Matt has been going all over the internet reposting one of my first Stand Firm pieces about how I (at least) don’t think we can yet be friends with those who happily self-identify as Episcopalian or some other brand of Progressive Christian. The war isn’t over, I said, it’s actually gotten worse, as many of us expected. Today I want to do a listicle of how to talk to old-timey curmudgeons like Matt (and maybe even me) for those who think, looking at us from across the internet, that we are absolutely what’s wrong with the ACNA and that it’s time finally to move on to a more gracious, less combative pasture. Listicles are the latest thing, and they will allow me to offer what I believe is called “advice,” but hopefully will be more of a window into the soul of the Veteran of Ye Olde Anglican Wars.
One—The old guy (in ancient times referred to as “the elder”) wants to talk about the issue itself. (I’m gonna go ahead and say ‘he’ but honestly, this absolutely applies to women who fought in the trenches of the last two decades, attending interminably dull vestry meetings, getting onto committees, speaking on the floor of convention, making phone calls, writing letters, in short, Showing Up). This is so key. One of the things that ate out the guts of the Episcopal church is that it became dangerous to talk about ugly topics like Biblical Sexuality, Biblical Authority, and the Theological Underpinnings of Belief. You could hint at a lot of stuff, but you weren’t supposed to come out and say anything about it. It was unseemly to say, for example, “Homosexuality is wrong.” I was pressured not to “bring up” anything controversial like abortion…or the gospel. You could nuance the thing all day as long as you never said anything definitive ever. Let your words be winsome or don’t bother to have any was the rule of the day. The chief way to combat this problem, which is now very much worse, is to say out loud what the issues are, clearly and plainly, and keep saying them. If you feel pressure not to speak about something controversial, you have already lost some ground. The way to recover that ground is to speak about the actual issue.
Two—The old guy wants you to own your theological worldview. This is where talking about the Holy Spirit or “being missional” can too often be unintentionally employed as a smoke machine. “God’s call” is often murmured instead of “I don’t want to talk about this because I personally do not think it is important because of the theological values I hold dear.” “I” statements are flung down by the side of the road and in their place comes a lot of jargon about God and the church. Do you think that human sexuality is not the most pressing issue of today? Or whatever it might be? Then own it. Say, “I don’t think the sexuality issue is a problem anymore,” or, “I think racism is more important than____.”
Three—The old guy is not traumatized and in pain and doesn’t need to be psychologized. It is more comfortable to wonder about the personal proclivities of the person arguing on twitter or IRL (why are they so angry?) than to deal with the substance of what they’re saying. This is true about every single issue going on in the world today. I caught myself doing it last week. “What’s wrong with that person,” I started to say, “that he would think that?” But that’s not a helpful question. Better to say, “What is wrong with what he or she is saying?” Try to tease out the issue itself without making any moral assumptions about the person saying it. And then (see number two) own your own reasoning. “I think X is wrong about X because I think the Bible actually says Y,” rather than, “People who really love Jesus would never talk like that.” Psychologizing people is a gentle path leading to dehumanization—“that person is just bad”—and demonstrates to the old guy that you don’t have as good a grasp of the issues as you might hope. If you couple psychologizing with condescension, he will not hold his fire.
Four—The old guy is not impressed by your tribe. Indeed, he knows that it is more pleasant to gather people together around what they are feeling than around what they are thinking. Not that thinking and feeling can or should be divided from each other. But if you run across what someone has said on the internet, you are likely to first “feel” that something is wrong with it, before you “think” or reason out why or how. The one follows quickly on the other, and then, in your distress, you will easily be attracted to people who express the same kind of woe. Then you might be tempted to go send out signals to attract the people who feel and think the way you do, signaling at the same time that the people you disagree with are the cause of all the problems in the universe. Everyone gets the signal, and your tribe increases. The old guy hates this kind of public discourse. He has seen it happen inside of his own congregation, and in the wider church, and he knows how dangerous it is, how the tribe, once it grows, has real power, and that power accumulated around feelings rather than biblically grounded faith is not good for the health of the church.
Five—The old guy isn’t an idealist, but he is motivated by love for the Truth. Indeed, he loves people—sinners who are perishing. He wants people to hear the gospel and be saved. That is the point of the exercise. He wants the glory of God to be reflected and refracted in every corner of the universe. He knows that the only way for that to happen is for mortal beings to turn to an immortal God for help. He knows that everyone who looks upon the Son will be saved, and he does not want anyone’s view to be obscured, anyone’s attention to be distracted.
Six—The old guy is on the side of the church, but he knows that church growth cannot be in the driver’s seat or the gospel will be thrown out the window as the bus is flying down the road towards the full church building. Of course, as Christians, we must be welcoming, but hospitality cannot be framed as a “tone” issue, a project in the service of which we must all be very winsome about the hard, angular truths of the gospel. Back in the day, I, personally, could be as winsome as they come, but in the end, the truth I was talking about was so offensive that I might as well have been Hitler. It’s not a comfortable place to be, of course, and I would prefer to be loved by all my fellow-creatures. Those who hate what I am saying assume that I must be the “clanging gong that hath not love.” But that assumption should be examined in the light of the gospel itself, which is the rock that either hides those who cling to it for salvation, or breaks the teeth of the wicked who would rather die than be with Jesus.
Well, there you are. See you online!