What if you had a schism and (almost) nobody important noticed?

What if you had a schism and (almost) nobody important noticed? November 26, 2013

Evidently fellow Patheos blogger, Tony Jones, has gone into schism with my church. This presents certain ecclesiastical conundrums as technically Mr. Jones may have already been in schism with my church. If a man is a double schismatic, is he actually a schismatic?

(If Mr. Jones is not not Orthodox, then is he Orthodox?)

But then Orthodoxy has long been charitable, reasoning that though we know where the Spirit is we cannot be sure where He is not. We might have tried ecumenism with Jones, we have not even given up on the World Council of Churches, but Jones will have none of it. We are out, beyond the pale, no good.

The ECUSA will hang with us, but Jones will not. This is remarkably austere, the left-of-center equivalent of King James Only Baptists who will not sully their purity by talking with us either.

If we assume that Mr. Jones has formed his own totally new schismatic movement, then it presents certain relational problems. Long ago we forgave our Western brothers and gave up on getting the spoils of Constantinople back from the Fourth Crusaders, but now that Jones has joined a new Western schism, it is tempting to ask if he has influence with affluent Western schismatics.

Can we have our stuff back, Jones?

Having lost nothing by want of asking for it, I now turn to a problem facing Mr. Jones’ embryonic schism: nobody important in my Church or in a position to comment on the schism is noticing it.

As far as I know the global Orthodox Church hierarchy has never read Mr. Jones, noticed his emerging church movement, or subscribed to his blog. Since I have noticed Jones, I am in a difficult position. I certainly don’t speak for the Church, and do not even have my own Wikipedia page the sure measure of importance, so I am unclear if my response will help Mr. Jones become the schismatic he aspires to be.

However, I am a proud evangelical (go Billy Graham!) as well as Orthodox, so perhaps Jones has gone into schism with only one of my two theological natures. If so, then this means I might be able to address him.

The leader of my Church, the Patriarch of Syria, not only has an offensive name from the point of view of the Jones Schism, but also cannot respond to Mr. Jones’ schism due to prior engagements. Busy being persecuted, he is unable to blog. Kidnapped clergy and bishops (all male!) have taken up so much of his time, while dodging bombs in the cathedral, that he cannot agree that a dialogue is over that he did not know Mr. Jones was having with him.

The rest of Jones’ plans for separating from my Church should work out. As a persecuted Church, we do not have conferences with the honorarium and attendance expectations he might expect or demand in any case. Our publishing houses are small and tend toward books written hundreds of years ago. There is no doubt then that he has successfully cut himself off from the Orthodox speaking and publishing circuit.

We are uncool, and so un-emergent that we are all grown up.

Perhaps this is all unimportant, since (as far as I am concerned) Jones has not risen to the level of a schism, he is simply wrong. Having failed to convince the Roman, the Orthodox, or the majority of the global Protestant church of his point of view one can see why he would want to declare the conversation “over.” We were not actually thinking very seriously about his point of view, since it introduced little new Biblical scholarship, denied tradition in ways we have already experienced, and gave modern intuitions privilege over ancient ones. Meanwhile, his churches evidently are discussing sexual ethics in new and remarkable ways. The Orthodox Church knows how those “dialogues” turn out and plan to miss that conversation as well.

Even if we assume Jones represents a “movement,” it is unclear the movement extends beyond small groups in America and Western Europe. When almost no leader in your “schism” speaks a language other than English, one questions the global reach. Nor does the “negative growth” of those groups agreeing with Jones suggest that he has found the future or that it works.

In fact, the last time the Orthodox were told by an American he had found the future and that it worked, things did not turn out well for either the American or the Orthodox. We will go on feeding the poor, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling, and being bemused by how parochial America can be.

For those of us who have noticed Jones, how should we then live?

My own policy is benign neglect toward the Jones Schism with the hope that he will rejoin the historic, catholic consensus on ecclesiastical issues. He might want to broaden his reading or contact list. The nuns of Saint Thekla in Syria are not persuaded, but then Jones has ended a conversation they were not invited to attend. They also are working hard to save orphans and their culture from Syrian persecution. Reading Rachel Held Evans has not yet overwhelmed pious Orthodox leaders like Mother Victoria of the Saint Barbara Monastery in America, but perhaps it is because they have not yet noticed her or have spent too much time venerating Saint Nina, equal to the Apostles.

In hopes of reaching out to Jones, I would suggest he and his church join the WCC, plenty of folk there agree with his views, and present his case. If he has something new to offer, it will be heard. I suspect, however, that the “emerging Evangelical voice” will sound very, very familiar for those stuck in the trenches of ecumenical dialogue.

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