Friday, February 1, 2019
The lie of dialogue. . .
But this is not simply political. It is also true in a variety of other settings. This is especially true of dialogue in the Church. The various parties (conservative and progressive) talk and perhaps sometimes they cooperate but the dialogue and the fruits of that dialogue seldom result in the reversal of the liberal or progressive course, only the slowing of the seemingly inevitable slide toward liberalism and its progress. Missouri is often heralded as one church body that effectively turned back the liberal cause when the Battle for the Bible was fought in the 1970s. No doubt it did slow the progress of liberalism to a crawl but the difficulties in Missouri today betray the fact that the battle was not the war and that progressivism on other sides continues to be a source of conflict within the Synod. Where the Battle for the Bible seems to have ended with a conservative victory, the whole discussion of evolution and old earth creationism in Missouri shows the cracks in that victory. Where the Battle for the Bible seems to have charted a solidly conservative and confessional course for Missouri, the numbers of congregations dropping the name Lutheran and eschewing the liturgical history and identity of Lutheranism seems to indicate that the war is not over.
Rome is finding this out with respect to the GLBTQ issue. You might think the overwhelming evidence of homosexual exploitation of young adults and abuse of children by priests would be seen as a homosexual issue but there are powerful forces within Rome trying to derail the connection and use the abuse scandal for progressive purposes -- everything from the marriage of clergy to the regularization of same sex relationships to the communion of the divorced and divorced and remarried. While this certainly has much to do with a particular pope, it is also the truth that Rome is clearly divided in the rectory and in the pews over these issues. It is also true that nearly every call for conversation results not in the repudiation of the progressive view on these issues but simply the slowing of the progress of the progressives in the pursuit of the changes they propose. Note now that I am not taking a position on these issues but simply observing that it appears that at best their full acceptance is merely being slowed down by all the dialogue and conversation on these issues and not turned back.
Neuhaus' rule is that where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed, the Peters' law is that progressivism may be slowed and even stalled but it cannot be prevented. I say this not because this is a good thing but because the vigilance of the orthodox cause must be regularly refreshed or progressive and liberal causes will sneak in and supplant the orthodox position. The lie of dialogue is that it is never about turning back something progressive causes have achieved but merely about slowing the growth of the progressive march toward victory.
My easiest example is the ELCA and its spin off groups in the wake of the 2009 CWA decisions regarding sexuality, ordination, same sex marriage, etc... Neither body was willing to address anything with regard to the ordination of women, only the slowing of the clock on the count down to liberalism that is surely the long term result. Neither the NALC nor the LCMC have shown a desire to deal with the foundations that ultimately led to or allowed the decisions of the ELCA to make its momentous break with Lutheranism and orthodox Christianity with respect to the sex issues it dealt with in 1989. The fizzle out of the bound conscience idea only shows that it was never possible to disagree those decisions, only to postpone some of the pain until opposition either faded or simply gave up.
The same can be said with the Anglicans who have worked to build an alternative to the Episcopal Church. It is not a return to Anglicanism prior to the ordination of women or to an Anglicanism in which bishops and priests and congregations would be held accountable to the historic faith of creed and confession. It is simply the Episcopal Church without the controversy over same sex marriage -- a church that might tolerate the point of view of a Gene Robinson but never elect him bishop. That does not turn back anything but merely postpones what the progressives have come to see as the inevitable. Some folks are willing to wait and suffer the pretense of dialogue which might delay the outcome but others are more militant and would rather rid the churches of those who disagree. In contrast, conservatives seldom pursue such quiet dissent. They are by nature not inclined to be thought police like the progressives seem to be and so the outcome may be delayed -- even by a generation -- but it is not defeated.
What I am saying is that if the progressive cause is to be effectively confronted and answered, the church will need to be in a constant state of some kind of conflict. The days of wine and rose, peace and harmony, may be the price of orthodoxy. It is not something I say lightly or cavalierly but it seems to be the reality. We cannot fight battles to win and then bask in the glow of that victory. Progressivism will inevitably show up to challenge creed, confession, Scripture, and catholic tradition and will raise the fight again when it believes it can advance its cause. Orthodoxy is ever vigilant -- not because it is weak or fearful but because the truth is so important. Perhaps the underlying cause of all of this is the lack of national leaders with the stature to rally the causes and the lack of a commonly agreed upon authority to settle disputes. Lutherans appeal to Scripture alone but if we do not agree with what Scripture is or what it says, this appeal is hard to utilize to end dispute. Furthermore, the skeptical modern mind has led us to be skeptics of Scripture and our penchant for individual truth has made it hard to even speak of objective truth that is for all people.
I wonder if this is not the shape of politics as well. I have not desire to see things any more heated or angry than they have been of late but it is hard to miss how conservatives have grown accustomed to things they once railed against, powerless to effect real changes to the dreaded victories of progressives, and ill at ease. For all that Ronald Reagan was able to accomplish, they were temporary victories that merely slowed and did not halt the progress of liberal ideas and the overall social agenda. It is not because he was not President long enough but because the nation changed and progressive causes became more palatable to the populace and conservatives found it harder and harder to find the consensus for changing such things. Witness the conundrum of abortion. We as a nation seem to agree that abortion is not a good thing and that it ought to be rare but we that has not translated into much progress in making it illegal. Yes, there have been advances but only at a cost of vigilance that constantly puts the issue before the American mind and watches on every front for ways in which progress would advance the abortion mindset.
Conversation is good and dialogue is not bad but progressives seem to instinctively know that they can afford to bide their time since the movement is in their direction while conservatives appear ever more curmudgeonly and cranky because we tire of the fights even though we know that orthodoxy can never rest its case or pause in pursuit of its cause.