Friday, December 21, 2007

Mixing in Some Politics

To further round out the autobiographical details, I should probably mention something about my politics. I'm a liberal and not ashamed to admit it. In 1976 I was Jimmy Carter's campaign manager at my middle school. 1984 was the first year I was eligible to vote in a presidential election and I proudly cast my vote for Walter Mondale. I think I was one of about twelve or thirteen people to do so in South Carolina. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.) I like to hike and will readily admit to being an environmentalist. Heck, my wife and I went to a Sierra Club meeting on our first date. And our first out of town trip together was to Clinton's first inaugural. The only issue where I part ways with many on the left is abortion, and my position on that issue has only changed since we had children. (I'll save the story of my evolving views on the abortion issue for another post.)

I say all these things not to start a political argument, but to point out that I really should have been comfortable with the Episcopal Church. Worship was focused on the Eucharist and to the extent they took positions on public issues, they agreed with me most of the time. But here's the problem: despite being pretty liberal on politics and social issues, I consider myself fairly orthodox when it comes to Christianity. I believe that Christ's resurrection was a real event that actually happened and not just a metaphor for us changing our lives. I believe Jesus was fully God and fully man at the same time. I believe Christianity is more than just one way to God, but is indeed the Way, the Truth and the Light. In short, I really believe the Nicene Creed and the Apostle's Creed when I say them in Church.

My problem with the Episcopal Church is that I'm not sure these beliefs are required any more. Over the last several years, I've been to several different Episcopal Churches and heard a lot of sermons that sound like they could have been delivered at the Unitarian Church down the street. Now as they said on Seinfeld "not that there's anything wrong with that" but I don't want to be a Unitarian. The Episcopal Church (like all the mainline denominations) has suffered through a lot of controversy over the role of gay folks the last few years. But it seems to me that this drift toward Unitarianism and Universalism should be a whole lot bigger worry than whether two men hold hands on their way back to their car after the service.

The early Christians changed the world. They converted the greatest empire in the history of the earth. They were willing to die for their faith. Many were indeed martyred. I'm currently a member of a Presbyterian Church USA congregation. I try to attend services at an Episcopal Church whenever I'm out of town. I don't hear a lot of sermons that would inspire us to the point of laying down our lives for our faith. I don't mean this as a critique of the oratorical skills of the pastors, but to point out that when following Jesus is just one of a good number of equally acceptable alternatives, why would anybody sacrifice to be a Christian?

So off the soapbox and back to my problem. What's a socially liberal but theologically conservative guy going to do? I actually got desperate enough to consider Catholicism.

6 comments:

Adam said...

This is a wonderful post. I have noticed a similar trend of discontent in some of my Episcopal friends. Have you read any Newman? Or Richard John Neuhaus? While you may disagree with Neuhaus' politics, I think you'd enjoy the story of his conversion.

MHL said...

On Neuhaus, I read First Things online semi-regularly,and you're right, I don't often agree with his politics. However, I do find his perspective (and that of the other contributors to First Things) interesting and thought provoking. I don't think any of us should be afraid to hear from all sides issues that interest us. My browser's favorites are a varied lot. From Sojourners to Commonweal to First Things and a lot in between. I knew Neuhaus had converted, but I've never read his story. I'll make a point to try to find it.

As to Newman, I've read plenty of people talking about their reading of Newman, but I've never read much from him directly. That's on my to do list for the New Year. The snippets I've read seem pretty spot on in nailing the inherent problems of Anglicanism, especially in regards to authority.

Thos said...

MHL,

I have enjoyed this! I have historically been conservative (politically), but think that we share a common ground: objective truth exists, and subjectivism is not the be-all and end-all it claims to be.

Neuhaus is a good reading tip. He's politically conservative now, but still very proud of his having protested the Vietnam War (& marching with MLK, Jr., etc.).

But when it comes to discerning about Christ's Church, to heck with secular politics! The cart can't lead the horse.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

MHL said...

thos,

I very much agree about not letting today's secular politics decide eternal truths. One of the things I like about Catholicism is that they really challenge both parties. What's the line about "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Lutheran Seeker said...

I love this post and the comments! As someone who considers himself conservative (for the most part), I became increasingly alarmed when as an evangelical everything seemed to revolve around "taking back our country." I knew there had to be more to Christianity than getting conservatives elected, but it took stepping away for a while to realize just how much my view of the faith was shaped by the view that God must be a Republican. As Thos said, the point is Christ's Church. Let everything else take a back seat to that.

LS

Kelly said...

MHL,

I used to consider myself a liberal. When you believe in the Truth, however, it changes you. I was one of the more liberal voices in my office and at church I had a reputation for being "the church liberal." Then a church friend having heard me discuss politics suggested the book "Crunchy Cons" by Rod Dreher. I realized that I was more conervative than I thought.... at least as defined in a more traditional manner than conservative = republican and liberal = democrat. It was more than a year ago that I read that book. But one day not that long ago I woke up and realized that I can no longer accurately describe myself as a liberal. Be assured that I am not one of those extreme right-wingers though. And if I have to call myself a conservative it is only because "Center" doesn't really describe anything. If you haven't already read that book put it on your short list and see if it describes where your at. Peace...