Monday, October 02, 2006

No Safe Place: "Where orthodoxy is optional . . . "

Last week, I looked at *ahem* aggressive property tactics in the Presbyterian Church and noticed out loud that they and other tactics against the orthodox looked all too similar to those in the Episcopal Church.

And reflection on those similarities has led me to conclude what I had suspected --- there is no safe place for the orthodox in those denominations.

This is an important issue as at least some orthodox think that staying and working within the Episcopal or Presbyterian Churches is a viable course. Whether or not these churches are safe places for the orthodox is certainly an important question in determining whether staying is viable or not.

With this post, I begin a series, probably open-ended, on that very question. As you can tell by the title, I will contend that neither are safe places for the orthodox.

But I am not 100% sure of this contention. Nor am I sure that such a conclusion automatically means the orthodox should leave. And these are important questions. So I welcome discussion, particularly from orthodox Christians who have wrestled with such issues. I want your comments.


I begin this series with Neuhaus' Law, promulgated in this First Things piece almost ten years ago:

Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.

When I first read that some time back, I just did not see why that is necessarily so (though I have always thought orthodoxy has to be the standard, not an option for the church). Don’t we see many churches today where orthodoxy is optional but allowed? And why does making orthodoxy optional necessarily mean its eventually banning?

But events seem to be proving Neuhaus right (again). Take, for just one example, women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church. When it first became allowed in the 70’s, it was optional. Bishops were expressly not required to ordain women.

But through various pressures, the number of Episcopal bishops who now won’t ordain women can be counted on one hand. And good luck getting ordained in many dioceses if you oppose women’s ordination. Good luck if you want to become a bishop anywhere. There is more than a little concern that a man who won’t ordain women may not be able to gain the consents to become a TEC bishop.

We are all too familiar with “tolerance” being thus intolerant. Neuhaus gives insight into why this is so:

When orthodoxy is optional, it is admitted under a rule of liberal tolerance that cannot help but be intolerant of talk about right and wrong, true and false. It is therefore a conditional admission, depending upon orthodoxy's good behavior. The orthodox may be permitted to believe this or that and to do this or that as a matter of sufferance, allowing them to indulge their inclination, preference, or personal taste. But it is an intolerable violation of the etiquette by which one is tolerated if one has the effrontery to propose that this or that is normative for others.

And that’s the rub. Orthodox Christianity practically by definition insists that truth is normative for all. It insists on what Francis Schaeffer called “true truth.”

And should that normative truth collide with liberal views of personal identity and justice, then liberal outrage and intolerance can really come out. Then we find, as Neuhaus points out, that the old orthodoxy has been displaced by a more aggressive “new orthodoxy” of identity and “justice.”

With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, "My Identity." Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity. In this game, identity is trumps. An appeal to what St. Paul or Aquinas or Catherine of Sienna or a church council said cannot withstand the undeniable retort, "Yes, but they are not me!" People pack their truths into what Peter Berger has called group identity kits. The chief item in the kit, of course, is the claim to being oppressed.

And since the evil old orthodox oppress just about everybody, from Muslims to slaves to women to gays, at one time or another, they are in big, big trouble with the new orthodox.

More can and will be said. But the above are some of the dynamics behind Neuhaus’ Law.

A church where orthodoxy is optional may have the illusion of being safe for the orthodox. But events unfolding before us, particularly in the Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches, seem to be proving that to be an illusion indeed.

No comments: