Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The NCC: My Favourite Politicians Part 3

An Opinion By An Old Favourite: Posted By Roland Ray Fulmer III
Although I tend to be pro-moderate on these issues and I enjoyed the presentation in and of itself, I kept having this nagging question - why the NCC?

I guess that I'm doing little more than adding my spin on what Theo, Corban, and Guirguis have already said, but I couldn't see what it had to do with ecumenism. I'm not against the NCC as such, but why not just say it's a "Christians United" organization so that a greater number of Christians can combine for a greater sway on political issues?

As I brought up at the dinner table after class, I'm very skeptical of the idea of religious institutions trying to use as large and cunning an animal as the US government to forward 'Christian agendas'. For one thing I'm not sure that the various institutions involved agree holistically on a single vision enough to promote that vision. As Dr. Stanley Hauerwas says "you have to name the Good in order to seek the Good."

I believe very firmly that when you decide to dance in the political arena, which is indeed necessary on occasion, and especially when you decide to enter the fray as a coalition of semi-partners, it's much more likely that you will end up getting used as an unwitting dupe in some politicians power play than if you remain a sectarian vote that it's understood must be met in order for you to endorse a proposition.

Lastly, let me actually add something to this discussion: I have noticed that there is a trend within leaders at higher-levels in these ecumenical organizations, to try and play 'ecumenical' more than the common people feel ecumenical. For example, notice that the NCCC felt the need to establish a curriculum in order to validate its role to the laity. Should this be necessary if indeed its issues and benefits are such obvious extensions of the faith.

I know that when socially concious Protestants want to do something Christian but not worry too much about theology, social justice issues are always a convenient fallback plan. Just do what we all agree on rather than bringing up differences! But in this case I don't see why we don't limit our social involvement to a smaller but more cohesive group, such as pan-orthodoxy, which represents plenty votes unto itself to be a substantial political lobby, even if only partially mobilized. I feel that organizations such as the NCC often operate outside the radar screen of the general laity, who I believe would question the validity and productiveness of their mission if they knew about them.

The entire Ecumenical endeavor it seems to me presupposes a degree of sameness that I'm not sure we can affirm. In many ways we're choosing to chat and tag-team with groups who I (and many others) consider valid mission territory. I would be more than happy to assist a Presbyterian in converting to Orthodoxy, same with an American Baptist or Episcopalian. I would, in fact, actively encourage it. Such an attitude might strike many as sectarian, but I certainly wouldn't have taken the steps I've had to take for Orthodoxy if I didn't see something in one place that I didn't see somewhere else. But we're supposed to meet and work together? I guess....

It seems to me that most of our devout people are plenty comforatable being a church with a unique identity and vision that supports and removes support for political and sociological causes based on our own understanding of Christ and the Gospel. I can't help but ask this question: Is it that our enlightened leaders are boldly leading the faith without so much as a 'thank you' from the uncomprehending majority, or is it that we're engaged in the entire social justice endeavor so that we're not the "mean" church who gets ridiculed from the outside for not keeping up with the Nelson's in terms of giving and charity.

I ask that not to be sarcastic or rhetorical, but rather because I honestly wonder. Sometimes the church must lead rather than follow the people in the pews, but sometimes it can be guilty of imposing rather than listening to popular values. I think this is an especially dangerous line in politics. reference the CAtholic church where there is almost a dead even split over whether or not to trust the Church's overarching social policy. Our Church, if anyone, shouldn't have to be told the dangers of prioritizing the social, political, and cultural aspects of the faith over preaching the gospel and individual moral responsibility to live it.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The NCC: My Favourite Politicians Part 2

Posted by Jim Guirguis
I implore you to examine the evidence before you. The good Doctor maintained that all of this service was done with a theological foundation, but don't groups such as amnesty, and greenpeace also do these types of services without that same foundation? If what truly seperates the NCC is Christ or theology, then as principled human beings we should never make exceptions. The stance of the NCC to avoid an official opinion on gay marriage, and abortion can be seen as nothing less than cowardly. This seems like the shameless attempt of lobbyists masquerading as church communities. If we say that it is alright to look past certain differences, such as abortion (44 million U.S. lives since 1973) in the hopes of working together for common social causes, then we should have absolutely no problem excusing our government for going to war even though they are achieving so much in terms of economic and social development at much less of a human cost. (27,000 Iraqi, and 2,500 U.S. lives) Let's get real, judgement is coming. To conveniently proclaim only half of the gospel is to proclaim none of the gospel.

Monday, October 24, 2005

The NCC: My Favourite Politicians Part 1

Last week in Ecumenism class here at St. Vladimir's Seminary, we had a visit from Dr. Tony Kyriopoulos who represents the National Council of Churches. He was very nice and his presentation was very good and informative. However, the impression I got from the NCC and its mission leaves me with many concerns and reservations about the organization itself. Apparently I am not the only one with a gripe after this presentation. My fellow students also had something to say. Therefore I will be posting a multiple-part post on this subject which will begin with my own thoughts about this issue and will continue with posts from other students within my class. I think the issue deserves the attention since it affects us so much these days. I hope you all enjoy.

