The Episcopal Snobs and the John Wayne Evangelicals

There’s never a dull moment these days, and to shut off the possibility of one occurring we now have the food fight around Kristin Kobes du Mez’ Jesus and John Wayne.  The most recent volley has been around the illustrious Anglican Anne Carlson Kennedy’s review of same, with the usual suspects saying the usual things.  For du Mez and those of her idea Kennedy poses a special threat since she is a) a woman and b) an Anglican.  The first is obvious; the second will take some explanation.

I started out life as an Episcopalian.  In the Episcopal world we had the classic Episcopal Snob, which I have commented on before.  Such people believed and were convinced that the religion they had was superior to that which those around them practiced, especially those dreadful, hollering, money-grubbing fundamentalists.  A corollary to that belief was that those who gave up their antecedent religion and adopted the colonies’ best substitute for the religion our former dread sovereigns fashioned for us were likewise invested with the same superiority.  It’s not a very Biblical appeal for a church but it worked, and worked very well for the years immediately after World War II.

Such transitions were rougher than they looked.  Shortly after I was inducted in the Acolyte Order of St. Peter, my mother and I were in the narthex after a proper 1928 BCP service. I was wearing the cross keys of St. Peter, similar to those on the Vatican flag.  Our rector, Hunsdon Cary, pointed at each of the keys in succession and said, “This key is for Episcopalian and this one is for Baptist.”  I’m sure that my mother–only confirmed a couple of years earlier–was thrilled at being outed in this way.

On the other side of the lake (and later the tracks) were those impecunious fundies, with their lack of either liturgy or trust funds, believers’ baptism and Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology.  They’re the target of du Mez’s book.  Militarized by World War II (weren’t we all really?) and facing the onslaught of the sexual revolution, they adopted a response that angers people like her.  The old fashioned Episcopal snobs could have predicted this.  But they were unprepared for the onslaught of modern and post-modern theology that took over their church.

I’ve lived long enough and been in enough places and churches to have been on both sides of this divide.  I’ll also mention that I actually worked in men’s ministries for a long time.  Frankly our society was better off when such divides didn’t have much to do with each other; we see the results of when they spend all their time in a state of virtual war.  But I think I can make a reasoned estimate of which of these sides has the better merit.

There’s no doubt that, especially when conflict comes, one would wish that Evangelicals wouldn’t have considered the Sermon on the Mount a practical dead letter.  And it would be nice if they didn’t consider centuries of church history as a void waiting for them to show up.  But on balance the Evangelicals have the better case for being Biblical and having a viable path to eternal life than their counterparts to the left, including current-day Episcopal snobs.  A comparison of core beliefs will show this, but I’m going to concentrate on my favourite topic relating to this: the economic disparity between those of du Mez’ idea and her Evangelical opponents.

Evangelicals (and especially Pentecostals) are in the greater scheme of things an underclass.  That may shock some people but it’s true, not only in comparison to, say, the Episcopalians but also our very secular elites.  Donald Trump’s years didn’t change that, but you’d never know it from the endless howling you hear about him and his supporters.  And no one is more loathe to admit it than the Evangelicals themselves.  But when it comes to to helping others in need, Evangelicals are more sacrificial in their willingness to give of themselves and their substance than their liberal counterparts.  When I was a kid at Bethesda we had “mite boxes” but I’ve seen more “widow’s mite” moments as a Pentecostal than I ever saw as an Episcopalian.

Evangelicals’ biggest problem is their endless attempt to get out of the economic basement and move into the seat of power they think they’re entitled to.  That, I think, motivated them in part to support Donald Trump (his opponents’ obsession with adopting non-Christian and anti-Christian policies also fuelled that.)  It drives a great deal of what they do, even when they’re on shaky Biblical ground, such as the recent conflict I’ve gotten involved with about working in heavenIt hasn’t always been this way, but it is now.

