By Mary Meldrum
YOU CANNOT ATTEND SUNDAY MASS HERE. It is not that kind of church. They have no clergy and don’t hold regular mass. Michael Voris, owner of St. Michael’s Media in Church Militant in Ferndale explained that they are an “apostolate”: Their purpose is to do the work, and conform to the mission, of the Catholic church.
The Church Militant web site is thick with information and articles as well as videos that lay out their perspective on everything from the fall of Adam and Eve to altar girls. They offer livestream prayer, publish books, hold conferences and post videos – lots of videos. Probably 80 percent of their work as an apostolate is dedicated to the web site.
Yet their narrative bears little resemblance to the Catholicism and teachings many of us are familiar with.
The controversial organization was referred to as a “Catholic fringe group” by the Detroit Free Press in a harshly critical 2017 article. And David Garcia of Ferndale’s Affirmations had this to say about Church Militant: “Any time someone is condemning gay lesbian and transgender people to hell, it doesn’t feel very welcoming. He has called the LGBT people ‘sinners,’ he is enjoying rights that he would deny other people. That is not welcoming, that is hypocrisy.”
TITUS 1:16 – THEY PROFESS TO KNOW GOD…
In a revealing interview with Voris, it was immediately clear that he considers himself an expert on all things Catholic. “We are an organization dedicated to making sure people understand authentic Catholic teaching so they can go to heaven,” Voris clarified.
I asked him what he wants the city of Ferndale – residents, businesses and neighbors – to know about Church Militant and what he would like to say to his neighbors?
“I have been a resident of Ferndale since 2000. I would like them to know that our work is dedicated to every person’s supreme good, and that good is that when they die they spend eternity with God, not in hell. Anything we can do to advance that cause, we are happy to do.”
Voris doesn’t believe there ever should have been any kind of barrier between church and state. “The idea that there is somehow a wall, which has been misinterpreted by the courts, that none of the other parts of our world or culture can flood over into society is a wholly un-Catholic position. To draw an artificial line to separate church and state is not right.”
I asked Voris to explain the reference to persecution of Christians on the Church Militant website. He said, “For example, all of the wedding photographers, bakers, florists who may be Christian being sued because they refuse to service a gay wedding. It goes against their conscience. Another example is Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act) and the contraception mandate. If we had over 50 employees, we would have been forced to provide contraception in the healthcare plan. If you didn’t, you were fined,” Voris offered.
The undertone of Michael’s answer, as well as Church Militant’s teachings, is that there is a hard line as to who is “right” and “wrong” in terms of morality and behavior. There are those who will reach the Kingdom of Heaven and those who will not.
DAVID GARCIA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF AFFIRMATIONS in Ferndale replied, “People have a right to their opinion, but let’s take the religious exemptions: A doctor refuses to treat a baby because they have gay parents, or wedding photographers and bakers refuse for the same reason. When you sign a business license, all of our tax dollars are involved. We all pay for the services. I don’t care what you do in your church, but the moment you enter the public square with a business license, it is different. Much more than doctors, photographers and bakers refusing to treat any in the LGBT community because of their religious beliefs.
“We are talking about more than free speech. The President’s policies are attacking the LGBT community, and there is a rise in hate crimes. You can’t yell fire in a theater and when you tell your congregation that my love is not equal to your love, that I don’t deserve the same basic human love that you have, that speech has ramifications. It enforces an idea that LGBT people are not good enough. Any time you do that to a group of people, violence ensues. Whether you ever said to hit or kick that person, you contributed to the production of the act.”
How does Voris feel about his work being characterized as hateful and potentially speech, and I don’t hate anyone who has a different view. The label of hate comes out quickly. I may be considered a hateful person because I hurt someone’s feelings, but that is different than physically harming anyone.”
Garcia: “Any time that you treat other people as second-class citizens not worthy of the same rights that you enjoy, you are hurting them. The LGBT Community has faced our share of religious persecution ranging from preachers holding signs of ‘God hates fags’ to others condemning us to hell, and he is no different. If Michael truly understood the beauty and the diversity of human sexuality, we would all be better off and he would too. I don’t allow a 2000-year-old book to define human sexuality for me.”
“We have just as many LGBT churches on our side. Plenty of Christian pro-LGBT and people out there. It’s easier to come out now, but it is not easy. We have a lot of work to do. Voris is nothing new. We have dealt with a long line of homophobic bigots. I feel sorry for him.”
MATTHEW 25: 31-46 – “TRULY, I SAY TO YOU, AS YOU DID IT TO ONE OF THE LEAST OF THESE MY BROTHERS, YOU DID IT TO ME.”
Fr. Paul Chateau of St. James Catholic Church in Ferndale has been the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima in Oak Park for 46 years, and when St. James Catholic Church in Ferndale merged with his congregation, he became the pastor for both churches under the new name of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.
At 79 years of age, Fr. Chateau doesn’t mince words when replying to questions about Church Militant.
“I don’t subscribe to most of that,” Fr. Chateau says. “They are agitators. They think the Pope is too progressive. From what I read, they are fanatics. This isn’t the ‘50s. There’s a whole new world now.”
“The Church is evolving in positive ways.” He continues, “The new focus on bringing together the community of God’s people is less vertical and more encompassing.”
He has lived in Oak Park for 46 years, “The people who were married to the past have faded from our operation. Parishioners now have a more open spirit, from my perspective. Come to church sometime,” he urges me. “There is a lot of value. And if ever we needed it in my lifetime, I encourage you to visit it again.”