Sunday Jeremiad: Petty Prophets of the Blue Beast
Published on: February 21, 2010
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  • David

    If these denominations are combining a political doctrine with a religious one, aren’t they essentially contributing to the de-Reformation of the West? Washington has become Luther’s Rome. If the Reformation was a necessary pre-condition for the development of technology, liberal democracy, and their combination into capitalism, doesn’t the shift of power to the state intrinsic to the Blue Model represent a reversal? What Tocqueville called the “Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear” sounds a lot like political and social De-Reformation. Ortega y Gasset called it barbarism.

  • I despair of what was once my Episcopal church and have no truck with it.

    It’s staggering to me that while the Catholics get slammed for decades on charges of personal molestation, the Episcopal Bishops can molest the entire Church for decades and get paid and accolades for their intellectual and spiritual perversions.

    To paraphrase Dickens, “Drive them fast to their tomb.”

  • Russell

    As a religious dissident once said to the religious leaders of the day:
    “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”

  • Sean the Maggot

    It’s easy to get sucked into political activism. The various bishops needs to be reminded that their role is to tend the flock’s spiritual needs. They need to set their sights on the eternal qualities of the spirits of the flock. Once that is taken care of, the members of the flock will help each other through the tough times in this imperfect physical world.

    We believers are promised a grand place with Him in the afterlife. This world is just temporary, the bishops need this reminder every once in a while.

  • RKV

    The Gospel does not call us to vote for politicians who will tax others to to provide charity from the state. Nor does it say one word about global warming – anthropogenic or otherwise. Originating in a time when the military dictatorship that was Rome conquered and colonized a continent and more, Christianity’s founder did not call for proletarian revolt. In the whole New Testament, Jesus really only got physically violent when he was throwing the money-changers out of the temple.

    So much for a) the welfare state b) Gaia worship c) non-violence d) Liberation Theology and e) the bishops, synods, and ministers who have abandoned their faith for political power.

  • David Goyne

    Mr Mead, you might find a column by Paul Johnson in his regular feature ‘And Another Thing’ in the UK Spectator titled ‘Walking amongst the mountains of God and listening to their voices’ of 25 July 1998, page 23 relevant although referring to the role of the Pope as a spiritual leader. I would have included the text but the Spectator’s electronic archives don’t go back that far and I only have a scanned copy. I think the point you and he make is similar; the role of religious leaders should be religious leadership and they ignore this at the peril of their organisation, and if they believe their doctrine, of their immortal soul. Mr Johnson could be far more generous about the spiritual leadership of Pope John Paul II that you could be about the Episcopal bishops.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    “It’s important that the mainline churches halt their disintegration and decline and regain the strength to play their role in the American religious system.”

    Wishful thinking.

    “God has work for the mainline church to do, and God’s work in the world will suffer if we fail.”

    You’ll fail, but that doesn’t mean God’s work in the world will necessarily suffer.

  • Spot-on!

    Of course they won’t listen to you and do it but it was still worth pointing out.

    The social sins they deplore are those of the right: …too robust and unheeding a promotion of the American national and security interest abroad.

    Here they and I agree but it’s accidental; they’re not interested in joining a coalition with us libertarians for example to do something about this. (Of course many of us are Not Their Class, Dear: the Wrong Kind of White People.)

  • JB

    Very thoughtful article. You make great points and I agree with much of what you have written. However, I find it a contradiction when you write “The liberal, questing spirit that refuses to take ancient truths for granted and that challenges historic orthodoxies in the light of lived experience has a vital and necessary place in the life of the church.” To me, you can’t have it both ways, and hence the basic problem of what you’re complaining about. Either we stand on the basics truths of Scripture or we don’t. Picking and choosing is what got us here in the first place. The Old Testament shows the Isrealites time and time again straying from the core beliefs into almost oblivion. It is when a leader returns the people back to the core beliefs that the nation is restored. I feel this is why God said in 2 Chronicles 7:14 “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” Granted this is cherry picked in a sense from one situation, but it is how God works.

    I truly feel that if we want God to heal our situation, we need to let God do the job His way and stop telling Him how to do it.

  • I find it a contradiction when you write “The liberal, questing spirit that refuses to take ancient truths for granted and that challenges historic orthodoxies in the light of lived experience has a vital and necessary place in the life of the church.” To me, you can’t have it both ways, and hence the basic problem of what you’re complaining about.

    Good catch!

