The drama that is taking place this week behind closed doors in Tanzania has created a real guessing game in the Anglican Communion. While we wait for the results–assuming there are meaningful results–let’s think for a moment about an obvious question: how has liberal “Christianity” held on as long as it has?
Everyone knows that liberal churches are going in reverse in terms of membership and revenue. They have been for a long time; the Episcopal church is, believe it or not, doing better than most. Nevertheless it surprises me that people continue to go to churches which really don’t believe much and which either are universalist–in which case what one does in this life is irrelevant to what follows–or don’t have a vision for an afterlife.
Perhpaps the problem is me. Coming from a long line of people for whom meaningful religion was entirely dispensable, I cannot grasp the whole idea of going to church whose people are little different from the world around them, or whose beliefs are basically the same as the culture. The “smells and bells” are nice but, honestly, a good stiff cup of joe at home on Sunday morning is preferable to a church filled with upper class people listening to a boring sermon whose content they could get from listening to NPR (NPR does a better job of holding your attention, too.)
In any event, liberal church does have appeal to some, but those who are turning from smells and bells to joe are more than those going the opposite way. Moreover study after study shows that conservatives are more faithful to support a church financially than their liberal counterparts (which means that TEC would be better off making cash deals for property rather than taking departing congregations to court.)
The Episcopalians have elected a Presiding Bishop who is more up-front about her polticised, left-wing version of “Christianity” (if that word can be applied to what she believes) than any of her predecessors. She’s prepared to fight for everything she can. But what’s there to fight for? And how can she win with declining membership, whether from apathy and revulsion?
One of the great legacies of Marxism is the concept of “historical determinism,” i.e., the idea that history is going the way of the theory that’s being propounded. Although few American liberals are Marxists (they would be better off if they were,) they still revel in the idea that the world is going their way and that their opponents cannot win. To some extent that is what motivates TEC liberals. They still think that their way is the way of the future, and that their opponents will disappear, even though time after time they, like Engels sheepishly admitted, have been proven wrong.
Buttressing their idea is the thought that their philosophy will be reflected in the actions of the government. The congressional election of 2006 has only given them additional hope. If we consider trends such as the emergence of hate crimes legislation, the use of child protection laws to take away children from real Christian parents, the application of the tax code to silence and destroy churches and other Christian institutions that don’t suit the fancy of those in power, all of these give the ultimate hope to the liberals at 815: that their opponents will not only be deprived of the church property they worship in, but also their freedom by the state.
To put it bluntly, Katherine Jefferts-Schiori may be figuring that all she has to do is to hang tough long enough for the cops to show up and haul her opponents away. (Andrew Hutchinson in Canada is closer to that than she is.)
But this game hangs on two thin threads.
The first is that the system that she’s relying on can deliver. In addition to the alternating course of politics, even if the liberals can “finish the job” and hold on to power for a long time, their inability to resolve Dzerzhinskii’s Dilemma virtually guarantee the weakness of such a state, and weak states don’t last.
The second is that the state doesn’t figure out that they don’t need a liberal church any more than anyone else does. The Bible directly addresses this for the last times:
“And the angel said to me–‘The waters that you saw, where the Harlot is seated, are throngs of people and men of all nations and languages. The ten horns that you saw, and the Beast–they will hate the Harlot, and cause her to become deserted and strip her bare; they will eat her very flesh and utterly consume her with fire. For God has put it into their minds to carry out his purpose, in carrying out their common purpose and surrendering their kingdoms to the Beast, until God’s decrees shall be executed.” (Revelation 17:15-17)
The Harlot, of course, is the false “church” (religion would be a better term) of the last times. The Beast–the Antichrist, the leader of the one-world government–will destroy the Harlot when he finds her dispensable. That’s something that even Jefferts-Schiori should think of when she campaigns for the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.
So the left, while claiming to be “mainstream” and “Main Line” is in fact playing a dangerous game. Today they wait for the cops to show up to take us, but then they will be waiting for the cops to come and take them away as well.