Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

eyes that see not

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Oct 10, 2006

To one side of the altar, a white-robed choir; on the other, a half-dozen priests of various ranks, in white robes trimmed with green vestments.

Perhaps Rod Davis, who wrote that line, recently arrived from the planet Zork. It's in the lead paragraph of his article in D Magazine on factionalism in Episcopalian Dallas. Davis's grasp of Christian churchmanship is, to put it gently, no stronger than it needs to be. He is able to see that Anglican conservatives are upset with Bishops Robinson and Schori, and once that fact is fed into the Journalism Generator the article pretty much writes itself, and misses just about everything that's interesting and important.

At most recent count, at least seven of the country's 111 Episcopal dioceses and about 150 of the 7,000 congregations want "disassociation" or "alternative primatial oversight" -- the debate is replete with esoteric canon law jargon -- in one form or another. Some, like the Dallas diocese, are exploring alignment directly with Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury. Others, perhaps not convinced that Canterbury is conservative enough, may seek out Peter Akinola, archbishop of Nigeria, where there are definitely no gay bishops, but there are perhaps 20 million Anglicans. Even the irony of mostly white, conservative American suburban congregations looking to pastoral supervision from African bishops doesn't stand in the way.

For Davis, the last sentence is just a throwaway line. A more perceptive author would have seen it as providing a key to the controversy -- and not only to the controversy in the Episcopal Church, but to the startling change in self-understanding that the orthodox in all denominations have undergone in the past thirty years.

A disaffected congregation splitting off from the main body is nothing new. What is new, and striking, is that these Anglicans are not huddling together for warmth with social and cultural counterparts who share their education, tastes, family connections and politics, but are aligning themselves with -- and even subordinating themselves to -- people of radically different background who believe the same essential truths to be paramount. Moreover, this remarkable venture into "trans-cultural" brotherhood is taking place not where we've been taught to expect it, viz., among polyglot, left-liberal cosmopolitans, but among those our betters assured us would be among the last to countenance it. Davis himself can see the sociology in broad outline, but entirely misses its ecclesial significance, as witness his account of the Christ Church parish in Plano:

Given its size, conservative demographics and evangelical bent, it's perhaps no surprise that this church should find itself at odds with its increasingly progressive -- or "liberal," to use the pejorative term -- parent. Clearly, the people who worship here have mistaken their denominations. If not Southern Baptists by another name, surely they belong more to Joel Osteen or T.D. Jakes. This is a social church, where people come not only to worship, but also to find friends, to join groups, and to align with "values."

Got it exactly backwards. If you worship with people because they believe what you believe, strong friendships spontaneously emerge as a secondary side-effect. If you go to a church with the primary purpose of making friends, however, you have to compromise or downplay your beliefs in order to succeed. The fact that the hard core, broken-glass conservatives are connecting with Nigeria to find fellow Anglicans shows they belong overwhemingly to the former group, and cannot be linked to a "social church" without violence to the language.

The stock progressivist explanation of orthodox Christian teaching on sexuality and the sexes involves some variant of Adorno's vacuous "fear of the other" critique (the Anglican Communion Network crew, and Cardinal Medina-Estevez, can't accept Gene Robinson or Terese Kane because they've never been in a restaurant or on an airplane). When suburbanite Texans are willing to go to Africa to find kinship in doctrine, however, it shows that -- for some at least, faith is more important than familiarity. So who, in this reckoning, is genuinely "conservative"? Clearly the doctrinally orthodox are, by temperament, far more adventurous than their liberal co-religionists, who live and move and have their being in a world of seamless cultural comfort. Now that's an intriguing turnabout. It's a shame Rod Davis missed it.

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