What is the Role of the Church During This Pandemic?

Christianity

As readers of this blog know, I have taken some comfort and instruction during this pandemic from the writings of Anglican clergyman and Oxford University theologian N.T. Wright.  Churches may be closed, but the church–as the Christian people of God–still speak and act in the world.  But what should this kind of acting and speaking look like?

In his book God in Public: How the Bible Speaks Truth to Power Today, Wright writes:

…when God wants to change the world he doesn’t send in the tanks…he sends in the meek, the mourners, the merciful, the hungry-for-justice people, the peacemakers, the incoruptibly pure in heart. That was never a list of qualities you  need to try to work at in order to get to heaven. It was always a list of human characteristics though which God would bring his kingdom on earth as in heaven. That is how God works. And by the time the bullies and the arrogant have woken up to what’s happening, the meek and the mourners and the merciful have built hospitals and schools; they are looking after the sick and the wounded; they are feeding the hungry and rescuing the helpless; and they are telling the powerful and the vested-interest people that this is what a genuinely human society looks like…

The church has another role in times like this.

Here is Wright from Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues:

From pre-Christian Judaism to the present, God’s people have claimed the right and responsibility to speak truth to power, sometimes with words, often with bodies. Martydom has frequently been the most powerful statement of all. The post-Enlightenment world has developed two other ways of speaking truth to power, but neither has done the job well.

On the one hand, we have opposition parties, which easily generate a two-party-culture-war polarization, which both Britain and the United States suffer from. Every issue is seen in black-and-white terms of us and them…

On the other hand, we have the electronic and print media, the increasingly complex world of journalism that takes on itself responsibility of holding government, and indeed the opposition, to account…

These two methods of speaking truth to power–official opposition parties and the media–regularly fail. As we all know, opposition parties often collude with governmental folly and wickedness, and newspapers can easily egg them on in precisely those areas where critique is most needed. The church’s vocation of speaking truth to power has thus been taken over by two systems that aren’t up to the job. We urgently need the voice of Christian wisdom to approve that which is excellent and to call to account that which isn’t. Of course, when we try to do that, the media regularly tries to rule the church out of order, not just because it doesn’t like what we might say but because we are treading on turf they took from us, and they don’t want us to have it back. So, once again, we have colluded with this diminishing role and God-given vocation; or, worse, we have been herded like sheep into the lobby of this or that party, swept along on agendas we assume too readily to be God’s agendas and unable to differentiate between the whim of the party and the conscience of the Christian.

Acts of love and mercy. Speaking truth to power. That is pretty good advice to build on.

Why is a Louisiana Pastor Still Holding Sunday Services?

Spell

Some of you have now heard about Pastor Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge.  Despite Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards’s order to limit the size of meetings, Spell has continued to hold Sunday services. It is unclear whether Spell will defy Edwards’s recent stay-at-home order.

Over at The Washington Post, four scholars of American religion–Andrea Johnson, Lloyd Barba, Daniel Ramirez, and Roy Fisher– explain the theology behind Spell’s decision to stay open.

Here is a taste:

Spell’s stance reflects elements of a longer history of the Oneness Pentecostal tradition within which his church fits. This faith tradition champions the beliefs and practices of the early church. Along with this commitment to “restorationism,” their method of scriptural interpretation enables some Oneness Pentecostals to stitch together disparate scriptures into post-facto justifications for conclusions based as much on their understanding of politics as their reading of scripture. In this case, Spell’s position reflects a longer history of sectarian groups guarding the church and the restored faith against intrusion by either government or more mainstream forms of Protestantism.

And this:

Nonetheless, Oneness groups are not, and have never been, monolithic in how they have engaged politics, and we’re seeing that again in how they respond to the coronavirus epidemic. Official directives from the flagship Oneness Pentecostal denominations, including the United Pentecostal Church International, the Apostolic Assembly of the Faith in Christ Jesus (largely Latino) and the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (largely African American), have explicitly cited scripture in counseling their diverse constituencies to remain calm and adhere to government directives, including the call not to hold public services. They would rather follow the prophet Jeremiah’s charge to exiles to always seek the well-being (“peace”) of the city in which they reside, for in its well-being they will find their own well-being.

Read the entire piece here.

“Which of your fellow parishioners, Mr. Reno, are you willing to expose to the virus?”

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R.R. Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, recently wrote a piece titled “Keep the Churches Open.” Here is the first sentence: “Cancelling church services is the wrong response to the coronavirus pandemic.” Read it here.

Historian and cultural critic Eric Miller recently e-mailed me with this response to Reno’s piece: “Which of your fellow parishioners, Mr. Reno, are you willing to expose to the virus?  Could you tell us their names?  Will you be sure to let their families know? “

Fans of the poet Wendell Berry will recognize Miller’s words:

Questionnaire

By Wendell Berry

1. How much poison are you willing
to eat for the success of the free
market and global trade? Please
name your preferred poisons.

2. For the sake of goodness, how much
evil are you willing to do?
Fill in the following blanks
with the names of your favorite
evils and acts of hatred.

3. What sacrifices are you prepared
to make for culture and civilization?
Please list the monuments, shrines,
and works of art you would
most willingly destroy.

4. In the name of patriotism and
the flag, how much of our beloved
land are you willing to desecrate?
List in the following spaces
the mountains, rivers, towns, farms
you could most readily do without.

5. State briefly the ideas, ideals, or hopes,
the energy sources, the kinds of security,
for which you would kill a child.
Name, please, the children whom
you would be willing to kill.

Eric also recently called my attention to John Ganz‘s recent piece at The New Republic:

Again and again conservative intellectuals have fastened themselves like barnacles onto demagogic movements such as the ones led by McCarthy and Trump; if they don’t they risk cutting themselves off from mass politics entirely. That specter always means doom for right-wing intellectuals, wince it effectively dispels what small amount of influence they can have, as well as their subscribers, viewers, and donors.  

Law professor John Inazu, author of Confident Pluralism: Suriving and Thriving Through Deep Difference (University of Chicago Press, 2016), has also criticized Reno’s piece:

Please stay home this Sunday. The churches are working overtime to help you stay connected to God and each other in these troubled times.

John Inazu: “shutdown orders shouldn’t exempt religious gatherings, and those communities should comply”

Confident PluralismJohn Inazu is a professor of law and religion at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference. Here is a taste of his recent piece at The Atlantic: 

What is a church to do in the time of the coronavirus pandemic? For many religious traditions, gathering for worship is not just a friendly suggestion. Some Jewish practices require groups of 10. Muslims consider Friday’s congregational prayer one of their most important. Catholics celebrate the Eucharist together during Mass. As the German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in 1930, “A Christian who stays away from the assembly is a contradiction in terms.”

And yet, for the time being at least, mass gatherings are fueling a public-health crisis, and many state and local authorities are banning gatherings of 50 or more people. Can the government, in a country where freedom of religion and freedom of assembly are sacrosanct, close churches? As a matter of public health, churches should follow these prohibitions. But as a legal matter, must they? The short answer is that in this case, government restrictions extending to churches are almost certainly legal. What’s interesting is why.

Read the rest here.

“One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus”

Conway

Here is a taste of a report from The Washington Post on how one group of churches in Arkansas decided to deal with Sunday services today:

In Arkansas, the Rev. Josh King met with the pastors of five other churches on Thursday to decide whether to continue holding service. Their religious beliefs told them that meeting in person to worship each Sunday remained an essential part of their faith, and some of their members signed on to Trump’s claims that the media and Democrats were overblowing the danger posed by the virus.

“One pastor said half of his church is ready to lick the floor, to prove there’s no actual virus,” said King, lead pastor at Second Baptist church in Conway, Ark.

But King and his colleagues were concerned: They believed the virus was a serious threat, and mass gatherings such as church services could spread it. He and the other Arkansas pastors ultimately decided that they would hold services as usual this Sunday, with some extra precautions.

