07 October 2011

When ideology clouds faith

Writing for the Gatehouse News Service, Tom Ehrich, an Episcopal priest, asks the poignant question: "What if America truly were a Christian nation?"  The question is good but his presuppositions are not.

Some of what he says is true, but much of it is clouded by the hermeneutic through which he looks upon the world; he lenses do not seem to see neither nuance nor distinction.

He first contends:

Not a Southern Baptist nation, or an Episcopal nation, or a Roman Catholic nation. Not grounded in the doctrinal and ecclesiastical isms that have grown up over the centuries. But a Christian nation, doing what Jesus did.
 Here he ignores the reality that Jesus did, in fact, found one Church, built upon the Apostle Peter.  The Southern Baptist and Episcopal ecclesial communities are not that Church; the Catholic Church is.  It is a simple fact of history.

But be that as it may, his second contention - one which might well be expected from an Episcopalian - is the one that troubles me most:
Well, we wouldn’t be arguing about sex, that’s for sure. Jesus devoted no time to matters of sexuality.
Has he read the Gospels?  If he has, I'm not sure how could possibly make that claim unless his ideology greatly clouded his reading.  Or unless he has a very specific narrow meaning of sexuality.


  1. a Christian nation, doing what Jesus did.

    ... and believing (and teaching) what Jesus taught, right?

    Jesus devoted no time to matters of sexuality.

    Jesus taught about lust, about adultery, about marriage and celibacy.

    We would be asking [the wealthy] to follow the lead of biblical tax collector Zacchaeus and to give away half of what they have.

    Here's the trick, though: we can ask them to do that, that's the Christian way. We can do it ourselves, that's the Christian way. But we can't force others to do that, via a tax, and say it's the Christian way.

    parables would trump rules

    I'm not sure what that means, or how one compares the two.


    And what about doing (and believing and teaching) what the apostles did? Paul, for example, had a fair bit to say about sexuality.

  2. Some of this reminds me of last night's readings for my Islam and Politics course, specifically the view of Ayatollah Morteza Motahhari on Marxist and scienticist interpreters of the Qur'an in the mid-20th century: That they might have good ideas, but they are grounded in Marxism and scientism and then reading that into the Qur'an rather than grounding themselves in the Qur'an and considering its applicability.

    I'm not going to endorse the substantive views of a Khomeini associate, but I see something similar whenever people see their entire political philosophy as drawn clearly from Christian doctrine. I actually believe that in many areas of government action, the Bible has little to say beyond a set of values and principles with which you should assess matters, but beyond that there are many possible points of view. One could also make a case that conservative Christians want to enforce sexual teachings but leave charity open to conscience, whereas liberals want to enforce charity but leave sex as a matter of conscience. I'm politically liberal on most issues, but won't claim to be acting on clear Biblical directives, and I think there's something to the Orthodox tradition of discouraging priests especially from identifying with secular political movements lest they lose their root orientation in Christianity. Of course, Orthodoxy runs into nationalism problems.

  3. I agree with much of you said, Brian. The Bible does give clear guidelines for most areas of life, but does not give specifics for legislation. That being said, there are certain clear moral teachings that a Christian cannot violate and still claim to follow Christ (I know that isn't where you necessarily going).

    One thing that often happens when priests make a moral stance or teach clearly on morality is that their attributed with having taken a certain political stance, which is often not the case (except that is sometimes happens that one party has taken a similar stand and another has taken an opposite stand). I'm often accused of being a Republican, which I am not (though I'm certainly not a Democrat). I haven't yet seen a party I like, though are certain candiates that seem to me more promising than others. Even so, though all fall short in the end.

  4. I agree, in that I think there's a lot about how individuals should conduct themselves, and how Christian communities should. On the other hand, there's far less about the idea of a Christian approach to a diverse society. I derive the last from a focus on human dignity and practicality, but acknowledge that there are other perspectives one could privilege.