Saturday, January 02, 2010

Politics and Religion

I don’t know where I came across the link, but I recently saw a December 28th piece on the American Thinker where a formerly secular Jewish woman, searching for God in various houses of worship, found only political indoctrination of the progressive sort. On Christmas eve she saw a website from an Episcopal parish that appeared to be focused on religion, not politics. She called the church and left a voice mail message inquiring about the services, commenting that she wanted a church without a political agenda. She received a reply: “I don’t think you should check us out.”

Sad to say, I am not shocked by this. Several years back I was visiting an Episcopal cathedral in the Midwest and had a pleasant worship experience. The service was Anglo-Catholic and fairly orthodox, the sermon was from the Scripture reading and did a solid job of exposition. After the service some of the congregation came up to great the “newcomers” and ask about what brought us to church that day. I told them we were taking a little weekend trip and had previously visited the cathedral. I was then asked about our home parish. I hesitated, but told them the full name: Saint Andrew’s. . .Anglican. . .Reformed Episcopal. There was silence. Icy looks, a pause, and then one parishioner angrily asked me: “What made you think you’d be welcome here?”

I was flabbergasted, dumbfounded, speechless. I had worshiped in Episcopal churches for most of my adult life and I had welcomed numerous visitors as a member of the congregation. I would never have thought of uttering those words to anyone. If someone were an atheist and told me as much I would have welcomed them warmly. However, over the years what the woman in her essay describes is what I’d come to expect. Politics confused with religion, the Stations of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals replacing the Stations of the Cross, inserts in the bulletin about the evils of plastic (or paper), sermons with analogies and comparisons made between Christ and revolutionary political figures. All I wanted to do in an Episcopal church was pray the liturgy and hear the Gospel. I didn't (and don’t) care if the priest is a Democrat, Republican, Green, or Socialist. However, far too many rectors have been far too eager to tell me, and pat me on the head like a child if a voiced a disagreement.

I am a liberal and a humanist. . .circa 1920 or so. I am open minded, but as Chesterton rightly noted: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” I do believe there are truths that the Christian religion teaches that, if they were changed, would change the essence of the Catholic Faith and make it meaningless, devoid of content. In discussions of Christianity I will not move on these issues, almost all of them taught quite explicitly in the Bible, the Creeds, and the Book of Common Prayer. However, it is wrong to equate the political agenda of one party or system with Christianity. I am fairly libertarian in my political leanings, but if we were in a truly Christian realm (where state and Church were systematically linked) I could perhaps see myself espousing the Christian socialism of Archbishop Temple. However, in a representative Republic that guarantees “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” to all, confusing a political party with the teachings of Christ is an error, one that is made on the left and the right. The mainline Episcopal Church (and many other mainline bodies) have done that writ large. They have replaced the Faith of the Gospel with the platform of European secularism, and it appears to be killing them.


Canon Tallis said...

Thank you for a very honest assessment of the current situation and the Church. It does not leave a nice taste in the mouth, but things are what they are and as Christians we are supposed to be realists.

Whether we like it or not, there is a certain political taint to Biblical Christianity. Part of it comes from the Ten Commandments especially "Thou shall not steal; Thou shall not bear false witness;" and " Thous shall not covet." But there are also little items in St Paul's epistles which also speak to our present political situation. And those things we are supposed to heed.

I think it a mistake to think and act as if both political parties are equally good or equally bad. Evil is just that and when a political party makes a point of violating the things which the gospel points out to us as good so that it may, in effect, buy the votes of those who see nothing wrong in taking or accepting the goods of others, we must clearly say so. StPaul makes it clear that we are supposed to work to be able to support ourselves and to be able to give to those in need. But it is we as individuals and as the Church upon whom this obligation is laid. We may not pass it off on the state.

Frankly, I don't know how any man claiming to be a Christian can be a socialist. We should give generously out of our own goods, but we have no authority in the Gospel to reach into the pocket of another to do so. A very big part of our being a representative Republic is that our government is supposed to be one that governs by the consent of the governed and not out of the barrel of a gun.

But in all of this it is extremely necessary to remember that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Our first task is to put our own house in order and then the Church. Being Anglicans, the Benedictine vows are very appropriate: stability, obedience and conversion of life.

I am very sorry that you met such rudeness in the Episcopal Church, but given what they have been about openly since the seventies, it would be hard to say that you were actually surprised.

Veriword: bless. I kid you not!

Bishop Robert Lyons said...

I find capitalism to be abhorrent to Christian morality, and believe that Christian socialism, voluntarily entered into, is perfectly acceptable.

As far as secular socialism being 'theft', I disagree. If we accept that the government has the right to tax and spend, than we cannot object to how they choose to do so. To give an example, I am a pacifist and am adamantly pro-life. However I am not at liberty to cease paying my taxes, no matter how much I disagree with how they are used. Now, I could be free to run for office and do something about it (if I believed in Christians holding political office, which I don't)... but short of working to get the law changed, I have no authority to stop paying taxes or revolt against them.