My Personal Thoughts of the Issue
It seems to me that out of all the ecumenical bodies that we have encountered in our class, the NCC is definately the most political in its agenda. Judging from Dr. Kyriopoulos' presentation, the NCC is heavily involved in lobbying for human rights issues, famine, genocide, and attacking the local Wal-Mart. This is all good and dandy but where is the theology? It seems that the "Faith and Witness Commission" of the NCC is just a bunch of guys sitting in a small room, fighting the good fight, actually talking about ecumenical issues. However, in the grand scheme of things, they only seem to serve the function of providing theological grounds for the NCC's political agenda.

Don't get me wrong, I think the influence of Christian values that the NCC imposes on the US government isn't necessarily a bad thing, however, I must ask the question: what makes this oragnization different from any other political lobby group? What makes it ecumenical is my question. In my opinion, ecumenism is about coming together to deal with the theological faith issues that separate us so that we may be one as Christ orders us to be one. This seems to be the step that the NCC has passed over. They have agreed that the theological issues will take years to resolve, so in the meantime, why not unite on common issues that we can all agree on (which are ironically the same ones Jews and Muslims would agree as well)and try to make a differnece through politics. I'm not sure that this is the proper goal for an ecumenical organization. I'm not sure that organizing boycots on Wal Mart has anything to do with the true Ecumenistic goal. And uniting on such issues, while avoiding the main problems, sends out the wrong signals to those who would criticize the Ecumenical movement. It shows that the churches are not truly interested in theological reconciliation, but that they are already united on the so-called "Contemporary issues" while avoiding the true issues that divide us. This breeds, I fear, a type of pseudo-union mentality where we become content to agree to disagree as long as we can work together for our mutual political agendas. I may be wrong in my take on this but this is what I got out of the presentation.

Monday, October 17, 2005


I recently came across an article on MSN News online about modern MegaChurch architecture. It is actually a criticism of the design of such churches as not being capable of facilitating prayer in the traditional sense of the word and promoting class distinction and commercialism. I thought it was very insightful and reminded me of why Orthodox are soo conservative in their architecture. Even though this reality is slowly changing in North America for the worst. I noticed this trendy modernization in a Greek Orthodox Church in Long Island yesterday night when I visited it for the veneration of the holy Sitka Icon from Alaska that is cirulating in the US these past weeks. The Church, although posessing a very beautiful byzantine architecture, is decorated inside by many "nouveau" stylings such as futuristic metal iconostas, see through taberbacle, and side panels that look that they came out of the Jetsons. I don't mean to make fun, but I see that there is a concern for what is new and expensive over what is more conducive to prayer. I hope this article reminds us of that. I've highlighted in bold some passages that I think are the most insightful and important:

An Anatomy of Mega Churches

Viewing these images of the megachurch in action, I got the feeling that they've kept everything bad about the scale of Gothic and Renaissance cathedrals but little of the good. In fact, it's all about scale. How big can we make it, how many people can we fit into it, how small can we make people feel individually yet how big as a group?The good that's been discarded, for me, would be the art, which is present in traditional cathedrals in both grand and intimate scale. You have the Creation staring down at you in the Sistine Chapel, but also much more to see at the human level. There are statues of saints, paintings, even wonderful votive candle racks and the like. Then there's the altar itself, with its many rich and interesting things to see.In these modern megacathedrals (or, in some cases, dihedrals, since some of them look as swept as jet wings), where are the arcades, the columns, the clerestory windows, the pendentives holding up the dome, all the fine details that furnish you with eye candy.

If you're in one of these football stadiums like the one in Houston, the stage-altar has been reduced to the level of a detail: you can only see the pastor on the Jumbo-Tron…Will wealthy supporters be able to view the service from skyboxes, where they can sit outside in a private loge or retire indoors to view the service on HDTV while noshing on the full buffet? …The skybox thought brings up another point.

What these megachurches do preserve of the cathedral tradition is the notion of class hierarchy. In the old system, the apportionment of seating reflected the notion of a structured society: God was at the top, the clergy were next to God, the wealthy nobility were next to the clergy in the pews (but just across the altar rail), and the common folk milled about in the nave (presumably with a few hogs or sheep running around). It's hard to see how the rear seats of the new megachurches are any different from the old-fashioned nave, except that there's probably less livestock (on second thought, you probably can't even make that statement with any certainty if you're more than a hundred rows away). It would be interesting to know whether seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, or there are reserved sections as there are in Anglican churches in New England.

Too bad the article is only about the architecture, not the sociology. I'll admit some of these new churches are striking, but they seem less about spirituality and more about showmanship. They're also about herd instinct. More and more, we appear not to be comfortable worshipping our own God in our own way. We have to be part of something big, and the bigness is human, not divine. A great big worship machine, with stadium seating. Helleluja!