This Schism Was Cancelled

This Schism Was Cancelled November 27, 2013

What if you gave a schism and before anybody of global importance had noticed, the very heterodox you hoped to turn schismatic hated the idea?

A schism was canceled due to hurt feelings and fears of using the “wrong word.” Apparently the need to affirm “other stories” and worries of sounding judgmental or harsh were more important than the evils of breaking fellowship with other believers. Having cried schism and let slip the blogs of war, Tony Jones has “recanted.” He has called off his schism that nobody important in the Orthodox Church had noticed.

This is charitable of him, but it is also useful to his movement.

If the progressive element is not invited to events where they are shocking, then the Curry’s and the Busby’s look a lot like your grandfather’s liberals with more Evangelical Jesus-talk and better website layouts. Saying “God is not a Republican!”, challenging the creeds, or attacking the practices of most of Christendom in the local WCC congregation would not warrant turning up the hearing-aids for most parishioners.

American WCC vets have seen U2 mass, clown mass, dialogue on every conceivable issue, and have had our opposition to any and every change compared to standing in the schoolroom door. Coming to our parishes would have been to lose all shock value, the purity of the schismatics would have come at a very high cost.

Pure schismatics end up at WCC events as fairly conservative (!) progressives and the future there is not promising. Having a “full quiver” is an idea that has been much abused, but most WCC parishioners have decided on a future with empty quivers. If you agree with Jones and only hang out with those who agree with Jones, your ministry is going to get a great dealer smaller. Speakers in the Jones Schism would have been limited to angst ridden Evangelical hipsters, burned out homeschoolers, and mainline Christians jonesing for anyone under fifty to come to their events.

It is a ministry, but it is not much of a living.

And yet the end of any schism is good news and this Thanksgiving the Orthodox would rejoice if we had noticed. As it is I rejoice, because I noticed. Better still, Jones has affirmed an important truth our American misogynistic, porn-drenched, objectifying culture of male privilege likes to ignore. In calling off his schism, Jones decided to stress the fact that “women are ontologically equal to men.” This is very true (at least in the sense that Jones means it), and since the Orthodox Church (with Catholics and traditional Protestants) have long known this and declared the opposite (at least as he means it) a damnable heresy, we have found a source of unity.

Of course, sadly, like most would-be-leaders of canceled schism (one thinks of Bob Luther, Martin’s cousin, who backed out at the last minute due to the negative vibe in the word “Protestant”), Jones is more concerned about how most Christians implement this truth than that we believe it. Apparently reserving roles in the liturgy by sex proves that Christendom denies the truth we have been killed for affirming.

And then we keep asking for clarity, arguments, and Scripture and that can get tiresome for leaders of movements.

For example, even Jones too easy use of “ontological equality” is full of philosophical ambiguity. A theologian or philosopher of religion might ask if this vocabulary is theological or if Jones is importing Enlightenment vocabulary to a post-Enlightenment project. A skeptic might ask if any person is really “equal” to another as if people were quantities. A curmudgeon could wonder if there is a “different voice” for different people and if that voice can best be heard with different parts to play. A Christian might question if being given a different role in the Great Dance means one is “ontologically” less than another.

Does one have to have equality of opportunity to have be fully in the image of God? What about those who are different than Jones in ways other than sex?

But leave the quibbles aside: Jones is intuitionally right. He is affirming the dignity of all humankind.

This is true: all human beings are created in God’s image. The image of God cannot be fully seen except in the male and the female. How this works out in human life is very difficult, and much injustice is done, but Christendom holds the line. To the ancient Greeks, at great philosophical cost, we affirmed the full humanity of all human persons. To the modern, we affirm that male and female matter: sex is not a construct of humanity.

Against this of course Jones has a ready response: the global Church is the Southern segregationist in America in 1960. Pope Francis is a nice Bull Conner. If a Christian leader in Russia, Kenya, or China worries that Jones has gone “too far,” this leader is morally equivalent to opposing Reverend Martin Luther King.

This is a good reminder of the parochial nature of the would-be-schismatics. Apparently dialoguing about the sexual ethics and “theology of the body” of the global Church, questioning the beliefs or practices of every saint in Church history, is just like an American challenging an evil American cultural aberration in the 1960’s.

Jones would attack global, historic Christian belief using as his mandate the American experience of regional Christian fundamentalism.

And so his schism would have been of no interest to Mother Victoria or the nuns of Saint Barbara. It would have spoken in a strange tongue to the last Aramaic band of Christians as they face genocide. It sounds parochial to the burgeoning global Church.

But I rejoice, because if the prodigal Jones has not yet come home, at least he has decided from afar off not to reject us and that means he might return yet to full communion in Father’s home.

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