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.