I’ve been reading with interest the Rev. Ben Jeffries’ Is the Eucharistology of the Anglican Reformation Patristic? As those of you who follow this blog and Positive Infinity know, this is of special interest, as it was to the great Bossuet…
The Senate has been on the brink of ending the filibuster twice in the last 15 years. In 2005, Majority Leader Bill Frist, frustrated by a Democratic filibuster of seven federal judicial nominations that had gone on for months, considered changing Senate rules to end the filibuster. In the end, Frist made the decision not to “go nuclear,” concluding that, long term, keeping the filibuster in place was better for the institution of the Senate and, therefore, better for the country.
Eight years later in 2013, it would be Harry Reid and a Democratic majority that would do away with the filibuster for executive branch appointments and judicial nominations, with the exception of the Supreme Court. Despite warnings from the minority that it was a decision they would live to regret, Reid and the Democrats deployed the nuclear option anyway.
Let me be clear: when I say “packing the court” I don’t mean nominating many judges of one idea or another, like Joe Biden does. I mean it the way FDR and those who came after him understood it, i.e., increasing the number of members of the Supreme Court to make sure that there are enough judges of your idea to make “it” happen, no matter what “it” is.
Technically speaking, it’s not a constitutional issue either way. The filibuster isn’t enshrined in the Constitution and neither is the number of Supreme Court judges (unlike, say, the number of Senators or Representatives.) The fact that the legitimacy of our judiciary hangs on procedural/legal issues and not constitutional ones is a weakness of our system. Personally I don’t think the Founders envisioned the large role the judiciary plays in our system, but when John Marshall unilaterally made the Supreme Court the arbiter of constitutionality, that pretty much settled the issue. Getting rid of the filibuster for judicial nominees was Harry Reid’s expedient to get his way on them. It was controversial at the time; even some of his supporters said it would come back to haunt the Democrats. It has.
The fundamental problem on a Federal level is that our legislature either cannot pass proper legislation or, when it can, cannot write it properly. The ACA is a classic example of this. Sprawling and complicated, the Supreme Court up until now has had to fix its deficiencies. A country with long established entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare should be able to make something like this stick, but it’s been a struggle. (The authors and administrators also engaged in overreach, something that triggered things like the Spanish Civil War.) If our legislature would be more strategic in its vision and detail-oriented in its drafting, our courts wouldn’t have as much to do. But it’s not, and we have the mess we have.
In the midst of everything else that’s going on, next Monday (Lord willing) we’ll start confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett to be the newest justice on the Supreme Court. In light of the fact that she was and is in a Catholic Charismatic covenant community, I’ve tried to shed some light on what that really means and not be taken off on rabbit trails by our uninformed media.
I didn’t turn down membership in such a community because of what they believed. I turned it down because I didn’t think their authoritarian structure was, well, a propos. That separates me from those who somewhere along the way “discovered” what their idea really was. Part of that idea is certainly wrapped up in the way they looked at the world around them. To varying degrees, covenant communities were a preparation for a time when Christianity would be very unpopular and even persecuted in our culture. That time looked imminent in the 1970’s, in the wake of the nervous breakdown we experienced. I really thought that such times were coming. But I had my doubts as to whether the communities that were forming in the Catholic Charismatic community were an answer to this problem, and those doubts were confirmed in something that happened in the next decade.
In 1988 my church facilitated the resettlement of twenty-four Ukrainian Pentecostal refugees. For someone who had been regaled with stories of the persecuted church, to have real contact with these people was a chance-in-a-lifetime experience. The fact that I had made my own first trip to the USSR the previous spring only added to the anticipation. We struggled with the language barrier but we did learn quite a bit about their life under communism.
The first is that the USSR was as hard on Christians as everyone said it was. That varied with the generation. Many of the older people had done hard time in Siberia. One had been sent to an “orphanage” because her parents had been shipped to Siberia and couldn’t raise their child. The younger ones had it better; under Brezhnev, things lightened up. The biggest problem was that you couldn’t go on to higher education unless you were in the Young Pioneers, which meant that you had to be a communist, in outward form at least. This was unacceptable to them, although they had relatives who had backslid along the way.
The second is that their churches did have organization but it was informal in that there were no paid clergy. (Some of the reason for that is here.) They were house churches, organized around the families that came. (There were more formal Evangelical churches with buildings, my wife and I visited one two years later.) Their leadership tended to be strong (it still is in Slavic churches over here) but more than just the pastor was allowed to speak during their meetings, something I also saw in covenant communities (I think the latter kept a tighter rein on what got said.)
The third is that they had no problem participating in the underground economy (or «marché noir» as my African contacts called it.) Although it’s easy to understand why one would disrespect a government which was trying to eradicate your religion, the Ukrainians lacked the punctilious obsession American Christians have with abiding by every law and regulation the government comes up with. (Within the church they were capable of serious legalism, something people in the Church of God could relate to.)
