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The blog—informal opinions and chat about the parish

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


When I was younger, the Christian world was divided rather neatly into about three camps. There were the Liberals, the Conservatives (with their awkward cousins the Fundamentalists), and the Roman Catholics. Nobody was quite sure where to put the Episcopalians, so they usually landed in the Liberal category, along with the mainline churches such as the Congregationalists and the Presbyterians. I remember one speaker (at a Methodist church) saying that Presbyterians were just Methodists with money.

Each group was pretty content looking at all the others and saying, "Well, you're not a Christian, are you?" More than once at a youth conference I heard someone give the testimony that "I used to be a Roman Catholic, but then I became a Christian."

In those comfortable days, when we were so self-assured in our niche, the big news media more or less ignored Christian faith issues. If a church had a special music program or dedicated a new building, the news might show up in the Religion section of the Sunday paper, but about the only news that broke out of that cubbyhole was something truly groundbreaking, such as consecrating an openly gay bishop.

Things have changed. Now you can easily find opinion columns in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and other major secular news media discussing core issues of Christian faith and doctrine. One recent example was a column in the Washington Post titled "The Trump evangelicals have lost their gag reflex."

I see this new public awareness as the result of several forces:
  1. Beginning at least as far back as the Supreme Court abortion decision (Roe v. Wade in 1973), a major faction of the Conservatives decided that their path to actualizing God's Kingdom on Earth was through politics, not preaching. (To be fair, the Liberals had adopted similar priorities during the Civil Rights protests a decade earlier.)
  2. Conservative Christians had never voted much, and during the comfortable 1950s, the dominant culture had supported most of their priorities. As the 1970s and 1980s became more frighteningly diverse, these voters became an easy prey for politicians who promised a return to the good old days.
  3. Single-issue voting became quite normal. More than one person told me that he/she was voting for Donald Trump because he was opposed to abortion, and that one issue defined whether he was the Christian candidate.
  4. Because of this single-issue focus, good church folk were quite willing to swallow non-Christian behaviors and attitudes in other areas. If a candidate was opposed to abortion and/or gay marriage, some folk can easily put up with sexual harassment, racial bigotry, selfishness, and a general disregard of the values most of us have called "Christian" for centuries.
Thus we arrive in a place where "Christian" means "maintaining the status quo of the 1950s and ignoring a lot of activities that victimize others—especially if those others aren't much like me."

The mainstream media are taking notice and are heaping scorn on this kind of religion.

Where should Episcopalians stand in all this?

Every Sunday morning, our priest follows the sermon with these words, "Let us stand and reaffirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed." That's a good place to begin, reaffirming our faith and identity as members of the Episcopalian arm of the Jesus Movement:
  1. Faith in Christ is central. "Christian" does not mean "supporting traditional American values." It means a radical commitment to Jesus and to His priorities, even when they might be uncomfortable. If someone (whether Roman Catholic or Conservative Baptist) shares this commitment, we are members of the same family.
  2. Hatred and fear are not part of our Gospel. That's difficult to remember because it is so easy to hate people who distort the truth and spread anti-Christian propaganda in the name of Christ. We must not hate them either.
  3. Jesus has a special place in His heart for the poor, the outcast, the rejected. If we are to be his followers, we need to have the same attitude. Even if we suspect that someone is poor because of making unwise choices, it's not our business to judge; our business is to provide help.
  4. A church that reflects the priorities of Jesus will be quite diverse. It will be multi-colored. It will be multi-ethnic. Gay people and divorced people will find a home here. Muslims and Jews will understand that we are their friends.
  5. The church was never intended to be a department of the government. (OK—I know that our history belies this, but I'm going back to the "Render unto Caesar" comment.)
I'm sure there's more to say, and I'm sure that Episcopalians, being a very diverse bunch, will include quite a number who disagree with me on one or more of these points, but this is the sort of church I want to be part of.