion? We’ve getting ready for a study on that, let me know if you’re interested.

[1] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of the Gospel (New York, NY: Image, 2014), Kindle, 38-39.

[2] The United Methodist Book of Worship (Nashville, TN: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1992), 35.

[3] I’m sure that I can’t even begin to imagine the fallout if we refused communion to someone and I have no desire to find out. This is less for fear of the consequences than out of a deep agreement with the sacramental theology of the United Methodist Church.