I know that years are artificial constructs, convenient ways to plot the passing of time. The political events of the past year both in the United States and Great Britain could be construed as challenging another idea linked to time; that of progress. It’s not only liberals who subscribe to one of the fundamental planks of Liberalism. That is the doctrine that things are moving from darkness into light and if that progression doesn’t seem to move swiftly enough, it is our job to give it a push.
When the twenty first century began it was largely assumed that one sign of progress was that nationalism, a polite descriptor for tribalism, was now definitely one of those dark ideas which time, now armed by methods of instant communication, would finally eradicate. Mind you, America presented both a prototype of internationalism and a challenge to it. For over four hundred years, successive waves of immigrants largely supplanted the original inhabitants. The aboriginal population was derided as being primitive and “savage”, decimated by sword, musket and disease. Spaniards, Britons, the French, the Irish, Africans (themselves enslaved), Italians, Asians, Jews, Eastern Europeans and others, staked out land and neighborhoods, and delineated three nations.One of those nations in particular looks like an example of what globalization is intended to resemble. The United States looks like a United Nations. And yet, in the recent election, it opted for locality over globalization. Whether that decision is a temporary regression, or a re-establishment of nationalism, with its accompanying mantra of patriotism, remains to be seen. The “Brexit” vote in my own homeland, may point in the same direction. The sort of “liberalism” which inspired the Founders of the United States, it is suggested, is now up for challenge. This lengthy preamble may suggest to you that I’m about to opt for the future or the past, as projects. Not so.
I belong to a nation that has co-existed with liberalism, conservatism, autocracy, monarchy, republicanism, fascism, communism, theocracy to name the major political themes. My nation has managed to co-exist freely in areas and territories where one or another of these theories, or combinations of some of them, existed. In some my nation has been persecuted, even eradicated. At other times my nation has collaborated, even with regimes propounding philosophies in obvious conflict with the moral teachings of it Founder and founders. Not all of these regimes were or are overtly repressive. At times my nation has favored one political philosophy over another and even suggested that its citizens should follow suit. At times my nation has embraced fear, fear of the future, fear of the past, and even fear of success.
My nation is the Church, against which the gates of Hell, or of political theories, of progessivism or conservatism, shall not prevail. Unlike secularism, the Church’s greatest foe is ecclesiastical nationalism. That is a strange concept for an Anglican to propound. Anglicanism became a separate face of Christianity when, using fantasy as a prop, it invoked the idea that every Christian Empire has the right to its own “national” church, free to propound its own version of Christianity. So that tyrant Henry VIII encouraged his henchmen to unearth “histories” of a post-Roman Empire nation, ruled by merry old souls like Olde King Coel. So the ruler of part of an island, detached from continental Europe, claimed imperial status, and a church as part of his trinkets. And yet this tiny Imperial Church continued to chant the anthem of the whole church: we believe in “one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Indeed one version of the Creeds printed in the Imperial Church’s Liturgy affirmed not only belief in, but simple belief: “I believe one Catholic” etc.
Reliable history, as opposed to history as propaganda, informs me that my nation, the Church, can disappear from a nation or geographical area. Yet, the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is numerically stronger now than it has ever been. Jesus warned against faith in statistics when he said “When the Son of Man returns shall he find faith on earth?” Henry VIII’s project of a discreet local church mercifully developed into a world-wide Communion committed to the reunion of the Church.
Let me try to be clear here. Of course local or “particular” churches should be free to govern their own affairs. They should not claim freedom to construct their own religion, their own creeds. The divisions which bedevil the Church, weaken and compromise its witness and make local area churches prone to cultural domination by national forms of secularism. Such a malady weakens the ability of the church in a nation or area to act as an effective conscience. At the same time, too much focus on universality makes it equally difficult for the local church to act as an effective conscience.
It is so hard for us to place our baptismal certificates on top of our birth certificates. And yet my hope, and the world’s future hope lies in Kingdom Come, when heaven and earth combine, and the kingdoms of this world becomes the Kingdom of our Lord Christ. My citizenship in that new world rests on my being born “from above” by baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The water and oil mark on my forehead enables me to trust the man who stands at the gate of the year, as he exhorts me to step out into the darkness and put my hand into the hand of God.