Wednesday, 10/30/13

    1. Is the Church a “voluntary association”?
    2. IU versus Purdue
    3. The health benefits of real neighborhoods
    4. Ecumenical pro-lifers today


Americans are disengaging from communities, at least if the evidence proffered by scholars like Robert Putnam in Bowling Alone is to be believed …

Much of the literature celebrates the importance “voluntary associations.” The Church is almost always listed as among these salutary associations. This, however, does a disservice to the Church, and that many Christians, and non-Christians, accept the moniker is actually a part of the problem …

But I’d suggest that the Church is not a community, it is the community. By that I mean that there is an ontological reality to the community of the Church that does not exist for any other type of human community. Indeed, I’d suggest that all other communities are, at best, images of the union that people share in the Church …

If the Church is no more than a spiritual version of the Rotary Club, then it is no more than another avenue for our self-expression and self-interest. This way of understanding the Church, to draw on sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies’ phrasing, is to turn the Church from an organ of gemeinschaft (roughtly translated as “organic community” into an expression of gesellschaf (roughly translated as ”civil society) ….

(James R. Rogers, Ecclesiastical Exceptionalism) Rogers is writing, however imperfectly from his Lutheran position, about a pervasive American tendency.

I think it’s a smaller problem in Orthodoxy (and maybe in other “ecclesial Christian” bodies) than elsewhere, but I’m not sure.


Indiana University has come out against a proposed Indiana Constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and … well, there’s the rub. The proponents may have harmed their own cause grievously by a second sentence in the Amendment that is well-nigh impenetrable but seems to sweep so broadly that I’ll have difficulty supporting the overall proposal if it comes to a vote.

Only a marriage between one (1) man and one (1) woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Indiana.

So far, so good, IMHO. But

A legal status identical or substantially similar to that of marriage for unmarried individuals shall not be valid or recognized.

Tell me what – other than “no end runs” – that means, please. I’m just a dumb lawyer. That seems to me to foreclose, but very vaguely, policies I’d oppose but would grudgingly accept if I lost a vote fair and square. It even might foreclose policies I’d support. And surely invites tons of litigation to figure out exactly what the hell it does mean.

But IU President Michael A. McRobbie announced the institution’s decision to oppose with a flourish of preening that nevertheless leaves me almost in despair:

Equality, compassion and respect for individuals have long ben the bedrock of Indiana University’s educational mission ….

Really? I’d have thought excellence and integrity might have made it in there, among other desiderata.

And equality, compassion and respect is pretty well limited to conformists, anyway. IU has the usual array of rules to assure that it has the flexibility to treat unequally, harshly and disrespectfully anyone who gets too far out of the party line:

[W]e will not tolerate any form of bigotry … whether verbal or written … direct or implied.

Writing offensive and/or inappropriate language or symbols on dry erase boards, walks, or other areas frequented by the public is prohibited.

Dunn Meadow is the only space on campus designated by the IU Board of
Trustees as a spontaneous free speech area.

But of course, all the play in those joint should never, ever, in any way make a student or employee hesitate to exercise his or her constitutional rights. No sireee!:

In accordance with the state and federal Constitution and university policy, the university recognizes the rights of all students to engage in discussion, to express thoughts and opinions, and to assemble, speak, write, publish or invite speakers on any subject without university interference or fear of university disciplinary action.

Nothing to see here. Move along now.

Our Local Rag is now editorializing to the effect of “your move now, Purdue.”

Me to Purdue: it’s yours to lose. McRobbie set the bar really, really low.


My twin grandsons, now 13, walk nearly a mile to and from school and play basketball in the schoolyard for an hour or more most afternoons, when weather and music lessons permit.

The boys, like their father, are lean, strong and healthy.

Thus begins a New York Times paean to the benefits of urban living, passed along to me by one of the several New Urbanist or sustainable lifestyle sources I follow.

