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Acton Inst.: Progressive Captivity of Orthodox Churches in America

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  • Nina Tkachuk Dimas
     http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2013/06/12/progressive-captivity-orthodox-churches-america   The Progressive Captivity of Orthodox Churches in America
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 16, 2013

      The Progressive Captivity of Orthodox Churches in America

      by Johannes
      Most Christians who are received into the Eastern Orthodox Church as adults
      do so for the same reasons that others embrace the Roman Catholic Church: They
      are tired of the moral relativism or the shallow theological traditions of their
      former communions. These great historical Churches offer an oasis of clarity
      where the first questions are settled and the foundations do not have to be laid
      again in every generation. At least that’s the idea.

      Alas, it is not always so. Orthodoxy and Catholicism have their share of
      dissenters but this is nothing new to anyone who knows their history. Yet this
      realization often comes as a surprise – even a shock -- to many Orthodox
      converts. They assume that the precepts of the moral tradition will be taught in
      our generation as well. Sometimes they aren’t.

      Analyzing the present culture and discerning how the moral tradition speaks
      to it is always a complex business because people are dynamic beings. Truth is
      relational because Truth is a person – Jesus Christ. As such, any
      self-revelation of Christ whether it be Him directly or through the words and
      work of His followers requires much more than an outline of propositions. If it
      were that easy we would all be fundamentalists.

      This relational dimension however, is where it gets dicey. Christianity’s
      secular counterpart – Progressive morality – has impressive fluency in the
      language of human compassion in which ideas that are inimical to the Christian
      moral tradition are hidden. It confuses believers and convinces secularists and
      lies at the root of much internal dissent in the historic Christian
      This problem exists in some quarters of the Orthodox Churches in the United
      States today. Take for example Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s statement on
      abortion (see: A Patriarch who ‘Generally Speaking Respects Human
      Rights’). He leads the largest, by far, Orthodox jurisdiction in America,
      the Greek Orthodox. Here the patriarch appeals to personal humility to avoid
      restating what the Fathers of the Church make clear: Aborting a child is a grave
      moral crime. Appeals to humility might be morally compelling, but in this case
      it is misplaced.
      Consider instead the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church where the
      sanctity of all human life is unequivocally affirmed (see: The
      Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church). Or read the statementon this same problem issued in
      Belgrade by the Serbian Orthodox bishops earlier this month. They spoke of “a
      deep moral degradation, a great crisis of family life and lack of true faith in
      God among many people, though many of our people declare themselves as faithful
      Orthodox Christians at least in the elementary sense of that word.”
      When human dignity ceases to be the source and focus of thought on cultural
      issues the moral foundations of culture are undermined. One reason why the Church Fathers were clearon the moral
      status of the unborn child (today they would be branded as “haters”) is that
      they understood if the unborn child was seen as a commodity, any kind of cruelty
      could be justified in the end. They fought for the elevation of human morality.
      Today we fight against its devolution.
      Sadly, this type of confusion often exists when American Orthodox Christians
      encounter other profoundly moral questions. Recently the Acton Institute
      co-sponsored a conference on povertyat St. Vladimir’s Orthodox
      Theological Seminary, the flagship of Orthodox seminaries in the United States.
      To its credit St. Vladimir’s, located in Yonkers, N.Y., resisted considerable
      behind the scenes pressure aimed at shutting it down. From whom did the pressure
      come? Orthodox Progressives.
      Acton’s approach to poverty places the native creativity of the poor at the
      center of any program to alleviate poverty. People have natural dynamism because
      they are created in the image and likeness of God – an insight that can only be
      grasped and responsibly applied if one first believes that all people have
      inherent value and dignity. This moral vision is the legacy of the Christian
      moral tradition comprehensively understood.
      This understanding is a threat to the Progressive vision however, because it
      lays bare the materialist vision of man (man is a biological machine, a better
      society is achieved by manipulating the mechanisms of state) that lies at its
      center. The reason for the confusion between the materialist (Progressive) and
      Christian vision is that the materialist vision borrows the language of the
      Christian tradition thereby making it appear that the ideas it champions are
      indeed Christian and thus in accord with cultural history.
      Ecumenical discourse between the churches (Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant)
      that hold fast to the moral tradition will be fruitful if it stimulates internal
      reflection and prompts necessary corrections in our respective communions. The
      Acton-St. Vladimir’s conference reveals to the Orthodox that 1) thinking on
      poverty issues is underdeveloped and 2) the objections to the conference relied
      solely on ideas drawn from Progressive ideology.

      This fact is not lost on Orthodox moral conservatives and traditionalists. We
      call it the Progressive Captivity of the Orthodox Churches in America.
      There are historical reasons why we are late to the discussion (Turkish
      captivity, Communist tyranny, etc.). It led to some missteps along the way such
      as joining the National Council of Churches (the NCC functions primarily as the
      amen corner of the secular left) but they are being corrected.

      The hour has passed however, when we can excuse participation with those who
      misappropriate the Christian moral vocabulary in order to cloak ideas and
      policies inimical to the Christian moral tradition. The moral confusion in the
      larger culture should not become our own.

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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