alt-right, Anglo-Catholicism, Christianity, Church

To the Alt-Right, From a Priest.

Friends,

Those who know me will be the first to tell you that I am not one for fire and brimstone, but since you seem so fond of the old ways of speaking, I reckon I’ll play the part.

Repent, and believe the Gospel.

You may think that you do. Though the current rash of behavior I’ve seen across the country tells me that’s not the case. I have no doubt that you do believe, but let’s respect each other enough to not pretend that what you believe has any relation to the Word of God revealed in Christ.

Some have preached that White Nationalism and the Gospel are compatible, if not two parts of the same coin.

This is heresy.

It is antithetical to the Creeds. It is not found in the Councils. It is nowhere in Scripture. And it is contrary to the faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.

Many in my own tradition have stood in the same pulpits I stand in today and preached a message similar to the one that you proclaim. Too many times “The White Man’s Burden” was read to mean “The Christian’s Burden.” The Church and society are still paying the price for the sins of my predecessors.

This is why I cannot be silent. This is why I write urging your repentance. We have stumbled in many ways as a Church; recognition of the fact that racism is antithetical to the Gospel is one way in which we have grown more fully in the stature of Christ. I am not going to let us lose ground.

So let me say it plainly:

  • All people were created in the Image of God, and God called all of God’s creation good.
  • Membership in Christ’s body is open to all races, tongues, tribes and nations, as clearly stated in the Revelation to St. John.
  • In Christ, there is no identity except our identity as Children of God. Baptised into his death and resurrection, and raised up with him in new life.
  • To place whiteness above membership in the body of Christ is to deny your baptism, and to place yourself outside of the catholic faith.
  • Any mythology about race that denies God’s goodness and begins from a point of subjugation or domination is simply a myth; unfounded in Scripture and antithetical to the Gospel.

The witness of the catholic faith is clear that race is a construction that the Gospel does not abide. The difference of our cultures deepens our witness to the universality of God’s saving love, just as St. Peter witnessed in Cornelius’ house, and as St. Paul argued in Jerusalem. It is the duty of all who would call themselves Christian to see to it that the cornerstone of our identity is nothing other than the Chief Cornerstone.

I don’t presume to be  fedei defensor, but I tell you with all conviction that I am sure of what I write, and I am sure that you are wrong.

This is why I call you to repentance. It is not because of  my cultural liberalism. It is not because of anything I received in the insulated halls of some academic ivory tower. I call you to repentance because the doctrine of the Church demands that I do. It is my fervent prayer that you hear and believe.

Because as long as you don’t, I will oppose you. And I will encourage all people of goodwill to do the same.  I will stand in the way of every move to peddle hate. I will shout down every claim that is contrary to God’s love and human decency. I will preach until I am mute. March until I am lame. Write until I am blind; in the full confidence that Christ will return me to strength so I can continue to do so.

You have decided to wholeheartedly embrace America’s original sin, and proclaim the greatest heresy of our time, a heresy that led to the death of millions of God’s beloved.

You may think you are a new thing, with a new face, taking old ideas and old stories to their destined glory.

The Church’s ideas are older. Our story is better. We have seen worse than you. And our God doesn’t lose.

So repent. Metanoiete. The offer is always there. The confessional is always open. Forgiveness is always on the table. You will be joyfully received.

Just don’t expect your penance to be light.

 

 

 

 

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Uncategorized

Creemos.

I have the honor of pastoring a community of Latinos. They venture downtown every Sunday to make it to mass in a building a stone’s throw away from the ICE offices for central Indiana. They show up in the center of our city hungry for the Word. Hungry for the Sacrament. And they do this at no small risk to themselves.

On Tuesday night I had numbed out. I, like many others, was so shocked and ashamed by what I was seeing, I couldn’t feel, much less find words to describe whatever feeling I was lacking. My newsfeed was a chorus of outrage and shock, building up the walls of noise that kept me pinned to the floor in front of my TV, glancing back and forth from phone to television.

It was all sound and fury. I was overwhelmed.

I don’t know if it was mental effort I have to put in to switch into Spanish that pulled me out of it, but a colleague posted “Necesitamos un milagro por favor, please.” [We need a miracle, please, please.]

And I broke. It got quiet. I wept.


This afternoon en la Misa at 1pm, without anyone asking, without an announcement or encouragement, members of our English-speaking community showed up for Misa. They grabbed bulletins in Spanish, and they filled the pews.

During the sermon, our Dean saw this, and, almost moved to tears himself, invited the English speakers to stand.

“We are one community, and we stand with you.”

It was moving. It was powerful. It was the most tangible vision of a community of solidarity and support that I’ve seen in a long time.

The English-Speakers sat down. The sermon ended. We all stood up together. And we said “Creemos en un Solo señor….”