They hired cleaning teams to scour their buildings. They asked the greeters to open the doors, so no one would touch the doorknobs, and asked members to donate online or at the door, so they wouldn’t need to pass a communal offering plate. No more coffee after the service, they told members, and no hugs or handshakes either.

“In your more politically conservative regions, closing is not interpreted as caring for you. It’s interpreted as liberalism, or buying into the hype,” said King, whose church draws about 1,100 worshipers on a typical Sunday.

Read the entire piece here.

And then you have Rodney Howard Browne. He is the pastor of The River Church in Tampa Bay, Florida and the founder of the so-called “holy laughter” revival. He is also a court evangelical who has described Trump as the “New World Order’s Worst Nightmare” and God’s “Rambo.”  Pick this video up at the 1:00:00 mark and watch for about five minutes:

The *Believe Me* Book Tour Comes to Mechanicsburg Church of the Brethren

Church of Brethren

I had a great visit yesterday with an adult education class at Mechanicsburg (PA) Church of the Brethren.  The class is reading Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and it was a privilege to be present to answer questions and talk more about the book.

We spent a lot of time exploring theological, political, and historical factors that led so many evangelical to support Trump in 2016, but we also talked about a vision for Christian politics defined by hope, humility, and an informed understanding of American history.  Class members had questions about abortion, “end times” theology, environmentalism, the 2020 election, and how to think more Christianly about political engagement.

As Christian political scientist Glenn Tinder explains, politics requires “attentiveness” and “availability.”  Attentive people are aware of what others are “doing, suffering, [and] saying.” But they also make themselves available.  They see the needs of the world and ask: “Is there anything I can do about it?”  If we think about politics this way, then churches are always engaged in political activity.  And if churches are always engaged in political activity, then it also has a responsibility to think deeply about how to exercise such engagement in accordance with scripture.

Thanks to Warren Eshbach for the invitation.

More on the Minnesota United Methodist Church that Reportedly Asked Older Members to Leave

Cottage Grove

Some of you remember this story from the other night.  I originally posted a taste of an article from the Duluth News Tribune reporting that The Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minnesota is closing in June 2020 and reopening in November 2020.  Older members of the congregation, according to a church memo, were asked to “stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.”

When my post hit the twittersphere I heard from Jeremy Peters, the minister responsible for leading the The Grove United Methodist Church after it reopens.  Peters said that the Duluth News Tribune story was inaccurate.  I published his tweets as an addendum to the post.

This story has really taken-off in the past twenty-four hours.  Peters continues to offer clarifying tweets.  Here is a taste of Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s coverage at The Washington Post:

When a small church in the suburbs of Minneapolis-St. Paul shuts it doors in June, some of the members, who are almost all older than 60, are worried about where their funerals will be held. When it reopens perhaps a year later, the traditional hymns could be missing and a new pastor will be almost three decades younger.

One 70-year-old member called the church leaders’ decision to fold in order to start a new congregation “age discrimination.”

A United Methodist church in Minnesota has put the spotlight on widespread generational challenges across the county, with many leaders trying to attract younger people without alienating the elderly members who are the backbone of their dwindling congregations.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press recently suggested in a headline that the Cottage Grove church will “usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners.” But the Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, its head pastor, said Tuesday that allegations of age discrimination unfairly represented the strategy for a church that has been on the decline for two decades.

“No one is being asked to leave the church,” said Wetterstrom, 59. “People are disappointed that the service is being canceled.”

After some members complained about the leadership’s vote to shutter the Cottage Grove church, leaders said Tuesday they never asked members to leave, but they did say the church will reopen with some changes to its look and feel.

“It felt like they were targeting us even though they didn’t put an age number on it,” said William Gackstetter, 70, who lives about four blocks from the church.

The church’s building sits on prime real estate because it sits across the street from an Aldi and down the street from Target, he said, and he is worried that the church will be shut down permanently and turned into apartments, like other shuttered churches across the country.