But that leads us to the Anglican part: getting blowback from an Anglican woman is a real slap in the face for left-leaning evangelicals who aspire to move up into the Anglican world.  Even Rachel Held Evans figured that out: she became an Episcopalian.  The ACNA, stupidly I think, facilitated this movement with things like the Diocese of the Churches for the Sake of Others. (If that’s not pretentious, I’m not sure what is.)   To move up and then face opposition from people like Anne Kennedy is hard to take.

But that’s the difference between lay people and clergy.  Clergy–especially left-leaning clergy–expect the church they’re in to change to their idea.  Lay people only get to leave and go somewhere else, and that’s not always easy. People like du Mez would be better off if they spent as much time building the church they want people to be a part of rather than nitpicking the one that’s there, but these days that’s too much to ask.

Those Infernal Internal Passports

At the left is a passport cover, one of those things designed to protect your passport, especially if your home is really a pied à terre and you travel a great deal.  But look carefully: it’s from the old Soviet Union, complete with their national seal embossed on the cover, and “Pasport” at the bottom.

The Soviet Union had not only external passports (for those few who got to leave the country) but internal ones as well.  It was necessary to produce this passport for inspection upon request of the police.  As noted in Pipko and Pucciarelli (1985):

“The passport is a biographical capsulization of its bearer in booklet form. It contains a recent photograph of the bearer. It states, inter alia, his name, place and date of birth, nationality (based upon the nationality parents), information concerning his marital status and the id of his children, a record of his military service, his place of work, notations concerning his failure to make court-ordered alimony payments, if applicable, and, most importantly, a propiska.”

The last is the most important: this stamp and its annotations showed permission to the bearer to live in their specific dwelling place.  The internal passport’s most important function was not to limit the journey or the destination but to define (and control) the starting place!  I should note that the Soviets were obsessed with the passport concept: even pieces of equipment had their own passports, I have a few of these myself.

Today we’re debating the use of “vaccine passports” to restrict people from going certain places and doing certain things based upon whether they have been vaccinated or not.  The biggest problem with this is that, once we start with a passport based on vaccination status, we then proceed to something more comprehensive like the Soviets had.  Our problem is that we have a political and bureaucratic class which is no longer content to regulate and facilitate the society’s prosperity but to control it.

I’m not sure I really have the sword to cut this Gordian knot, but it will be interesting to see if whatever universal ID they eventually come up with will be useful when it is time to vote.

Reference:

Pipko, S., & Pucciarelli, A. (1985). The Soviet Internal Passport System. The International Lawyer, 19(3), 915-919. Retrieved April 2, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40705651

The Catholic Church and the Dung Beetles

One of my Twitter followers referred me to this series of posts (Part I, Part II and Part III, and now he’s added a piece about the Trads) by one Larry Chapp, one time seminarian and academic.  (He uses the dung beetle analogy in the first post.)  A thorough response would be as long as his original series.  (I’ve addressed the issue of the Trads elsewhere.) The podcast video brought out many points that were hard to find in the long narrative, but it too takes a while to digest.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Roman Catholicism on this site, for two reasons,  The first is that its place in Christianity is important whether you think that place is deserved or not.  The second is that my years as a Roman Catholic were the central drama in my walk with God on this earth; here is where it all was transformed.

Chapp’s opening narrative about the bishops brings back to mind something that happened to me while an undergraduate at Texas A&M.  After my second year, I left dorm life behind for good and moved into a trailer with a friend of mine from “Newman/Answer” circles.  Early on we got into a discussion about the Church and its leadership.  Growing up Episcopalian acclimated me to less than stellar clergy leadership.  But he would have none of it, and basically forced me to read this from Ezekiel:

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. (Ezekiel 34:2-10 KJV)

That was in 1975.

Chapp clears up a major reason for this problem: the episcopal appointments under Paul VI left a lot to be desired of.  Those appointments, and the whole leftward drift of the American church after Vatican II, left the church vulnerable to sub-Christian influences, a situation that I’ve discussed elsewhere.

My friend’s and my subsequent course as Roman Catholics was an exercise in navigating this swamp while at the same time maintaining a high level of Christian life that we knew God expected of us.  In the short run it wasn’t a problem, but after we left College Station things got interesting–too interesting.

