Saturday, April 17, 2021

What we want. . . what we need. . .

What we want to believe is that marriage is marriage no matter who it is getting married.  What we want to believe is that a parent is a parent, whether mom or dad or two moms or two dads or people whose gender may be fluid.  What we want to believe is that difference can be celebrated and fostered without affecting unity and fellowship.  What we want to believe is that democracy brings consensus.  What we want to believe is that everyone's voice is of equal weight and value.  But, of course, none of these things have proven true.  

The marriage of husband and wife is not the same as a same sex couple and the changes to marriage brought by same sex couples have not simply been about the same sex couple but have significantly affected all marriages -- not necessarily for the good.  The family of mom and dad and their children is not simply an ideal but the best and divinely appointed structure and that none of the variations are as salutary for the family and the children as the traditional one.  Diversity may be a reality but it cannot supplant the power of common values and common expectations in the building of consensus and a common social and political life.  Democracy does not necessarily bring consensus and may provide a means for deep divisions to continue as elections and leaders reflect the differing goals and purposes of those who cast a ballot for them.  Everyone may have a voice but not every voice is wise nor is every voice is worth our attention (and, it might be said, the loudest voice is not necessarily the voice we need to hear!).  

All of these things are truths that we have witnessed in the fragmentation of our national identity and the hardening of differences both political and social.  So far, the most we have been able to do is to lay blame at one side or another for the mess we are in.  As satisfying as it is to level charges against those we would hold responsible, it is not effective in the building of a national consensus or the repair of what is wrong with our culture and fixing what is broken in our common life.  All of which has left us wondering where we go from here.  I wish I knew.  Neither political side can dismiss the other and no unity will be formed by prosecuting opponents.  In the same way, the penchant for diversity is stretching the very fabric of our national identity to the point that our union is frozen by those different views.  It is almost comedic how we swing back and forth, doing and undoing by executive order what our constitutive assemblies cannot do or undo.

As if this is not a bad thing for our nation, the same factors have been incorporated into the Church's life.  We have no real or solid Christian identity or common orthodoxy that gives weight and substance to Christendom.  We are divided by opinions that cannot live together in the same communion and we have no voice weighted with enough power to address our divisions -- not even the voice of Scripture.  While I can only speak as a Christian in America, it seems that we have imported the worst of our political and social ills into the life of the Church while exporting none of the blessings of God's Word and an ecclesiastical community built upon something larger than self-interest.

Is this new?  Certainly not.  As one student of Augustine has taught us:

The local Catholic Church in Africa had come to a standstill: divided by schism, exposed to the Manichaean heresy, its bishops had settled down as local dignitaries with limited gifts and ambitions. They were content to secure official privileges and seemed capable of displaying energy only in litigation. (For Augustine, at Thagaste, the life of a bishop seemed to consist merely of business-trips; and the duties of a priest seemed roughly those of a legal agent.) In church, they would be content to celebrate the Liturgy; outside it, they would arbitrate lawsuits.  Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, 1967

Wow.  That is scarily familiar.  Yet this is a record of church life more than seventeen centuries removed from where we are today.  The more things change, the more they remain the same.  Yet the burning question for us today is whether we are working to change this state of affairs or whether we have accepted that it is the new normal for our times.  Sadly, I have yet to see anyone in politics or society do more than agitate for their positions and I wait, hopefully not in vain, for voices within the Church to go beyond their bunkers.  Ideally, this would be the realm of bishops -- those with a teaching office and with a charism for leadership that advances God's Word and purpose over our own.

Rome has all the structure to do this but they have a pope who, in the words of an anonymous bishop, seems to gain great delight in poking people in the eye.  The bishops have authority but we have witnessed the use of this authority more to cover their own butts than to be a cause for renewal and integrity.  Sure, there are good guys out there but they seem woefully overshadowed by the loud voices of discontent.  It does not help that corruption and cover given to immorality has not yet ceased to be standard operating procedure.

Lutheranism has none of the structure but they once had an integrity built upon a written confession that normed faith and practice.  Now confessional fealty means what we want it to mean and we find every cover for promoting everything but the cause of the Gospel and the life of God's people around the Word and Table of the Lord.  Yes, we have some very good leaders but we live in a time when it appears not only are all politics local, so is the Church.  In the meantime, Sunday morning seems to showcase differences more than our common liturgy and life.

COVID has made the fact that things are not working even more apparent.  It may not be the cause but it is the agent that has hastened our awareness of our weaknesses and failings.   I have no doubt but that the faith will endure but it would be nice if we did not have to rebuild the structures of the Church over and over again.  Is it too much to hope for that Christianity is a leavening agent within the world?  Or is it even too much to hope for that the Church will coalesce around a creedal, liturgical, and confessional orthodoxy that will help to rescue us from ourselves?

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