The fourth is that they were a lot of fun. They had a good sense of humour and knew how to enjoy life. If I had to make the greatest contrast between them and covenant community people, it was that, I always felt that the latter were too serious. Beyond that, covenant communities were a synthetic response to coming persecution; what the Ukrainians experienced was real.
Lastly, the Ukrainians had the advantage of not having to deal with an “over church” like the covenant communities did with the RCC. They were a real, autocephalous (to use the fancy ecclesiastical term) group. That complicated relationship came back to haunt the covenant community movement; I am surprised the People of Praise have stuck it out as long as they have.
For me, having experienced both of these groups, the reason why it’s important to put Amy Coney Barrett on SCOTUS is to avoid (or at least try to avoid) getting ourselves into the same situation that our Ukrainian Pentecostal friends found themselves in and from which they’ve tried to escape. But the irony that we’ve nominated someone who is a product of a community that was formed, in part, to weather the storms of the “laid, high or drunk” crowd is one of those ironies that makes us say “you just can’t make this stuff up.”
Within American Christianity, and especially within American evangelicalism, we have seen a rise of interest in liturgy. Taking a quick look at InterVarsity Press’s site, one finds recent titles such as The Liturgy of Creation, Liturgy of the Ordinary, and The Liturgy of Politics. At Conciliar Post, Wesley Walker has compiled a list of articles such as “#OccupyWallStreet: A Liturgy” and “The Quiet Liturgy of Fred Rogers.” These are just a few examples; the word ‘liturgy’ is everywhere, often in unexpected places…
Those of us in the Anglican tradition, with our emphasis on common prayer and right liturgy, could be encouraged by this renewed emphasis on things liturgical — but, I believe, there are reasons we should be skeptical of the liturgical turn.
Traditionally, it’s been hard to get Episcopalians fired up about much of anything. The whole point of the religion was to leave the enthusiasm for “them” and have a nice, proper religion where we worshipped “Gawd” on Sunday according to the Prayer Book.
The culture wars, starting in the 1960’s, changed all of that. Some Episcopalians got fired up when V.G. Robinson was made a bishop. Others (like KJS, although she’s a ringer from the RCC) got fired up when the first group tried to leave with property.
Now we’re facing COVID-19. One of the infallible nostrums for this disease is the use of hand sanitizer, most of which contain alcohol. This alone should generate enthusiasm amongst clergy and laity alike; as my second year Latin teacher (a fine Episcopal minister) noted in class, when four Whiskeypalians get together, there’s always a fifth.
And that leads me to my point; when your Episcopalian friend or relative (or those who are in the ACNA, REC or one of the “Continuing” churches) balks at the use of hand sanitizer, instead of, say, telling them that it has 70% alcohol, just tell them it’s 140 proof. They’ll slather it on with gusto after that.
I must confess that, after my upbringing, when told about the alcohol content, I made the mental conversion to proof. There are more things than liturgy and “smells and bells” which are “continuing” in the Anglican/Episcopal world, and I guess this is one of them. (This is another.)
I’ve always been bullish about American scientific and technological supremacy, not in some starry-eyed, jingoistic way, but due to the simple reality that the United States remains the world’s research and development engine.
This is true for at least four reasons, which I detailed previously: (1) Superior higher education; (2) A cultural attitude that encourages innovation; (3) Substantial funding and financial incentives; and (4) A legal framework that protects intellectual property and tolerates failure through efficient bankruptcy laws. There’s a fifth, fuzzier reason, namely that smart and talented people have long gravitated toward the U.S.
H. Bruce Franklin was the center of attention at Stanford University’s White Plaza one winter day in 1971. The steely-eyed, raven-haired associate English professor delivered a fiery speech during a campus rally. Stray dogs ran laps around the crossed legs of student revolutionaries as Franklin spit his ire toward an unlikely target: the campus computer center. As he and other activists had recently learned, the facility was helping the U.S. Navy develop a program named Gamut-H, which would be used for an amphibious invasion in North Vietnam.
The time for token acts of protest was over, Franklin declared, urging protestors to do real damage to the institutions of imperialism and citing the building as a “good target.” Soon after Professor Franklin’s speech, more than a hundred students scaled the fence of the center, broke open the back door, climbed to the roof to hoist flags in support of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front, and occupied the building. Their actions resulted in a daylong revolutionary melee. Riot police stormed the campus, the teenage son of a history professor was shot, and Franklin became the first tenured professor to ever be fired from Stanford.
This wasn’t the only incident of its kind in the day: the year before, the mathematician Peter Lax saved the computer at New York University from a similar attack. At the time I wrote the piece on that attack (2012) I made the following observations:
The fact is that the left, very much in the driver’s seat in this country these days, is largely the follow-up to the 1960’s radical agenda. One should think of the 2008 election; the Democratic primary was a battle between a 60’s radical who was actually there (Hillary Clinton) and one who absorbed the philosophy of its leading light (Barack Obama/Bill Ayers). Two years before the incident at New York University, Mary Hopkin recorded the Russian song “Those Were the Days” which included the following prophetic lyrics:
Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same
That’s pretty much where the American left is at. Their dreams, Luddite to the core, have never changed, and they are certainly “older but no wiser”. They can wrap themselves in their “scientific” flag all they want, but their vision of life would take us back to a more primitive stage of living if fully implemented (assuming we survived the shock). That’s why, for example, they would never dare consider nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gases, even though Greenpeace’s founder has seen daylight on the issue.