    Or ‘Episcopalianism failed the first time so let’s rebuild it on the same principles and watch it fall apart again’.

  • Bill Wager


    The only difference between [individual name redacted] and a sack of excrement is the sack. When he actually did make a secular management decision –it was monumentally wrong.

    Were it not for personal loyalty to my brother and sister congregants and some lunatic idea of holding the line I would be long gone from the wreck.

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  • Kenneth Howes

    Mr. Mead raises many valid points, but misses others, evidently because he still shares certain presuppositions and methodologies of the Left and the “main line” churches that he criticizes.

    1. No theology will be persuasive unless it is authoritative. It cannot be authoritative if it rests solely on the person of the one preaching it. It must rest in the Word of God itself, set forth by the prophets and apostles.

    The early councils understood this. When one looks at the first four, there is earnest effort to support every decision with Scripture. We see the result in the three ecumenical creeds.

    Similarly, the Reformers understood this. The Lutheran confessions in the Book of Concord, the Reformed Helvetic, Belgic and Westminster confessions, and the confessional documents of early Anglicanism–the 39 Articles, Cranmer’s Preface to the Bible, Jewel’s Apology of the Church of England, and the Book of Common Prayer itself–all are earnest efforts to apply Scripture to all doctrine.

    It seems, however, that the process of corruption described in Romans 1 keeps repeating itself. Eventually the councils decided that the Church itself could make doctrine (“Sacred Tradition”). It was not long before the Church was using forged documents (the Donation of Constantine) and bribery (subverting the Exarchate of Ravenna, the last direct presence of the Empire in northern Italy). In the same period, hagiolatry became rampant, and by the late 9th century, sexual immorality and perversion had thoroughly rotted the Church (the Pornocracy).

    It didn’t get better between then and the Reformation, and the Reformers set about putting things to rights. But just as the Roman and Eastern churches had, at Second Constantinople, declared themselves masters of the Word rather than its servant, Protestantism was already, by the late 18th century, engaging in “higher” criticism of Scripture that declared the Bible unreliable. (It was going on in the Roman church, too–one of the founders of “higher” criticism was Jean Astruc, a Roman Catholic.)

    Just as asserting an authority superior to Scripture had corrupted Rome and the East, doing the same led to heresies and even apostasies in the churches of the Reformation. Unitarianism, Christian Science, Mormonism, Russellism (now called the Jehovah’s Witnesses), and, though it has returned to more conventional Protestantism now, Adventism in its early days all were possible only because people increasingly thought themselves entitled to impose their own thoughts and philosophies onto Scripture in matters of religion.

    Sola Scriptura is not some nutty Protestant doctrine–it was taught by Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine and numerous other early fathers of the Church. It is the only way to maintain correct teaching in the Church.

    2. It follows from that that Mr. Mead is wrong in thinking that the church should eventually accept homosexuality as a God-pleasing life style. No amount of reflection or “growth” will cause Leviticus, Romans or 1 Corinthians to mean one thing other than what they have meant since they were written.

    Proponents of such a change like to say, “It’s like eating shrimp or wearing clothes of two materials–part of the ancient Jewish Law, but we are no longer under that.” It is emphatically not. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, but did say that He was come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.

    The revelation on which we are freed from the dietary laws is Peter’s vision in Acts 10. Presumably that would also wipe away the two materials rule, too. It did cover such things as eating with Gentiles, as that was the context in which the vision came to Peter.

    But it is AFTER Peter’s vision, roughly in the time 53-55 AD, that Paul wrote his letters to the Romans and Corinthians. Rom. 1:25-27 cannot be read (at least not with any degree of honesty) in any way that does not condemn homosexuality as “vile affections”. Indeed, that is the only passage in the whole Bible that addresses the issue of lesbianism.
    Similarly 1 Corinthians 6:9 says that “arsenokoites” (men who couple with other men) and “malakoi” (catamites) will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    Arguments that this somehow is not related to homosexuality today are pure sophistry. They are founded in 1960’s concepts of social justice and 1980’s libertarianism, not in Scripture.

    3. It is not the chief task, or even a major task, of the clergy to make the laity wiser world leaders. Indeed, that is nothing more than what the bishops Mr. Mead condemns would say they are doing. Their chief duty is to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them. That Gospel has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with humanity in its fallen state of original sin, redeemed once for all by Jesus Christ’s full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world (Episcopalians and other Anglicans should recognize that language; it is from the Book of Common Prayer [1928 edition, p. 80]),

    It is that men cannot be justified by their own strength, merits or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes for righteousness in his sight. (Lutherans will recognize Art. IV of the Augsburg Confession.)

