Thursday, July 26, 2007

On the Dangers of Staying and Fighting

Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News has a post on his blog today about a recenct article in Again by Father Gregory and Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green about their decision to leave the Episcopal Church to join the Antiochian Orthodox Church. I could not find access to the full article, but Dreher has some very interesting quotes from the article. In it, Frederica writes:

The straw that broke the camel's back, though, came during the 1991 General Convention of the Episcopal Church. I was present in the house of bishops when they voted on the Frey Resolution. It states: "Episcopal clergy should abstain from sex outside of marriage." ... After the votes were counted, we found that the resolution was defeated. I went out and found a pay phone and called my husband in tears. I said to him, "This is not a church anymore. It may be some kind of social workers' organization with excellent aesthetics, but it is not a church anymore, because it has no intention of obeying its Lord."

. . .

The one thing I worry about is those people who get heavily invested in what I call the "stay and fight" position. I think there's a negative side to that. Year after year of reinforcing the "stay and fight" identity can form you into the kind of person who loves to fight. The evil one can lure certain kinds of personalities into enjoyment of conflict itself, and into a love of playing for power. You can get addicted to saying the witty thing that slashes someone to ribbons. "You did not so learn Christ' (Eph 4:20). And there's a potential for vanity, too, in the self-valorizaiton as a courageous fighter. For people susceptible to these temptations, the alternative of being in a faithful church, working out one's own salvation queitly, can look boring. They have come to love to fight.

Rod elaborates on the point about not staying and fighting with his own personal experiences as a Roman Catholic (he too, is now Orthodox):

You regular readers know my story all too well, so I won't rehash it here. When I realized that the harder I tried to hold on to what I had, the more deeply it burned my hands, I let go before it seared my hand completely off. What I'm interested in hearing from y'all -- well, from you who have changed churches, religions, or left faith behind entirely, is what was the final point of departure? You know what it was for Frederica. For me, the breaking point was discovering that a Catholic parish we'd come to trust was harboring an accused clerical abuser with the full knowledge of the pastor, who'd hid it from his bishop. That, and seeing how I was destroying my faith and my family's spirituality with my unresolvable anger and despair -- the very thing Frederica points out in her article. I look back with dismay how me and some of my Catholic friends had gotten to the point when the only time we talked about the faith, we talked about the Church, and whenever we talked about the Church, we talked about Church politics and the scandal. You can imagine what that does to a healthy spirituality.

Read Rod's post here.

As one who takes the view that there is room in the Episcopal Church for all points of view on the issues of the day, Frederica's point about the spiritual dangers of "staying and fighting" hit hard. Her description of the spiritual dangers of the "fight" certainly rings true of what we are seeing on both sides of the great Episcopal battle--it certainly describes the power plays now occurring in many dioceses, and the nastiness evident on many blogs. Again, on all sides of the debate.

But the lesson here is not that we should therefore welcome a schism. That is the not the point of unity or communion. But, it is true that the notion of stay and fight is fraught with peril. Instead, we should urge all to stay and do God's will, which includes staying and attempting to reconcile.


Alan said...

As someone who departed relatively recently from TEC, after nearly 60 years of membership, I found the article helpful in clarifying some things I have been seeing. Those who are uncomfortable with the direction TEC is taking, but stay, tend to fall into 3 general, and sometimes overlapping, categories. For some, it is just inertia, often for people who have roots going back generations in the same parish. For them, personal tradition is just too hard to overcome. For others, though they recognize that TEC is a doomed structure, a path is available to help those leave, and protect those who cannot leave. Someone who is in the minority on a standing committee, but can block the super majority needed for an ecclesiastical trial would be a good example. The third is the subject of the article. I have encountered several who stay, to fight the good fight, who make certain you know they are doing it, and how difficult you have made things for them by leaving.

Chuck Blanchard said...


Thanks for this. I think I would add a fourth category--which may well be the largest category--those for whom their own congregational/parish life is spiritually fulfilling that the battles within the TEC and the Anglican Communion lose all importance.

Thanks for visiting my site and commenting (twice!). Please come back again.

Phil Snyder said...

As opposed to staying and "fighting," I prefer to stay and witness to the joy and grace found in being faithful to what the Church catholic has always taught regarding morality and theology. As Chuck said: "... we should urge all to stay and do God's will, which includes staying and attempting to reconcile."
That is great advice and the first person (or persons) with whom we should reconcile is God and we do that by repentence and asking God to assist us with His Grace to amend our lives.

So, how do we know the will of God? I submit that we know it through the Holy Scriptures, Tradition, and the voice of the Church, Catholic. If we follow these, we will know the will of God and be reconciled to Him and to each other.

Phil Snyder