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PATRIOTISM & BAPTISM

In the first lesson for Morning Prayer today I read these words:

“Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury, and do not resort to acts of insolence. Arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals, and injustice is outrageous to both. Sovereignty passes from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and wealth.”

Despite Dr. Johnson,or perhaps because of him I’m drawn to a distinction between patriotism on the one hand and loyalty to the Church and that part of the church in which one finds oneself on the other.

Surely there’s nothing wrong in loving one’s country? Unless such a love is used as an excuse to pour contempt on other nations and peoples, to indulge in xenophobia or inappropriate nationalism, the exercise of devotion to the place of one’s birth would seem natural and harmless. Again, patriotism may be the refuge of the scoundrel who seeks votes or wants to sell dubious used cars. ( Have you noticed that the size of the flag displayed is often in inverse ratio to the reliability of the flyer?) However neither is the necessary outcome of devotion to the motherland.

The 20th. Century gave adequate and extreme warning of the dangers of unhealthy patriotism or the use of patriotism to attack others. I was concerned about this latter development when I read the Statement issued by our bishops at their last meeting and wrote about my feelings here. I am once again horrified that a liberal like Bishop Swing, who no doubt supports the United Nations and globalization has chosen to use the patriotism button to attack the Archbishop of Nigeria and Bishop Mimms. One would have thought that there’s adequate ammunition to fire at these ecclesiastics culled from the arsenals of the General Councils an the Windsor Report without resorting to xenophobia.

But is there not also the matter that love of country and love of church are two different things? From the beginning of the 19th. Century American Christians grappled with the issue of how distinctly encultured should Christianity be? The problem was not always tackled in a theological manner. Those who took the parallel between the Promised Land of the Old Testament and the promised land of America in deadly earnest strayed into pseudo religious cults such as Mormanism and Christian Scientism. Episcopalians and Roman Catholics were the opposite side to this coin. They seemed to take little heed of Pope Gregory’s advice to St. Augustine of Canterbury, that he should look at the rites and ceremonies of others and create an ethos encultured and yet “Catholic”.

We’ve done better of late. Yet it should be noticed that enculturalization does not extend to the creation of specific doctrine tailor made to mirror the culture or cultures of a given geographical area. For all our divisions -and they are no excuse for further division-we believe in “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” and not One, Holy, Catholic and American Church or British Church or Nigerian Church.

Surely there is or was an “Anglican ethos”, in part due, it would seem to the British love of compromise and distrust of “experts”; of living together in a confined geographical area. Perhaps such an ethos isn’t easy to appropriate in days of division. It should be noticed however that comprehension was born in division and factionalism.

Attempts to describe TEC as something discreetly unique and different, however rightly and partially true, easily descend into attempts to describe a thoroughly unique manifestation and to ascribe to the Holy Spirit the responsibility for its creation. Joseph Smith call home.

It would probably not be possible for people to advocate communicating non-baptized folk if a belief were not abroad that TEC is fundamentally “sui generis” rather than a true part of the Universal Church, the proof of which is a common baptism.

Now if we are to stop discriminating in this area, because Jesus ate and drank with publicans and sinners, or because all are made in God’s image,or because we hurt people by requiring baptism,none of which has a thing to do with our doctrines of baptism and the Church, why should we not do so in the matter of ordination? Is it not hurtful and arrogant -following this logic -to suggest that a Baptist or a Presbyterian may not sacramentally minister among us? Could we not get rid of bishops to accommodate our Protestant brothers and sisters and promote unity? Is the Lambeth Quadrilateral arrogant and unfeeling? Perhaps I shouldn’t have written this. Someone may take me up on it!

Happy St.George and All Washington’s Day.

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