Today we’re pretty much on steroids with all of this. The Antifa and BLM people who terrorize our cities are the successors of those 1960’s and 1970’s radicals, complete with the children of the privileged at the ramparts. This time, however, they have more support from those who own and operate this society, although they will pull the plug if they think their own privilege is being threatened.
The more serious question is this: it wasn’t a given that this country, weakened then as now by these kinds of movements, avoided loss to the Soviets. So what’s going to stop a country, weakened again by its own guilty elites, from being rolled by the Chinese?
The week after next the grilling of our latest Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, will begin. There will be a great deal of pressure brought to bear on the fact that she is a serious Roman Catholic. That happened during the last nominating process; Diane Feinstein’s remark about the dogma living loudly within her reflected that. There will be more focus on that.
But is that focus misplaced? She is a product of a covenant community, the People of Praise, and a major one at that. This puts her whole relationship with Roman Catholicism in a different light. The relationship between the covenant communities and the Church is a complicated one. This isn’t going to be a “blow by blow” account of that, but more of a personal reflection based in part on experience and in part on knowledge gleaned from others with more personal–and in some cases unhappy–experience with covenant communities (most of my personal experience comes with prayer groups that did not formalize a covenant commitment.)
Let’s start by making a bold statement: the RCC in the US during the late 1960’s and 1970’s was, in many ways, a different church than the one we have now. In the wake of Vatican II and the introduction of the Novus Ordo Missae (the liturgy that followed Vatican II) it was more open to influences coming from outside of the Church than before or since. David Peterman, who headed up the Community of God’s Delight (a major covenant community in Dallas) noted that there were two streams flowing: the one of Catholic thought before Vatican II and the other from Pentecostal and Evangelical Christianity. Because the Church never figured out how to communicate the former to the faithful, the latter surged in those years, and the Church had a decidedly “Protestant” feel to it. #straightouttairondale types will hit the floor before they can grab the smelling salts at that statement, but one advantage is that it made it easier to get converts (like me) coming from Main Line churches which were selling the pass on the basics. It was possible in the 1970’s to go through Catholic life without an Ave Maria or a rosary; I know, I did it.
That brings us to the ecumenical nature of prayer groups and covenant communities. Catholic permission for ecumenical activities is, even after Vatican II, fairly restrictive. Ecumenical groups such as the People of Praise weren’t really “according to Hoyle” but the hierarchy, from the parish level up, was so shell-shocked that they let it slide. It’s interesting to note that many of the objections to this state of affairs comes not from traditional Catholics but from the left, from the likes of J. Massyngberde Ford or John Flaherty. And the influence of those communities and prayer groups on parishes was usually limited. I was confidently told that there was a certain Mass at St. Rita’s in Dallas where members of God’s Delight gathered, and I went, but you really had to look hard to detect their presence.
At this point I want to stop and say with a decent degree of confidence that the type of Christianity that Judge Barrett experienced in the Catholic Charismatic renewal was different in important ways from either the conventional Catholicism of the day or the Trad/Rad Trad Catholicism that is fashionable in some circles today.
However, like the covenant communities themselves, this situation was metastable. The thing that changed was the accession of Pope John Paul II in 1978, who was determined to bring some order to the chaos of the waning decade. The existing renewal was impacted and responded in various ways. One of them was the Sword of the Spirit network, led by Steve Clark and Ralph Martin, who wanted to continue on as they had with the ecumenical and authoritarian communities by more or less going “underground.” (The People of Praise split off from this.) In other cases the Church brought these communities to heel, either by forcing them to abandon their ecumenical ways (God’s Delight) or by dissolving the community altogether (Servants of Christ the King.) But another effective weapon was the imposition of Marian devotions, which was guaranteed to split covenant community and prayer group alike. I was involved in a prayer group that experienced the latter; it was one of the nastiest things I’ve ever seen in a Christian group. This kind of thing generally came from the inside, which only made matters worse.
So the situation today is much different than before. That difference is obscured by the fact that many of the major figures of those times in the Renewal have switched over to the #straightouttairondale Catholicism, which in many ways is antithetical to what they were in before.
My advice to everyone is to evaluate Amy Coney Barrett on what presents itself now and not try to impose some ideal construct of what Catholicism is or is supposed to be. In addition to being from the New Orleans area (which always complicates things) her antecedents coming out of a covenant community are more complicated than they look. I doubt that members of the U.S. Senate will do this, but stuff like that is one reason why it isn’t the deliberative body it used to be.