Read the rest here.

Should Churches Speak-Out Against Trump in the Same Way that *Christianity Today* Has Done?

Church

John Haas of Bethel University (IN) responds on Facebook to my post “Civility and the Search for Common Ground Are Important, But Sometimes We Need a Prophetic Witness“:

So, if this “spade” is what you say, is it enough for para-church institutions such as CT to call it out, or must churches not do the same? Let’s be frank: Most evangelical churches are doing what CT says it can no longer do–dodge the unpopular task of actually drawing a line–and they’re doing so in large part for reasons that have to do with protecting the institution as a going concern.

Indeed, I think it’s the case that we are where we are now–the 81%–because so many churches have been doing that all along. At best they insinuate at the line during sermons, but they don’t draw it so explicitly as to make it offensive.

Should the preaching of the Gospel at this time be *offensive* (not just to Trump supporters, but others too, of course)?

Good question. I think the primary role of churches is to bear witness to the Gospel and help form the faithful in Christian teaching. In other words, speaking out on politics is not the church’s primary role.

A magazine, it seems, is something different.  The church should engage the political culture, but it will often do so by addressing the symptoms–power, fear, idolatry, etc.–that might lead members of the congregation to support someone like Trump. Each church will do this in different ways and in accordance with their local circumstances. A magazine such as CT will put out a position based on clear Christian thinking and then local pastors who agree with that position can translate it to their congregations as they deem appropriate.  It seems like there must always be a pragmatic dimension to all of this.

But I need to think about this some more. Is there a way to be prophetic and “offensive” from the pulpit without diving directly into the specifics or naming names?  Or should pastors be naming the name of Trump?

Out of the Zoo: “Cathedrals”

Notre Dame 2

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. This week she writes about Notre Dame and the meaning of churches. –JF

I can tell you a lot more about old church buildings now than I could have at the beginning of the semester, when I started taking Professor Huffman’s “Knights, Peasants, and Bandits” class here at Messiah College.

Specifically, I’ve been learning about Medieval parish churches, and the important events that often took place inside them. For one, I found out that in Medieval villages, godparents rushed babies to the local parish church immediately after they were born, so that they could be quickly baptized in the baptismal font inside. Years later, if those babies were fortunate enough to reach adulthood, they often got married in the shadow of the same church building, on the front steps. Churches held mass, and remained at the center of holidays and celebrations of all kinds; church buildings were, and still are, places where Christians and non-Christians alike gather, socialize, and carry out their lives.

Despite the significance parish churches had in Medieval village life, I doubt that anyone would pledge millions for their restoration, as in the case of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. There’s no doubt that the destruction of the latter will be remembered for many years to come–I can’t say the same of the slow disintegration of village parish churches. As a historian, I myself am saddened by the loss of such a complex artifact as the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which despite generous donations will never be fully restored to its original condition. My heart aches for French men and women who saw the Cathedral as part of their heritage and cultural identity. When I think about Notre Dame, I’m reminded of all the life that must have unfolded within its walls–not unlike the life that thrived inside the much less grandiose parish churches I’ve been learning about from Professor Huffman. I feel remorse when I consider all the laborious work that was done to construct Notre Dame, the fruit of which was so quickly reduced to ashes.

There’s no denying that church buildings have been at the center of human religious and community life for centuries. They’re often where we laugh, cry, get married, and are sent off to our next life. Churches are important to historians, too, when we seek to understand the ways people have gathered and worshiped over time. I can’t help but think, though, especially in light of Notre Dame’s recent destruction, we’ve lost track of the purpose of churches–because even lavish near-1000 year old church buildings will never be more than just that–buildings. A church shouldn’t be important just because it has a tall steeple or an impressive vaulted ceiling. Its value shouldn’t even be judged by the number of weddings or funerals or Easter Sunday services that took place inside. A church’s worth, instead, should be discerned by its ability to send the Church–meaning, the group of Christ-followers inside the building–into the world outside.

