Scott Douglas Jacobsen: How did you become a Catholic Universalist?
Bishop George Kuhn: became a Universalist in my early teens having heard a sermon by a Roman Catholic priest I admired a lot. I questioned him about it and he made it clear that eventually all would “go to heaven.” Using the terminology I would understand and what was common (still is). I do not know the full demographics of the community.
Jacobsen: What are they?
Kuhn: Right now we have only one active parish, and that’s the Chapel of St. Mary Magdelene in Talakag, Bukidnon, Mindanao. Those folks are all Filipinos, of all ages. We have a fellowship in Parkersburg, West Virginia, USA, which ministers primarily to the LGBTGQ community, although they do a fair amount of social justice work for other causes, too.
Jacobsen: How did you begin training as a religious leader and subsequently begin moving up the ranks of the church?
Kuhn: I studied to become an Interfaith Minister at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City. After being ordained as a minister, I did independent study with Bishop Mark Sullivan in New York with the goal of being ordained to the priesthood. That happened November 1, 2008. After several years as a priest, Bishop Mark suggested that I be elevated to become a bishop. That happened on July 20, 2013. As part of my ministry, Bishop Mark and I founded the Catholic Universalist Church at that same ceremony on July 20, 2013. My idea was to reintroduce the concept to Universal Salvation to the Philippines in order to heal some of the religious injury inflicted at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, as well as some of the more fundamentalist Christian denominations.
Jacobsen: What is love to you?
Kuhn: Love has many different meaning. In the religious context, we speak of the “agape” love, or as some call it “big love.” John the Evangelist, in his first epistle, famously writes: “God is love.” And from that Divine Source we have everything that is, was and will be, as well as non-things that are timeless, as is the Divine Source.
Jacobsen: What are life and death you?
Kuhn: We are spiritual beings with eternal existence on that level. There is no spiritual death, and since our primary nature is spiritual, we are eternal beings. For reasons unknown to almost all of us, we inhabit a physical body that exists in time and will eventually cease to exist. The death of that body is undeniable. But our spirit continues. How much of what we experience as humans also continues is question I cannot answer definitively. There has always been much speculation; my personal opinion is that human experience is not lost when the body dies but is retained in the spiritual realm. Maybe it is for review; maybe just because the Divine Source retains everything.
Jacobsen: What are your perspectives on the possibility of an afterlife?
Kuhn: I kind of answered that one in the previous question. I definitely feel that there is spiritual life after bodily death, and I also believe we can reincarnate and “take another ride” on Planet Earth, or maybe another world, if we care to. Or maybe we might need to come back into material form to complete a task left undone.
Jacobsen: How do you help the community build and make the transitions from new life to the finality of the body with physical death?
Kuhn: There’s no escaping the mortality of the body. I don’t hold classes on how to transition. It’s going to happen and it is very often sudden with no conscious preparations. These are things more appropriately discussed with individuals, and each individual would have his/her own needs and questions.
Jacobsen: How do the central ethical precepts of the Catholic Universalist Church of the Philippines translate into individual lives and familial and community activities?
Kuhn: We are a community that gathers to show our gratitude to the Universal Source, the Godhead, the Ground of Being. (Personally, I try to avoid the use of the word “God” as much as possible. That term has some pretty hefty baggage attached depending on who is in on the conversation. I am absolutely not a theist, and the “God word” strongly implies that understanding. So I personally avoid it when possible. So in our communities, we try to change people’s perceptions about “God” from the “old man with the beard sitting on a cloud taking notes on everybody” do the Source of the eternal, infinite love shown to creation and from that love we have our very existence. And our worship services emphasis that love and our gratitude for it. Of course, Roman Catholics have been under pressure from the public because of the scandals around sexual abuse of children, young people, by some of the religious authorities in the Roman Catholic Church.
Jacobsen: How do you think they should have dealt with the situation?
Kuhn: The Roman Catholic hierarchy should have been totally upfront and transparent from the beginning. Instead, they almost without exception did the opposite and protected the criminals from civil justice.
Jacobsen: What have been real successes and honest failures of the Catholic Universalist Church of the Philippines?
Kuhn: The real success has been the flourishing of the Parish in Bukindon and the fellowship in Parkersburg. It is nearly 100% due to the efforts of Rev. Joseph Rholdee Lagumbay in Bukidnon and Rev. Steve Peck in Parkersburg. We “inherited” an existing parish in New York City from another church that could no longer provide a priest. The congregation was shrinking, and nothing we tried seemed to help. We simply could not get people through the door. In New York City there is a lot of competition for people’s attention 24/7 and we, as well as most other churches, have found that organized religion is not a high priority. So having to disband that parish, at the request of the laity on the parish council, was our first real failure.
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Kuhn: I appreciate the opportunity to introduce your readers to the Catholic Universalist Church. I hope I have given some insight into what we are about. We are an offshoot of the Liberal Catholic Church, Theosophy, and Gnosticism, so our theological leanings are very liberal and progressive. We have a very basic website: www.CatholicUniversalistChurch.org, and the Philippines has an active Facebook Page at Catholic Universalist Church of the Philippines, as well as Catholic Universalist Church of Asia Pacific.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Bishop Kuhn.
Kuhn: Thank you for inviting me to talk about our community.