What We Look For
- --- In OrthodoxNews@yahoogroups.com, Nina Tkachuk Dimas <nina_dimas_42@...>
March 28, 2011
What We Look For
I once heard Father John Meyendorff of blessed memory say that: "The Christian
is always a shaky political ally". That simple phrase has stuck with me to this
day as a corrective to my own proclivity for social and political activism. I
believe he meant to remind us what we were about in the church, since we somehow
always need to be reminded: We are the community of people who've experienced
Truth in the person of Christ and who are collectively responding to that
experience. Everything else fits into that core truth and purpose. We may
worthily align ourselves with various political and social causes. We may even
sincerely identify those issues with right or wrong according to the Gospel. But
our ultimate goal, our ultimate commitment, is God. It's that ultimate goal,
Father John concluded, that makes us such shaky allies: "We look for the
resurrection of the dead."
Father John was certainly what would be called a social conservative by any
current standards, and I, by the same standards, could only be considered very
liberal. Yet he and I are united by our understanding of the One Thing Needful,
and I end up with far more in common with him than I do with many of the
left-tending people with whom I'm in agreement on social and political matters.
Father John and I are both shaky allies when it comes to those issues because as
Christians we are unable to regard them as ultimate goals.
This relates to why I believe those who are straining to cast the current
episcopal crisis as a struggle between liberal and conservative elements in the
church to be doing so duplicitously.
For one thing, the "sides" they've created in the controversy just don't work,
as a glance at the prominent figures whoâ€™ve ended up in opposition to them
show. Anyone who's had the slightest contact with Father Thomas Hopko, for
example, knows how absurd it is to cast him in the role either of social liberal
or of someone timid about speaking out about the truth as he perceives it.
But the conveniently constructed "sides" also don't work because such good/evil
dichotomies are generally always false. His Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah and his
supporters may indeed be sincere in their social conservatism, but those of us
in opposition to their approach aren't, conversely, necessarily liberal: we
represent a broad range of views. I'd speculate that what unites us is rather
that we don't identify social conservatism (or liberalism for that matter) as an
ultimate value. Our vision of the church is of a Divine-human community
that--due to the human element--goes through a continual process of sin and
repentance together, that collectively falls and gets back up again. It's
something of a complicated mess sometimes, but it's a mess transfigured by our
mutual aspiration toward communion with God and each other.
The church to which Rod Dreher was attracted, as he expresses it in his piece in
the Washington Post, seems to me to be something other than that. For him, the
Orthodox Church is "the only safe harbor from the tempest that threatened to
capsize our Christianity." It's "a rock of stability in a turbulent sea of
relativism and modernism overtaking Western Christianity." This effort to see
the Orthodox Church a kind of perfection braced against the world as horrible
"other" seems to me fundamentally misguided. It's troubling to me that it's also
becoming a view found with increasingly frequency in our church these days.
I believe this view is also the main problem with His Beatitude and his
partisans: a focusing on social issues as though those were what our faith is
all about. According Julia Duin's article that also appeared in the Post (one
can only assume with His Beatitude's approval), "the 51-year-old leader of the
Orthodox Church in America wants to add political action to the faith's
traditions." And he has publically proclaimed as much multiple times, offering
the church as a sort of refuge for those who don't find their own churches
conservative enough, like Mr. Dreher.
This isn't to say that an Orthodox Christian might not be a social conservative.
A majority likely may be, and they may sincerely aim to justify their stances
various conservative issues by the Gospel. But to identify social issues as what
the Church is all about is misguided. Horribly so, I would say.
If there is an opposition movement to His Beatitude and his supporters, it is
neither a cadre of social liberals, nor is it a group of people afraid to speak
the truth. Those accusations need to be exposed as lies any time someone tries
to tell them. I would instead identify his opposition to be those of us who
understand the church to be the complicated mess referred to above, that
community whose concern is above everything else the working and struggling
together toward God. We don't look first of all for a perfected community of
right-thinking people taking refuge from a demonized society. We look for the
resurrection of the dead.
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