Which, of course, makes the American Revolution a sin against Christ's command to 'render unto Caesar', but nobody in these parts wants to hear that, and things seem to have settled out pretty amicably since the War of 1812.

Now, all that being said, from the pulpit, I only encourage Christians to follow their conscience as guided by the Scriptures. I don't try to push a particular party, only basic biblical morality. It is up to the individual to make a choice with a properly formed conscience. I have no problem sharing what I believe if asked, but I don't find that to generally be appropriate discussion for the pulpit.


Carter said...

I had been attending what I thought was a solidly orthodox Episcopal church. We had a parishoner who was to be ordained deaconess along with a number of others at our Cathedral. Wishing to show my support I attended the service. At the following reception I was greeted by a "friend" with "What brings you to this pagan temple?" implying that I would consider it a pagan temple. I replied that I was there to support one of the ordinands. My “friend” responded that his opinion of me was that I and those like me thought we were "purer" than the rest of the Church. With that he turned his back on me and walked away from me as did a female "priest" whom he was with. I was left alone in a crowd which I no longer found either Christian or even polite. I suppose that I may as well get used to the idea that I may very well be viewed as the "enemy" by some Episcopalians. I find this somewhat sad since I was raised as an Episcopalian, but it is perhaps better than being misunderstood by them.

(Episcopalian headed for the Continuum.)

Fr. David F. Coady said...

One would be hard pressed to find a country where socialism worked. By its very nature it must take from productive people and give to non-productive people. Socialism can only work in a totally voluntary community. Pure capitalism cannot work if evil people are in charge. The great American experiment worked because our Founding Fathers recognized that certain rights came from God and were not granted by government. What the state gives to one person it must take from another. Under socialism the government becomes a god. Let us all pray that America returns to being a Constitutional Republic.

Canon Tallis said...

There are two places where 'Socialism' or 'Communism' truly work. One is the family and the other the monastery. In a secular setting, those who are truly productive are robbed so that those who want power may give to those who either can not or, and more likely, will not work. Both of the first two English colonies in American attempted a socialist economic system, probably based upon Sir Thomas More's Utopia. In both it was a failure and was quickly dropped before the results killed everyone.

The United States was built upon a free market capitalism and prospered under the same. Then the government got into the act and taxed the parts of the economy that were working to essentially fund projects that would make others rich, Wall Street, the North Eastern banks and the railroads. The result was a war between the states which killed over six hundred thousand people. we have a government which is still trying to pick the winners and the losers with the result that in the long run we will all be losers. People stop working when they are being exploited and not rewarded accordingly for their work. I know; I was one of them. When my boss's boss could not find someone to replace me, that is to do the work which I did given their racial and gender preferences, the state forced his retirement.

Without turning some into slaves or serfs, capitalism is the only economic system which works. It is essentially freedom based and is now under threat because we will probably have with us always those unwilling to do unto others as they would have others do unto them.

Ian Edgar said...

I know I'm rather late to the conversation... I'm sorry to hear of uncharitable feelings between fellow Christians. This is certainly one of the greatest challenges facing the church today. I think through prayer and fasting we may find some common ground on which to meet.
In regards to the comments by the Reverend Canon Tallis and Father David, all I can say as a Canadian person, is that capitalism doesn't appear to be working in the United States as far as I'm concerned. I can't fathom how a nation as great and rich as your beautiful country is, can abide the fact that 40 million of your people have no health insurance. It is outrageous to think that children are not being treated because their parents cannot pay. In Canada, no child is turned away from receiving medical treatment due to their inability to pay. We certainly do not have a perfect system, but I think that health care available to all is an important expression of the the Gospel because we are visiting the sick, clothing the naked. Surely those working for minimum wage, without even the security of knowing that they can go to the doctor without having to pay expensive bills are in some way slaves and serfs. This is the Christian challenge of democracy, to exercise our own freedom to obey God's will.

Canon Tallis said...

Ian, what ever make you believe that if someone was ill in the United States that they would not be treated appropriately? Probably the newspapers and the politicians, I suppose. Well, they are, as any intelligent adult should know, untruthful.

A slave, by definition, is someone owned by another who may appropriate the results of his labor for himself or others. Yes, in Socialist systems there is health care for all - to a point. I don't know about Canada but I do know that in Great Britain there is a little committee of bureaucrats who decides whether you are worth being treated and if their decision is negative you won't be. Fortunately we have nothing like that in the United States - yet, but it is in the health care plan that our beloved leader is attempting to thrust upon us albeit a large majority of the people reject it. But we are not the only ones. Only within this last week I read that a recent poll shows that 48 percent of native Britons want to depart the United Kingdom for Australia, the United States, Canada and New Zealand in that order. They have had it for being made poor so that a political elite can pay themselves well above their actual merits.

I would suggest that you read the books of Thomas Sowell, the American economist, and especially his The Vision of the Annointed. It just may open your eyes to the reality of things.