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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

My deep thought (in lieu of political) of the day:

Time has an editorial up about how the “traditionalists” in religious denominations represent the future of religion. A lot of this is so thoroughly old news to those of us that follow religion blogs, I could almost predict the argument before I read it. Mainline Christian churches are failing, liberal “reformers” lead to smaller rather than larger church communities, the equation of side with success, the demographic points that the “traditionalists” are out-breeding everyone else, including the secularists (which the article takes to mean those religious reformers, not secular humanists/atheists).

What really fascinates me here is the use of labels. The author starts by discussing a court case where a bunch of ex-Episcopalians in Falls Church, VA (lovely group of people, btw, and a lovely church building – I worshiped there twice when I was interning with Prison Fellowship in the next town over) left the denomination over Gene Robinson’s elevation to the bishopric, and became “Falls Church Anglican.” The Virginia state supreme court just said the Episcopalian denomination, not the local congregation, gets the church building.

The traditionalists – meaning the folks who wanted to break away from the tradition, the ones leaving the denomination – had to move out and a much smaller Episcopalian congregation is moving in. I’m sure the Falls Church group feels betrayed by their denomination and probably views themselves as restoring the tradition, kind of like Protestants in the Protestant Reformation thought they were reclaiming the “true” church. But you could make just as strong a case, I think, that the so-called traditionalist groups mentioned are conservative in a way the actual tradition never was. They’re often reactionaries.

And even if their views on issues like gender and sex seem so retrograde they have to be closer to history than the present consensus, the way those views relate to the larger culture is anything but traditional. At least in Biblical times, the Christian tradition was progressive n a pretty radical way: as hard as Paul’s views on women can be to swallow, to take one example, Christians actually took flack for the prominent way women featured in the early Christian church. You could make the case that in the 2,000 years since then, Christianity has failed to live up to that promise. But IMO that’s way too simple of a story. Many people calling themselves Christians were part of the power structure. (I blame Constantine, and all the Constantines since then that prefer empire to the kingdom of God.)

But there has always been a tradition – which I consider much more in line with the church Christ tried to establish, and before then with the covenantal relationship between God and the Israelites – that emphasized love, justice, mercy, and care for the least of these. The very fact that this split is driven by sexual politics rather than theology is a radical break from the Christian tradition. Even the editorial author recognizes this fact. To me, it seems a pretty big mistake to think traditionalist means being politically conservative – especially when the tradition started with a King born in a stable and killed on a tree. Talk about subversive.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Apr. 29th, 2013 05:35 pm (UTC)
I find it darkly humorous that cleaving to the exact same body of doctrine at different points in human history could have labeled me as an atheist (Roman empire pre-Constantine), a heretic (Middle Ages), a radical (Reformation), an oppressor (to non-Lutherans in a Lutheran state pre-30-Years'-War), mainline (post-30-Years'-War), and now, apparently, "reactionary" and "retrograde." Oh, and let's not forget "bigot," "Nazi," "Christian Taliban," or any other of the harsher pejoratives I've seen bandied about.

Just because certain doctrines have a "human application" element to them does not turn them into mere "politics," and I don't think that a bunch of parishioners leaving their church over a deliberate change in a sexual doctrine is much different than two churches splitting over a change in a fellowship doctrine (which has happened before and will happen every time there's a church merger). The only reason that this hasn't come up before is that in the past, almost all denominations agreed (rightly or wrongly) that the only appropriate venue for human sexuality was within marriage-as-it-existed-at-the-time. And, guess what, the church Christ established and the covenant before that both have a history of getting involved in human sexuality.

Rather, I think that this boils down to a fundamental difference in how 'traditionalists' and 'reformers' view the will and teachings of God. On the one hand, you have a set of truths that haven't changed and will not change--an unattainable pinnacle in the sky that doesn't move. On the other, you have an 'arrow,' a general direction that everyone is supposed to move in, so beliefs can keep on evolving to some final goal, like when my mother tried to teach me to swim by having me swim towards her, and then take steps away once I finally reached her. (My usual response to this was to stop swimming, once I saw that she had changed the rules mid-game.)

The problem for mainline churches that are holding to the more progressive view of theology is that once one formerly-held doctrine is negotiable, all doctrines become negotiable. One of my friends once bemoaned to me when she was trying to find a church that she couldn't find one that a) was pro-homosexuality, and b) actually taught about Christ's redemptive death and salvation. At that point it becomes easier to give up on organized religion altogether.

If we want to talk about a split in Christianity on "sexual politics," let's talk about Henry VIII. Don't fault the people who signed onto the church for leaving it because the church changed the goalposts.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )



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