We tried very hard to stay in the Church, I think he more than me.  But it wasn’t easy.  In his case he ended up in a Catholic Charismatic covenant community, one ultimately split by a Marian devotion controversy.  He even married a Roman Catholic in a Catholic ceremony (the last time I was a lector.)  But in the end he gave up and left.

Neither my first parish nor my years at A&M really prepared me for the miserable state of American Catholic parish life.  I tried and rejected the covenant community.  I moved to Tennessee and got involved in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group, which also split over the Marian devotion issue.  The church didn’t like Charismatics and ultimately wore down the group, not only for doctrinal issues but because it wasn’t really respectable in this community, and the Catholic Church around here craved respectability.  So I ended up leaving as well.  That wasn’t my original plan–and it wasn’t my friend’s either–but I really feel that the Church didn’t leave us with much choice, its ostensible representations notwithstanding.

The fact that we were both involved in the Charismatic Renewal was part of the problem.  With the accession of Pope John Paul II in 1978 a house cleaning was initiated.  Unfortunately that included much of the Charismatic Renewal, which was ecumenical in nature.  Covenant prayer groups and communities ended up either getting offers they couldn’t refuse, going “underground” or going away.  (I still am not sure how the People of Praise managed to dodge the bullet, but they did.)

This illustrates something else that Chapp brings up: the tone deafness of the current Occupant of the See of St. Peter about the needs of the American church.  To some extent all of the Occupants have this problem.  I’m sure that the ecumenical, free-form Charismatics here got under John Paul II’s skin (I have reason to believe they did in Poland, too.)  But during the Anglican Revolt days of the late 1990’s and 2000’s, the Charismatics furnished some of the heft the “reasserters” needed in that effort (although the Reformed and Anglo-Catholic types are loathe to admit it.)  Their Catholic counterparts would have been very helpful in the current struggle.

But now we are back to the future: the American Catholic church, with the help of the Vatican, is drifting back into a classic “go along to get along” stance with our culture.  As Chapp notes, they don’t really believe much of what they supposedly teach.  And that’s a sad commentary.  But there’s more to it than that.

Chapp brings up something that you don’t hear much about: ultramontanism.  Ever since the Restoration in France, the Church has been an ultramontane institution, i.e., one governed by the fiat of Rome.  In one sense that should improve the accountability of the lower ranks, but their lack of accountability to their flocks (a ditching of a hallmark of Vatican II) only makes them “little Caesars” in their parishes and (especially) dioceses, with cover from above.  They can build their own empires and cushion their own positions with impunity, if they can survive storms such as the molestation scandals.

Sooner or later, however, the leadership of the Church will experience this prophetic passage of Bossuet, given about a century before the French Revolution:

Let us listen to our law in the person of Jesus Christ, as long as we are priests of the Lord. If it was said to Levi, on account of his sacred ministry: You are my holy man, to whom I have given perfection and doctrine; and for that, he must say to his father and to his mother: I do not know you; and to his brethren: I do not know who you are, and he has no children but those of God. If it is thus, I say, about the law of Levi and the Mosaic priesthood, how pure, how detached from flesh and blood must be the Christian priesthood, with Jesus Christ as author and Melchizedek as model? No, we must know of no other task, no other function, nor have any other interest than that of God, teaching his law and his judgments, and continually offering him perfumes to appease him. If we keep this law of our holy ministry, one would not see the invasion of the rights and authority of the priesthood, which are those of Jesus Christ. God would become our avenger, and the prayer of Moses would have its effect: Lord, help your ministers, uphold their strength, protect the work of their hands; hit the fleeing backs of their enemies, and those who hate them may never rise again. But because, more carnal than the children of the age, we only think of making ourselves fat, of living at our ease, of making successors for ourselves, of establishing a name and a house, then everyone sets upon us, and the honor of the priesthood is trampled underfoot. (Elevations on the Mysteries, XIII, 6)