If a church keeps you inside and doesn’t send you out, no matter how stunning its stained glass windows or elaborately carved its interior, it’s not doing its job.

Benjamin Franklin on the “Church at Notre Dame”

gettyimages-89856554-612x612Franklin talks about his visit to the “church of Notre Dame” in this September 14, 1767 letter to Mary “Polly” Stevenson.

The Civilities we every where receive give us the strongest Impressions of the French Politeness. It seems to be a Point settled here universally that Strangers are to be treated with Respect, and one has just the same Deference shewn one here by being a Stranger as in England by being a Lady. The Custom House Officers at Port St. Denis, as we enter’d Paris, were about to seize 2 Doz. of excellent Bourdeaux Wine given us at Boulogne, and which we brought with us; but as soon as they found we were Strangers, it was immediately remitted on that Account. At the Church of Notre Dame, when we went to see a magnificent Illumination with Figures &c. for the deceas’d Dauphiness, we found an immense Croud who were kept out by Guards; but the Officer being told that we were Strangers from England, he immediately admitted us, accompanied and show’d us every thing. Why don’t we practise this Urbanity to Frenchmen? Why should they be allow’d to out-do us in any thing?

Today’s *Washington Post* Piece on Trump and Evangelicals

Trump court evangelicals

If Pew Research is correct, Donald Trump is more popular among white evangelicals who regularly attend church and less popular among those who do not.  I tried to explain this in a piece at today’s Washington Post “Made by History” column.  Here is a taste:

Many white evangelical churchgoers now see the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade as equivalent to their call to share the Gospel with unbelievers. They subscribe to the message that the only way to live out evangelical faith in public is to vote for the candidates who will most effectively execute the 40-year-old Christian right playbook.

The movement’s message is so strong that even when pastors oppose the politicization of their religion, the message is not likely to persuade congregants. Indeed, many white evangelical pastors do not preach politics from their pulpit. Some speak boldly against the idolatrous propensity of their congregations to seek political saviors.

But these pastors cannot control the messaging their flocks imbibe after they leave church on Sunday. And a massive Christian right messaging machine targets these Americans with precision. Ministries and nonprofit organizations, driven by conservative political agendas, bombard the mailboxes, inboxes and social media feeds of ordinary evangelicals. Many of these organizations appeal to long-standing evangelical fears about cultural decline or provide selective historical evidence that the United States was founded as, and continues to be, a “Christian nation,” even though this never was true.

Evangelicals filter what they hear during weekly sermons through Fox News and conservative talk radio, producing an approach to political engagement that looks more like the Republican Party than the Kingdom of God.

None of this is new. People in the pews (or in the case of evangelical megachurches, the chairs), have always been selective in how they apply their pastor’s sermons in everyday life. Evangelical Christians, from the Puritans to the present, have always mixed traditional Christian teachings with more non-Christian sources as they cultivate their religious lives. Today, however, cable television and social media expose white evangelicals to ideas that come from outside the church but that claim to be driven by Christianity at an unprecedented rate.

Read the entire piece here.

In Defense of Denominations

Hybels

Over at Religion News Service, Trish Harrison Warren argues that the sexual misconduct by former Willow Creek Community Church pastor Bill Hybels should force evangelicals to rethink their commitment to denominations.  Here is a taste of her piece “Willow Creek’s crash shows why denominations still matter“:

Denominations, however imperfect, often have more robust accountability measures in place for their leaders (these measures do not rely on close friends or parishioners of the accused).

As merely one example, in my denomination, a bishop can “inhibit” a church leader from future ministry or an ecclesiastical court — comprising both ordained and lay members — can conduct a trial and decide to depose a clergy person altogether (more commonly known as being defrocked). His or her ordination would be revoked and there are systems in place to ensure he or she would never be a leader in any other Anglican church.  (If a leader is accused of a crime, he or she is also mandatorily reported to civil authorities for investigation.)

The point of church discipline is both to help bring the accused person to repentance and also to protect the larger, global church body from harm.

