Saturday, November 01, 2008

A Community Dying From Avarice?

Our dessicated prattling around secession--pro and con--invites trivial ripostes constituting a degenerating discourse full of sound and fury, strutting and posturing--in the end signifying nothing.

In case we have not noticed, our nation and its saints here below are in the midst of an economic crisis of historic proportions, one that challenges the foundations of our republic--a challenge moreover that comes at a very bad time, as we are trying to wrap up two lingering wars without pre-emptively starting a third. Chaos is upon us--families are suffering, children are suffering, and things could get much worse for very many very soon.

Shouldn't the church address these realities directly, acknowledging them in their due weight and noting their roots? How many pulpits have sounded out on our crises? Or do congregations-at-worship exist in parallel worlds really disjoint from the mundane one in which crises and storms break out, only appearing to be part of it?

Maybe the problem is we do not have the habit of addressing personal sin by name, especially the sins of the middle class, our principal constitutency, and so we do not have the habit of calling for personal conversion--much less repentance.


At 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scotist, yes the Church should. I am as weary as anyone of the endless and weightless labeling, posturing, and polarizing among the factions, which (AFAIK) is a reflex of similar tendencies in the academic world of the 1980s and 1990s. It's a never-ending round of sham battles with real consequences, as academics discovered to their sorrow, too late. I think the only solution is to refuse to engage with any of the current factions, refuse to play the label game, find out what can be done about some of the real problems we face, and keep our minds and hearts focused on doing Christian work among the suffering. It has shocked me no end that disaster after disaster has struck Haiti this year, to be met with next to no response from any of the factions in the Church. Now, I suppose we can expect the same non-response as the US slides into what Robert Reich is calling a mini-Depression. Oh no, let's all hoo-hah over Duncan and the departing dioceses. A shame that even liberal clergy in the Episcopal Church are taking Akinola as their model now!

At 10:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps congregations and their leadership have come to believe that they actually have nothing to say, or at least nothing meaningful, and certainly nothing they can do that makes any difference in the face of economic free-fall.

And perhaps they would be correct in that belief.

Congregations, as congregations, remain the product of the Constantinian arrangement. They are the public face of the Christian faith, duly domesticated accordingly. Congregations as such are not the communities of intense disciples of Jesus who live with his wisdom, but rather one format in which some of those intense disciples, along with many less intense if not hostile to his ways, gather for public acts of worship and other forms of networking and service.

So it may not be congregations, as such, that can speak meaningfully of God's reign and the demands of Jesus in the face of the powers that, after all, essentially still set the stage and the limitations of appropriate congregational speech and behavior-- as little or as much as we may wish to deny that.

While it may be true that the public benefits of Constantinianism are gone for congregations-- that is, general public legitimation of what they say-- it seems to me, at least, that the limitations of that arrangement-- i.e., what can properly, according to the public powers, be addressed in public speech from the congregations-- is still very much in play.

I don't look to congregations or their leaders, as such, to say much useful or much in the way of a critique or a constructive proposal that is Christian. But I do still expect some Christians in some form both to live in a way that witnesses otherwise to the powers, and from that living, speaks with a wisdom and an authority that even the public powers cannot ignore, even if they must deny or reject or try to silence, marginalize or suppress it.

The Reverend's Spouse...

At 3:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reverend's Spouse, it's a good argument you make, but (assuming I understand it) I can't agree. Is it impossible to preach on our brothers and sisters in Haiti, starving, drowned, buried in mudslides? Impossible to call for a relief effort, for contributions from congregations?

Perhaps I didn't understand.

At 4:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Impossible to preach on those particular topics, one tragedy at a time, hardly. I do see that happening, and quite regularly.

But preaching on the larger economic issues that lay behind why the tragedies in Haiti and Zimbabwe (with 239 million percent inflation!) keep happening-- that, I think would be harder to expect.

And even harder, perhaps, for that preaching, were it to happen in congregations, to motivate very many to the needed actions.

The Reverend's Spouse

At 2:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would appear there is scope for treading a balanced line here.

On the one hand, the last time I heard a church speak out against personal sin, it was a large evangelical congregation sounding off about Jeffrey John in an evil and judgemental manner, just to appear topical and relevant. (I'm sure Zechariah 4 doesn't say anything about bishops of St Albans). In the end I wrote to the church to complain afterwards.

Recently I attended a church where there was a USian bishop passing through for hospitality en route to Lambeth; his sermon mentioned each of the 3 political then-candidates running for President in the US. This grated; one does not talk national politics, for fear it become party-based, so his attempt to go for "all 3" instead was duly noted. His sermon could have been shorter and less predictable.

