Anglicanism was once defined as the Conservative Party at prayer.  Those days are long gone. Even in those English days of Empire and Disraeli, Mr. Gladstone might well of objected to such a definition, stalwart Anglo Catholic that he was and “Liberal” to boot.

The other day I read a comment to a blog written by an Episcopal priest in which he described himself as the rector of a “left-leaning” parish. That phrase has been buzzing around in my mind. Now I have been rector of parishes in which I suspected that a majority of my active parishioners were “liberals” and others in which I knew that most were “conservatives.”  What the demographics of my geographical parishes might have revealed I do not know. I do know that one of the present impediments to evangelism I face is that I belong to a national church which is popularly identified with “left-wing” causes. TEC might well be described as “Left-wingers at praise”.

I’ll come clean and reveal that there are not a few positions popularly described as “left-wing” which I espouse in my British invincible ignorance, but as I am taxed without representation I suppose I can do no harm. I was against the Iraq war from day one. I grumped about the naivete of politicians who actually believed Saddam Hussain’s boasts about owning weapons of mass destruction. I am against capital punishment because I believe it panders to the worst spirit of revenge in our collective make-up and I am against abortion except in the most refined cases because as a Christian I do not believe that our bodies are our “property” and that I know that life is not our personal property. Again, if society believes that a good education is a civil right, ergo good health is a civil right and should be available to all. We have “socialized” education in this country, and dash it in some states socialized liquor stores, then what is the logical argument against a well funded, well constructed national health service? On the other hand I am “conservative” in the matter of marriage because I believe it to be one of the sacraments, indeed the only sacrament except emergency baptism which may be performed by the laity and for the laity. Our church clearly teaches who are the “matter” of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony in its Prayer Book and Catechism and does so because the Bible so reveals and teaches. I am not an economic socialist, although I confess that in common with our experts in this time of recession I don’t understand how the market does or does not work, and I am so because I grew up in post war socialist Britain and understand that the State is as liable to hopeless bureaucracy as is General Motors!

Having said all this, and perhaps having said too much for many, I have to say that I am disturbed to belong to a jurisdiction which seems to want to construct it’s theology based on political 21st. Century American Liberalism. I am disturbed for practical reasons because such an appeal leaves out about half of Americans for whom such a position constructs an illicit stumbling block and rock of offense. I am shocked by this because it demonstrates a subservient role for the church, a church whose doctrine, discipline and even worship is defined more by a temporary and local, even national set of principles than by scripture, the tradition and reason. Ironically TEC (The Episcopal Church) has fallen into that quintessential Anglican sin of associating itself with a temporal power base. Further it aids and abets the ancient sin of us all in bending our religion to suit our political and social beliefs. Instead of the Church being seen as the foretaste and preview of the Kingdom of God which is and is to come, it rather mirrors and abets temporary and fallen human empire building, however altruistic the vision.

Perhaps it is “natural” therefore that the newly established “Anglican Church of America” follows the same path by offering itself as a body for contemporary North American conservative opinion and at once confines its mission to that constituency. Once again there is a place in which the conservative party may pray and in which political conservatives may find themselves at ease, undisturbed by a Gospel for those who here have no abiding city, and whose opinions are grounded and shaped by the Good News which stands apart and acts as a conscience as we seek to be used by God to build the Kingdom which God alone constructs and in the creation of which those rescued from sin and death shoulder their crosses of sacrifice as we live and die in Christ and are transformed for the life of the world. Such a calling is of course to the whole of life and the world and not merely a mission to pluck “souls” from perdition. Starvation, disease, war and exploitation are a real form of perdition.

This vocation and calling will bring us from time to time into agreement with aspects of secular political theory and at such times we are to be careful that such congruity does not turn into an unwatched spirit of self-congratulation. At the same time when our faith determines that we oppose political correctness we are not to assume the mantle of the pharisee and abandon our duty to speak the truth in love to our neighbors as we love them as we love ourselves.

Nothing has been more deadly than the Church’s constant accommodation to the principalities and powers of this world. The narrow “cultures” Christians inhabit by birth, race, upbringing and social convictions are to be challenged daily as we hear the Word of God and are brought into intimate association with the Trinity and the Church in Eternity through the Sacraments. Such a challenge is always blunted by claims that we belong to “left-leaning” or “right-leaning” parishes in which our social and almost instinctively tribal and local cultures dull our consciences to the life-transforming power of the Gospel.

Of course the Church is called to speak the timeless truth which is in Christ Jesus in a manner “understanded of the people”. Such a calling must always be consciously aware of the peril of permitting enculturalization to seduce us into a ready surrender to the the norms of our own comfortable ideas and lifestyles: not an inappropriate meditation for Advent.

One Response

  1. Tony,

    Good post. I agree that our (TEC) apparent inability to distinguish a gospel imperative from a liberal prejudice is a hindrance not only to our evangelism but to our basic faithfulness. The same will be true of “ACNA” if they show a similar conformity to conservaitsm as an ideology.

    We would do well to be suspicious of the categories of liberal and conservative themselves as idolotrous. The more we conform to one or the other, the less likely we are to be exhibiting the transformation by the renewing of our minds to which we are called.

    Trying to decide in the contemporary American context whether Christianity should be more Conservative or more Liberal is like trying to decide within a classical Chinese context whether Christianity should be more like Confucianism or more like Taoism.


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