Creemos. We believe.

Creemos. The word hit the walls like thunder, bounced back and bowled me over.

I broke. (And I composed myself quickly and without drawing attention, because I am the worst of the repressed white men.)


There is still a place where we can stand together and say we believe.

We believe that God made this world good.

We believe Christ became flesh to call us back to goodness.

We believe we will have to account for our lives.

We believe we are called to be together. Holy, catholic, apostolic. Together.

I don’t have much faith in many other things right now, but I believe that.

When reformers wanted to get the Church back to their roots, the Ecumenical councils and the Creeds were the first place they started. That’s something I understand now. In my bones I understand it.

When the rest falls apart, we start with what binds us.

We say we believe, then we go from there. Conjuntos. Together.

 

 

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Catholicity and Culture

When they say they’re too tired, believe them.

I was one of the last generations of Southern children for whom “Where do y’all go to Church?” will be a ubiquitous question. It was one of those questions that led to a quick size-up. Denomination and place-of-worship could tell volumes in Southern towns where Parishes, much like people, had reputations.

I imagine that the question “What do you do?” will have a bit more staying power. Where we work, and what we do has come to define (for better or worse) a number of our social interactions. Being clergy, I can tell you first hand that a different tack is almost always taken when I let it slip that I’m a priest. (The double takes are something to behold when folks ask me while I’m in street clothes. Young, tattooed man that I am.)

The Church can fight, and I think it should, the common assumption that what we do is the defining characteristic of our social interactions, but what we can’t yet seem to grasp is just how deeply the current culture of American labor is seeping into our congregations. We treat work, we treat labor as a neutral medium, as a simple fact of life, and we do so at our peril.

More and more I’m convinced that the single greatest variable in the seemingly inevitable march toward church decline is the way in which labor has changed radically in the last 50 years. I’m aware that this is just one hypothesis among many, probably too many. But the way in which we keep relegating what we’re experiencing to the realm of personal opinion, that its simply a matter of public distaste with the content of the 21st century church, continues to ignore the fact that it is quantifiably more difficult to attend church now than it has been since the end of WWI.

The data around individual hours worked isn’t that telling, but it isn’t that well studied either. As best as we can tell a working individual is now working about 5 hours more a week than they were in 1950, but that says almost nothing about Household hours spent working. Given that we have double the number of women in the workforce now than in 1950 it is safe to say that household work hours, while likely not double what they were 50 years ago, are significantly higher.

We’ve seen the previously sacrosanct status of the weekend erode, in legislation, yes, but more pervasively in practice. The workweek is the week you get on the schedule that is posted sometimes only hours before the next week starts. When I was in the Service Industry scheduling anything more than a week or two out was iffy. Making expensive, involved plans was pretty well unheard of, as any money you put down or plans you made could be forfeited by a manager’s refusal to sign off on your time off. Which you might not receive until days before the fact.

We are bombarded with messaging about how the American worker is faced with a drastically shifting workplace, and, at the same time, that the Church is in decline.

Yet we refuse to connect the two.

It’s easier, in many ways, to think that falling church attendance is a symptom of a cultural malaise, or a failure of messaging. That it is young people reacting against the capriciousness of Culture-War Christianity. That’s easy. We can try to change our theology, or the style and content of our worship. We can re-brand and rethink, re-imagine and revive, but if folks are too pressed by the demands of their work life to give up valuable time on Sunday morning then we’re not going to get anywhere. (Its also easier to collect poll data on opinion, rather than how time is actually spent.)

It is hard to care about the state of the American worker. It is hard to say that the Church is falling victim to the same pressures that workers everywhere are facing. We want so desperately to be above the fray, even as our forebears in the Oxford movement are calling to us and saying that we can’t be. If we want to be a priority, then we need to prioritize our people. Our working, struggling people who are constantly having to revisit their calendars and make the decision about whether or not they can afford to give a few invaluable hours to an organization that is asking them to give even more of the little time they have.

Its time to get serious about labor. The Culture Wars are winding down. We won. What we’re seeing in places like Alabama and Kentucky are its death throes. What if we took on a fight that would actually give life to people? A fight that would reach out across boundaries and say that the real war on families, and on Christian values comes from the unbridled greed that treats humans as resources to be exploited and discarded. That has no concern for developing whole, healthy families and community-driven people.

It seems to be working for the Pope. It worked for his namesake. It worked for the Tractarians. I see no reason it wouldn’t work for us.

Perhaps the biggest change that will need to take place is that when our people tell us they’re too tired, or too busy to attend regularly we need to believe them. We need to stop acting like we have a free pass from the “cares of the world,” and drop the chip on our shoulder that tells us that we should be a priority when other priorities like home and car ownership are being displaced because of an economy that no longer makes them sensible. We need to stop clinging to Sunday morning as our locus of our outreach and the measure of our success. Because as long as our people are given the choice between coming to church on Sunday morning and making money on a Saturday night we’ll always lose out on that choice.

