Friday, November 5, 2010

Idolatry of a Certain Sort?

I voted on Tuesday. While I usually vote Democratic, I am registered as an independent and voted a split ticket this time around. For representative to congress, I voted for a pro-life, enviromentalist Democrat. Given the local politcal realities and the fact that his own party did little to support him, this candidate was unlikely to be elected. And he wasn't. Still, I was glad to have the opportunity to vote for someone who messes with the given categories.

Messing with the categories is something Jesus did. It seems to me that if the church is going to be faithful it needs to do the same. At the very least, the church needs to take care not to fall into the trap of identifying with one or another set of political, social, or cultural categories and prejudices.

This has me wondering.

In his book, “The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart”, Bill Bishop writes,
We now live in a giant feedback loop,” says Mr Bishop, “hearing our own thoughts about what's right and wrong bounced back to us by the television shows we watch, the newspapers and books we read, the blogs we visit online, the sermons we hear and the neighbourhoods we live in.

I wonder about the Episcopal Church's participation in this sorting.

I am concerned that General Convention and our national leadership have a propensity to collude in this sorting by creating an Episcopal “brand” that is decidedly reflective of and geared toward one “sort” of American. We have cultivated a specifically “liberal” ethos in which certain sorts of people are culturally more comfortable than other sorts. When we speak on public policy and social issues, we invariably endorse what is already the standard liberal/progressive position. One starts to wonder if TEC as a whole or its leaders can distinguish a gospel imperative from a liberal prejudice. We risk a sort of idolatry in which whatever else we might or might not be willing to say about God, we are pretty sure God is our sort of God - a Big American Liberal In The Sky.

No matter how much theological gloss we give it, the predictability of our Liberal/Progressive positioning leaves many of our members – and potential members – not so much challenged by our “prophetic witness” as wondering if we are not just the church of a certain sort of American (sub)cultural identity. The result is not conversion, but alienation. If the challenge only ever goes in one direction, we end up congratulating ourselves for how uncomfortable our Jesus is for some sorts of people while actually making Jesus safe for us and our sort of people. Consequently, we screen out a certain sort while only truly welcoming another sort. Such sorting compromises our catholicity and our ability to welcome people of all sorts and conditions to respond to the good news of what God has done – and is doing – through Jesus Christ.

Unless we are content for our identity to be that of chaplain to one sort of American, i.e., the 22% that self-identify as liberal, we need to rethink the way we engage political and other issues. We might first of all acknowledge that people can agree on a goal (reducing poverty, for example) while disagreeing on the politcal means to achieve that goal. If we believe we must make political statments, we would do well to focus more on the goals and less on specific policies. And, if we want to avoid the idolatry of a certain sort, we would do well to mess with the categories.


Derek said...

You make a good point here--I fear that we are pigeon-holing ourselves...

Anonymous said...

I think you make a very good point.

I go to an ACNA church now (former Episcopalian), and I would absolutely hate it if ACNA starting making political proclamations - even if I agreed with these proclamations.

The final straw for me as an Episcopalian was the support the Standing Committee gave for the RCRC

The church should teach the gospel and be a place of prayer - respect my brain to find the best way to live this out in political life.


Matt Gunter said...


I agree that the Exec Committee's unilaterally joining us with RCRC is an egregious example of the doctrinaire ideological purity that this particular post is warning against.

It will be interesting to see of ACNA avoids political proclamations. But, whether they do or don't officially and publicly, I wonder if there isn't a similar sorting going on on the ground. Based on the folk I know who have gone with ACNA and the political rhetoric on ACNA-friendly blogs, there seems to be a tendency toward a similar fetishizing of American Conservatism.

C. Wingate said...

That's on of the things that makes me wary of ACNA at this point, or at least some of the on-line community around it. I go to StandFirm and there is way too much overt neocon political opinion.

Matt Gunter said...


Yes, I have observed the same. If StandFirm is at all representative of the spirit of ACNA, they have nothing on TEC when it comes ot sorting according to sub-cultural ideological norms.

I woder how much of the Christian language in America is little more than a patina over two sects of Americanism - Conservativism and Progressivism.