    See especially Romans chapters 3-4; Galatians chapters 2-3; John 3:16, 11:25-26; Isaiah 53.

  • Thomas

    While I also find that the preaching of a social gospel goes too far, and preaching political correctness can at times be confused with preaching the gospel, I cannot help but feel that we disconnect social implications from the demands of the gospel at our own spiritual peril.

    Issues like the minimum wage are important. How can one say that they love God, and yet not love their neighbor? How can a person pass by a neighbor who is metaphorically bleeding on the side of the road? These are the kinds of things, according to the prophets, that brought destruction on the whole nation of Israel.

    While we are preoccupied with sexuality, the greater sins go unaddressed (Isaiah 58).

    Sin goes through and through people and societies, and to neglect one or the other misses the point.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      Thanks, Thomas; I agree that the issues are important. But I think the church should be addressing them through the energetic, principled involvement of laypeople at all levels of politics rather than through pro forma statements by bishops and structures that have no real resonance or consequence in the world.

  • JB

    Thomas and Walter – agree with these points completely. I think that the focus has been taken off of personal responsibility in many areas. We need to be teaching the difference to our youth. Because the bishops and other leadership have elevated themselves into the issues rather than raising up a body who understands what the issues, what Jesus did for us on the Cross has been watered down beyond some denying the reality. I find that many priests and bishops feel they are better or more important than the laity rather than our brothers and sisters working together with us. It is partially that sense of entitlement that takes us from Jesus teaching that each of us must me the servant of others. If we all lived this, we would not be worrying about a social gospel.

    If the laity was trained as it should be, we also wouldn’t be seeing the rampant greed in our economy. Things would be sold for a fair price, not what the market will bear – or at the cost of the lower-level employees.

    How would you go about reaching and teaching a better morality that addresses all of our shortcomings, not just the hot-button ones? I am having to juggle some things in real world, but am looking forward to reading some of your other articles. You write clearly and with wisdom. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • The Nigerians understand the binary distinctions that comprise the biblical worldview and underpin Holy Tradition. Homosex is in direct violation of those binary distinctions which is why gay activists work very hard to expunge them from people’s minds. There is no ground for American Christians to compromise on homosex.

  • Jeff Minick

    The author of the above piece gives us George Bush as arrogant and deaf to the viewpoints of others. What of President Obama? Talk about deaf–the man makes Bush look like a real listener.

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  • Paul Miller

    I’m in the United Church of Canada whose decline is similar, but more advanced even than the American denominations. We can’t fool ourselves any longer. Like most American mainline churches, we also have a “renewal” movement — groups whose mission is to call the church back to its historic roots. The problem is that their agenda for “renewal” is completely driven by their opposition to the follies of the denomination, and for that reason they’ve allowed themselves to become even more marginalized and irrelevant than those they are opposing. You’re right, the church’s main task is to gather, nurture and send communities of vibrant Christian faith who can have a leavening effect on the society around them. This is starting to happen in the UK where traditional churches are in a state of even more advanced decay than in Canada — which just means that there’s no one around to stand in the way of creative new energy. I pray we will follow their lead.

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  • George Schmidt

    Fascinating commentary on the American Episcopal Church in particular and mainline churches in general. As I read this I was captivated by the striking similarities in the United Church of Canada. I say a hearty “Amen” to to my colleague Paul Miller for his comment. As another “prophet” and “theologian” says it in song: “When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?” A good word for the Western Church

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  • PKCasimir

    “the prospect of economic stagnation – or maybe worse – is less than Russia deserves “? Huh? I have read that three times and have no idea what the author is trying to convey. Aside from that, an article on Putin’s future that doesn’t mention the fact that Russia’s economy is a Third World One based on a single commodity and that its economic fortunes are totally dependent on that commodity -oil, is of little value. Already the Russian ruble, like those of other EM and Third World Markets, is collapsing and inflation will start to rear its ugly head. Russia has few tools to combat inflation and Russians depend on imports for almost everything. If the price of oil starts to collapse and the US natural gas exports come on line, Putin will be toast.

  • bff426

    The idea that the Russian people will rebel against Putin is laughable. Russians have tolerated dictators their entire history, from the Mongols, to the czars, to Lenin and Stalin to today.

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