I wonder if the Willow Creek crisis signals a tacit end to nondenominationalism as a model for future church planting. Certainly, a conversation is brewing among evangelicals about the need for healthy institutions and older traditions as we navigate our future.

Clearly, there is a kind of denominationalism that is corrosive and corrupting. Likewise, institutionalism, the idolatry and self-protection of institutions, has produced massive evil. As allegations against several evangelical celebrity pastors came to light last summer, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing large-scale sexual abuse of children and a massive systematic cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church. It’s utterly apparent that denominations and ecclesial institutions will not rescue us from sin and abuse of power.

Read the entire piece here.

Trinity Church’s $6 Billion Portfolio

trinity-church-secrets-financial-district-alexander-hamilton-NYC-Untapped-Cities-1

Trinity Church in New York City was formed in 1697 by a small group of Anglicans. Alexander Hamilton, Eliza Hamilton, and Angelica Schuyler, three of the stars of the hit Broadway musical “Hamilton,” are all buried in New York City’s Trinity Church.  Alexander and Eliza baptized five of their children at Trinity.  John Jay was also a parishioner.

Today, Trinity Church is very wealthy.  Over at The New York Times, Jane Margolies writes about the church’s real estate investments in the city and its own construction of a $350 million glass tower.  Here is a taste:

While many places of worship are warding off developers as they struggle to hold on to their congregations and buildings, Trinity is a big-time developer itself.

The church has always been land-rich. And it has long had its own real estate arm, which controls ground leases and office space rentals in the buildings it owns. But now it finds itself with a newly diversified portfolio worth $6 billion, according to the current rector, the Rev. Dr. William Lupfer.

After being instrumental in changing the zoning laws in Hudson Square, a neighborhood between West Houston and Canal Streets, Trinity Real Estate has entered into a joint venture that gives it a majority stake in 12 buildings that contain six million square feet of commercial space. A lucrative deal with the Walt Disney Company, valued at $650 million, was signed just last year.

And as it builds its glass tower — which will house administrative offices, public gathering spaces and, yes, commercial tenants — Trinity is also renovating the interior of its historic church, which is expected to cost $110 million.

Trinity has been able to do all this because it’s been a savvy manager of its resources. It is also, as a church, exempt from taxes.

But some wonder about the ethics of a religious institution being such a power player in the world of New York real estate.

Read the entire piece here.

Does Your Church Have a Trendy Name?

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Over at The Federalist, G. Shane Morris has categorized trendy evangelical church names.  Here are his categories:

  1. “Just Random Words” (“The Journey,” “The River“)
  2. “The Grocery Store Romance Novel” (“Burning Hearts,” “Word Aflame“)
  3. “The Gated Community” (“Centerpoint,” “Grace Pointe,” “Crossroads“)
  4. “The Night Club” (“180 Church,” “Ignite,” “The Alley“)
  5. “The Gym” (“Action Church,” “Champion Life Church,” “No Limits Fellowship“)
  6. “The Internet Startup” (“Catalyst Church,” “Engage,” “Netcast“)
  7. “The Spa” (“Renovate,” “The Healing Place,” “Wellspring”)
  8. “The Jeb Bush” (“Relevant Life,” “Dream Church,” “Compassion Church“)
  9. “Huh?” (“Caleb’s Foot,” “Scum of the Earth Church,” “Cowboy Church“)

Read the entire piece here.

“Loyalty and respect not present in any other kind of social criticism.”  

Christian scholar

Christian academics occupy a very lonely space.

We are not entirely trusted, and often looked upon with suspicion, by our faith communities.

We are also not entirely trusted, and often looked upon with suspicion, by the academic communities we inhabit.

Some Christian intellectuals have chosen to simply abandon the academic community and write within the community of the Church.  Others have chosen to pursue academic lives within the guild and keep their faith private.  But if one is to take seriously her or his intellectual calling in both spaces, companions are few.