The basic tenet of Liberation Theology is that we can’t separate a person’s material conditions from their spiritual well-being. St. James’ epistle seems to tell us the same thing. The Epistle that troubled so many of the protestant reformers may be the key to our next reformation. One that is necessary when a corruption of the famed Protestant Work-Ethic is undoing Protestantism as we know it. Care for the working person has been one of the finer parts of the Catholic Anglican tradition, and it may be the part that saves us.

Photo: The Christian Workers’ League took part in the May Day Parade, Edinburgh, c.1947 (George Wilkie archive) Accessed at:http://www.ionabooks.com/content/an-oral-history-of-the-iona-community/the-community-and-young-people/1-cwl-members-may-day-parade-c-1947-by-george-wilkie/

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General Convention

Fistfights and Church Governance.

Part of my Clinical Pastoral Education experience involved me diving headlong into a fist fight. It wasn’t one that I started. Two young men decided to swing on each other in the lobby of the outreach center I was serving. I heard the scuffle, and without thinking bolted around the corner and put myself in the middle of it. I caught a hook across my side, and got some nails dragged down my arm before I could wrestle one man off the other and out into the street. I waited with him for the cops to show up, gave them my statement and then walked him back to the shelter he was staying at.

He wasn’t allowed back in the outreach center, but every time I saw him I felt closer to him than I did before he unknowingly caught me across the side with his right hand. We had bonded in the fray. He trusted me more, approached me more readily, opened up easier after I had thrown him to the ground and pushed him out of the building.

The lists of the people that I’m closest with and the people that I’ve gotten into a physical fight with have a remarkable amount of overlap. I’ve heard the same thing from a number of other people, and I think that’s by and large because (for most non-pugilists) we only get really pissed about the things we really care about. There’s something in the fray that’s cathartic. There’s something that gets accomplished in being raw enough to resort to non-verbal expressions of the ways in which we feel. It isn’t nice, but sometimes it’s necessary. If apathy is the enemy of love, then sticking it out long enough to come to blows involves some level of caring.

With less than a month left before GC2015 I’m starting to wonder if we actually care enough to have a meaningful synod. Don’t get me wrong, I know that we believe strongly, but it isn’t about belief. I wonder if we care. 

Culture war politics don’t require us to have the slightest bit of concern for our fellow Christian so long as they’re on the opposite side of our issue. They actually tend to work better if we don’t have any concern. If we become so intensely convinced of the lunacy of the other position, then we’re more inclined to dismiss it as opposed to actually listen. If the only level of debate that TEC can muster is the level of debate currently present in our civil society then the world is right to ignore is. If all we’re going to do is be cultural partisans, then don’t even bother electing a new PB because we’re done.

If we can’t be a countercultural witness in something so central as how we govern ourselves then our structures are bankrupt, and neoliberal notions of inclusivity aren’t going to be enough to carry us out of it.

I learned the most about myself and my theology from the moments where I vehemently disagreed with someone, and stuck it out long enough for the both of us to figure out why we disagreed. I became an Episcopalian largely because of my friendships with people in the Continuing Anglican movement. They challenged me in love. They were interested in my growth in Christian maturity and wanted to see me come to a fuller understanding of the Gospel of Christ. While I fully believe that they’re wrong about polity, and ecclesiology, and sometimes I question whether or not they’re actually Anglican, they helped me know why it is I believe what I do. Much to their chagrin I’d like to think that my priesthood (and by extension, TEC) is the better for it.

We’re going to handle important issues this year. GC is going to get hot. We should hope that it gets hot the right way. Conflict avoidance will kill a Parish just as much as conflict itself. It’ll do the same for a Denomination. If the floor of both houses doesn’t get heated, then it means we’re not doing our job. The litmus test for whether we’re doing meaningful work is whether we can still come to the Blessed Sacrament together after having gotten heated, not whether or not we get heated in the first place.

I couldn’t care less about whether the delegates are “nice.” I want my delegates to be Christians of goodwill who are intensely and passionately devoted to the good of the Church, and I want them to listen. Don’t grandstand. Don’t posture. Listen. Debate. Learn from one another and grow in love.

Let’s be honest. The world already doesn’t care at all about our governance… but if we can make some real, meaningful, theologically sound decisions moved together in fierce love by a Holy Spirit that comes to us looking like tongues of fire… that would be enough to notice.

It worked for the Church before. I’m inclined to believe it will again.

(Note: Just incase it has to be said outloud… don’t actually start fistfights on the floor at GC, y’all.)

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