Therefore I think I would support an enlightened exposition of long-term party-neutral economics or any-term humanitarian causes, in a sermon. Notably natural disasters seem relegated to intercessions, and yet the whole point of intercessory prayer is to provoke the pray-er to get off their backside and do something.

At 10:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really had something much simpler in mind. Something like the Haiti Project:

I don't really expect sermons on economics; as C.S. Lewis might have said, economics is the business of economists. But when people are suffering and starving, and we might relieve them and instead willfully ignore them, we might just be storing up wrath against ourselves.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thank you for this exchange.

It may be true that preachers would pay some price for bringing up the sins of gluttony or greed, and attendant economic phenomena: the notion that in a free market private vice is a public virtue, or Friedman's idea that a corporation has no social responsibility, etc. And it may be that the churches are not equipped to speak with expertise on the economy or political events.

Still, the preacher might well be obligated to speak--even without an advanced degree, even if the congregation is taken aback.

Personally, I think one reason teh mainline is declining is that it will not systematically speak to the personal sins of its middle/upper middle class constituency.

For instance: how many in a typical congregation are living with an addiction to gambling, or porn, or to spending too much time on the internet away from their families and fleshy friends? How many are living beyond their means month by month and year by year? How many have mistakenly put their career or, say, 401K first? How many are so poor in stewardship they cannot give as they should (a la Peter Singer)? How many are caught up in the vanity and hubris of conspicuous consumption (a la Veblen) without realizing it? How many tolerate modern versions of gladitorial games in their houses--movies and TV shows that glamorize homicidal violence, sadism and sociopathy? And so on.

Maybe something should be said, someday, in some mainline church somewhere--and perhaps such witness could become commonplace.

At 12:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

`speak with expertise'

That is absolutely a problem. I've heard a sermon where "scientists" were decried for "...believing the universe started with a Big Bang up in the atmosphere somewhere".
Somehow I did not walk out. I still don't know why.

Opening up the subject-matter for sermons to discuss current events and failings run a high risk of the church's official position becoming based on ignorance.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger JimB said...

I think one could preach against greed without offering an economic policy, against poverty without proposing a new bureaucracy or program and make some salient points. I even consider a sermon that said we should worry less about our 401k balances and more about the starving in Hatti or Sudan, or the mess in Congo.


At 1:20 PM, Blogger Daniel Lee said...

Perhaps it is difficult to preach about giving children bread instead of stones - when certain rightwing copyrighted brands of high holiness are being dished up all the time, as the truer better realities which innately trump all manner of social and economic justice in the sin systems of our cities?

Too many believers are presuppositionally painting themselves, their worship, their witness, and above all their service - into dogmatic corners of their own special imaginations.

Alas. Lord have mercy. Believers who still hear, see, feel, and would reach out - probably need to do so, as much outside of the closings now so widespread in church life, ever open to also doing something (probably local?) inside church life?

If the current conservative realignment does manage to collapse the global big tent, then it would appear to be God's will that all the unsaved get stones instead of bread, as believers having bread is special witness to a small rightwing God's goodness? Not a gospel message, to me. Just another religious theme park with believers in cowboy hats riding dinosaurs, all to the great glory of God.

Alas. Lord have mercy.

At 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aren't there any conservatives left that read your site Scotist?

A theoretical "conservative" might say something to the tune of: TEC gave up preaching on sin long ago.

Except, perhaps, the sin of "exlusivity"

I would note that my parish, one of the only "right-wing" congregations in the diocese of MN has a relationship with the Haiti church and we gave accordingly.

Indeed, it is the moderate ++Williams and +Wright who consistently speak to greed and power. Where is Schori in all of this? Pissin about Illinois no doubt.

Daniel, come now, it is good and pleasant when we dwell together in unity. This "right-winger" certainly feels the gospel is preached in his church!

Christ have mercy.


At 10:17 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...


Isn't the failure to preach against personal sin widespread on the mainline? It's NOT just TEC. As if the myriad bourgeois Towers of Ego out in the pews were too precious to be stained with the imputation of sin. God forbid!

I believe the failure contributes to men skipping out on church attendance; I think many who have a sense of their moral failure as a sickness would appreciate hearing it addressed in Christian terms in their church community, in a way consonant with Scripture. As if forgiveness--and the Gospel--were real, real enough that they were recognized by God and the church in their sins--their real sins--without flattery or ego games, and called out of the Egypt, out of the slavery they know full well that they are in.

Any conversion that that fails to be a conversion from the grip of personal sins will be inauthentic--it will feel fake, flowery, rococo, contrived. Contribute to that? I think many men will tacitly say No.

At 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For sure, I know the greatest growth for me has come from the conviction of sin in my life. And the sin of greed and gluttony, of which you speak, are "up-there" sins, against which we as Westerners much be constantly on the watch.


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