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NATIONALISM

I’m watching the present debate about immigration with some interest. Rather like the sexuality debate in TEC, the subject seems to bring out the worst and the best in us. It touches a raw, visceral nerve which all too often energizes beyond reason.

I fully recognize that there are things which touch us deeply “beyond reason”. I was so touched recently when the Queen was over here. I can’t explain -I can try but never explain – to an American the reason why I am a monarchist. But I am. No I don’t think it would work here. But I do get annoyed when Americans tell me it shouldn’t work there.

On the other hand, in a shrunken globe, we have to get used to living and doing beyond our own turf. It was after the horrors of the two world wars that, in each case, the nations involved underwent a spurt of internationalism in the founding of the League of Nations and later the United Nations. War was caused by nationalism, by the theory that our country is best, unique, the home of the Master Race. Racism was deeply involved, a racism which deemed all other peoples to be inferior to our own with the Jews, in the Second World War as the most dreadful and sinister.

I fear that there is a good deal of racism involved in the controversy about immigration. We want to build a wall patrolled by guards, the sort of thing Ronald Reagan attacked when he visited Berlin. The Israelis are building a wall to keep the Palestinians out, despite the fact that Palestinians have called the Holy Land home for two thousand years.

Nationalism, in its negative sense is irrational. We wrap ourselves in emotive symbols, cling to a myth which is a-historical, and warn all others to keep out. When such xenophobia is lived by a nation made up of many nationalities and peoples, the irrationality factor becomes the more obvious. Irrationality often leads to hatred and violence.

This doesn’t mean that love of country is wrong, or that respect for symbols isn’t “natural.” Justice doesn’t mean that the doors should be flung open to all. Decency and order is utterly necessary. However it does mean that laws should be based on practical matters and not on irrational nationalism.

If the world needs to learn to live together and share its resources with equity and “justice” -as an Episcopalian I’m becoming frightened of that last word – the more so should the church. I am reading about the same sort of irrational ecclesiastical “nationalism”and fear of domination by “others” in our present debate about a Covenant. Even our bishops, in their subjective and often rude message to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates adopted at the House of Bishops meeting in Texas, became ultra-conservative as they muttered about “colonialism”and “prelates” and affirmed that no one could tell TEC what to do!! God help us when our largely liberal bench of bishops sound like the late Jerry Falwell.

Simply put we need the rest of the Anglican Communion. We need our brothers and sisters to pull us up short when we do foolish things or get ahead of ourselves. We need them to share with us their thoughts, their prayers, their scholarship,their spirituality just as we need to share with them our Christian Faith and commitment to a whole Gospel for a whole humanity. And if they decide our manners are so bad at the table to warrant our being sent to our room, so be it. As we often say, we treat people as adults when they behave as adults.

Most of all we may learn from others what it is like to be Christian in a world where culture endorses anti-Christian practices and endorses other rival religions who threaten the lives of our own people. (Nigerian Anglican leadership drops counter-culturalism when it fails to fight against draconian laws aimed at gay people in order to prove to Muslims just how orthodox they are.)

We in America are so used to a cosy relationship with culture, and so keen to be seen as modern by the intellectual elite, that we easily abandon the counter-cultural reality of Christianity in order to accommodate our own doubts or to preserve our own respectability. Anglicanism has always been clear about the core doctrines of the Faith and equally tolerant and respectful of doubts and doubters. But when the doubters take over……….? I know many unchurched people who shake their heads when they read the burbling of doubting clergy. If they don’t believe why do they dress up and intone language which expresses clearly the things they tell us don’t really count? Is the Church a foretaste of the Kingdom or of an eternal debating chamber for the bright? For, as with the Gnostics, there’s no place in the church for ordinary folk who read little but the sports’ pages..

Today’s Gospel, in which the word unity appeared over and over again, reminds us that unity is a note of authenticity, that we are one with Christ through the Spirit in the Father through baptism and belief that Jesus is Lord. It also reminds us that unity is the product not of concordats and strategies but it is the gift of God to be accepted. Unity is to be lived into and takes self-abandonment and crucifixion to make us new enough to accept it. The antithesis of Christ’s will is ecclesiastical nationalism -we have no need of you or if we do stay at a safe difference and don’t dare tell us what to do! After all we are Americans and Episcopalians!

One Response

  1. Father Clavier, you have hit the well-known nail on the head.Whether it’s Nigerian evangelicals who think that we have achieved intellectual totality with our supposed system of doctrines or American liberals who want to reject the assistance of those they sneeringly label as “foreign prelates” in clearing up the mess we’ve made of things, we seem to have forgotten what we do every Sunday. When I kneel and receive the Holy Eucharist I am being made one body with Christians all over the globe and of every theological stripe. I may not like some of them but I’d better learn to love them because we are being made members of one another We should see each other as God’s gifts to one another. Instead too many of us apply a hermeneutic of suspicion to the statements of others with whom we disagree and are quick to walk away from one another when preserving the unity of the Spirit gets tough. God help us.If schism come it will not be the fault of one group or another. We all will have to own the guilt of it and spend some cosiderable time in penitence over it all.
    Frank

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