I have written about this tension often here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  It is a part of my intellectual life that I cannot shake.  It has returned again this month as I have been teaching in my church.  As I was preparing for my last class, I read this passage in Glenn Tinder’s The Political Meaning of Christianity:

One must keep a measure of critical distance even from the Church.  The Church in history is not the Kingdom of God, and the alienation inherent in living as a destined member of the Kingdom of God, within history, is inescapable.  One can only give such alienation moral and spiritual form by using it as the basis for prophetic relationship with the world around. And the Church is part of the world around.  Hence, it is subject to prophetic criticism and appraisal.

On the other hand, however, to criticize and appraise the Church prophetically is to be aware that the Church is distinct from the world around even though part of it.  The Church, as envisioned by faith, is essentially different from any other institution.  Hence, critical independence of the Church is different from the critical independence that may characterize an individual’s relationship to other social groups.  Strictures on the historical Church can be true and justified only when originating, consciously or not, in the eschatological Church.  To say, as I have, that the Church provokes spiritual pride, is fallible, and is more social than communal does not presuppose merely standards of a kind any social critic might apply but also faith in what the Church will be at the end of time.  When prophetic hope establishes critical distance between the individual and the Church, that distance lies within the Church, and an individual who opposes the Church as it is can be justified only if called into opposition by the Church as it is destined to be.

Underlying prophetic criticism of the Church, therefore, is a loyalty and respect not present in any other kind of social criticism…[The Church] requires our respect for the actual even when our criticisms of it are severe.  Again, we see that a Christian’s relationship with the Church is analogous to his relationship with individuals. We respect individuals in their destinies; yet we respect them in their present actuality, too, and do this without denying their fallenness.  In similar fashion, personal independence of the Church is authentically prophetic only as a paradoxical form of loyalty to the church.

I think we can sum-up of Tinder’s complex language with a sentence from the last paragraph: “Underlying prophetic criticism of the Church…is a loyalty and respect not present in any other kind of social criticism.”

I want to explore this idea more in the coming years, perhaps in writing.

Christ Church in Alexandria is a Church, Not a Museum

George_Washington_memorial_-_Christ_Church_(Alexandria,_Virginia)_-_DSC03516In case you have not heard, an Episcopalian church in Alexandria, Virginia is taking down a plaque memorializing George Washington.  When Christ Church opened in 1773, Washington owned a pew.  He attended the church whenever he was in town to conduct business.  It is located about nine miles from Mount Vernon. Washington also served as a vestryman in the church.

According to this piece in The Washington Times, Christ Church will also be removing a memorial marker dedicated to another famous parishioner: Robert E. Lee.

Here is a taste:

While acknowledging “friction” over the decision, the church’s leadership said both plaques, which are attached to the front wall on either side of the altar, are relics of another era and have no business in a church that proclaims its motto as “All are welcome — no exceptions.”

“The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques,” the church leaders said in a letter to the congregation that went out last week.

The decision was also announced to parishioners on Sunday.

The backlash was swift, with the church’s Facebook page turning into a battleground. Some supporters praised the church for a “courageous” stand, while critics compared leaders at the Episcopal church leaders to the Taliban or the Islamic State.

Read the entire piece here.

Let’s remember that Christ Church is a functioning congregation.  If the leadership of this congregation believe that people will be offended by commemorative material related to Washington or Lee, or if they believe that these plaques will somehow hinder the advancement of the Gospel in their midst, then the materials should definitely be removed from the sanctuary.  Finally, I am not sure political figures or military generals belong in a church sanctuary.  I would say the same thing about the American flag.

I am also glad to see that the church will be creating a separate space where the commemorative items can be explained and contextualized:

The new display location will be determined by a parish committee. That location will provide a place for our parish to offer a fuller narrative of our rich history, including the influence of these two powerful men on our church and our country,” she said in the email. “We look forward to this opportunity to continue to learn more about our own history and find new ways to introduce it to the wider community.

Read the statement from the Senior Warden of Christ Church here.