Suburban sprawl “has taken a huge toll on our health,” wrote Ms. Gallagher, an editor at Fortune magazine. “Research has been piling up that establishes a link between the spread of sprawl and the rise of obesity in our country. Researchers have also found that people get less exercise as the distances among where we live, work, shop and socialize increase.

“In places where people walk more, obesity rates are much lower,” she noted. “New Yorkers, perhaps the ultimate walkers, weigh six or seven pounds less on average than suburban Americans.”

A recent study of 4,297 Texans compared their health with the distances they commuted to and from work.It showed that as these distances increased, physical activity and cardiovascular fitness dropped, and blood pressure, body weight, waist circumference and metabolic risks rose.

If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now: cities make sense; farms make sense; suburbs not so much (though I understand why they arose).


I attended something of an ecumenical pro-life gathering last evening, whence less chance to blog much of my own thought. It had been a long time since I’d gone to this annual event.

My thought on the gathering is that the ecumenical part was strikingly “low Protestant” in the Evangelical/Fundamentalist mold, and the pro-life part was decidedly Republican. Plus ça change …. Suffice that it’s likely to be long time before I again test those waters.

The Republican slant is somewhat understandable since the Democrats are officially pro-[Euphemism-for-Abortion] and we like to have good guys who have the strength of ten for their hearts are pure vs. bad guys who are unspeakably bad, allied even with Beelzebub. My wife and I happened to be seated at a table at the back of the room with an aging Democrat politician and spouse, just the four of us at a table for eight. Spouse made it clear, sotto voce, what he thought of the political atmosphere.

The low Protestant part is somewhat less understandable, but it reminds me that such probably is the least common denominator for a substantial majority of conservative-leaning self-identified American Christians. The charge of 40 years ago that abortion is just a Catholic concern is gone, replaced by a charge that abortion is just a Catholic and Fundamentalist concern, with the Fundamentalist style predominating.

For at least one traditional Christian, the keynote speaker came across thus: “for an obstetrician trying to deliver a Christian pro-life message, he was a pretty good stand-up comedian.”

I have other thoughts, committed to my Journal, that probably should not see the light of day. I’m sure some of the fault is in my own heart.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

4 thoughts on “Wednesday, 10/30/13

  1. Rogers is writing, however imperfectly from his Lutheran position, about a pervasive American tendency.

    I am confused by this sentence. What is the referent of the adverb imperfectly? Are you saying that there is something wrong with Prof Rogers’s writing because he is a Lutheran, or that there is something wrong with it (or wrong with the “pervasive American tendency”) by the standards of his Lutheranism? I don’t get it.

    I think it’s a smaller problem in Orthodoxy (and maybe in other “ecclesial Christian” bodies) than elsewhere, but I’m not sure.

    I do not think that it is a smaller problem in Orthodoxy, but it’s a problem for a different reason. To the extent that an Orthodox parish functions as a social club for an ethnic sub-culture, it is a voluntary association in the sense that Putnam talked about. If Protestants choose where they worship on the basis of the congregation’s worship style, the attractiveness or eloquence of its pastor, a demographic profile where one “fits in,” or the quality of the “programs” available for the various sub-groups among the members, that is not all that different from a Greek who drives past an OCA parish and an Antiochian parish to get to a Greek Orthodox parish where he can worship among “his own.” Neither the Greek Orthodox nor the Protestant is adhering to the local parish simply because it is “the Church” where he lives. (Perhaps this has changed in the twenty years since I was Orthodox. You would know better than I.)

    In truth, I believe this “consumer mentality” about Church is a problem for all of American Christianity. And I am as guilty of it as anyone: I drive past two congregations of my own Church body (LCMS, like Prof Rogers), not to mention countless Lutheran congregations of other denominations, to get to a traditional, liturgical, sacramental Lutheran parish that does things the way I think they should be done. And I have many Catholic friends who eschew their neighbourhood “Novus Ordo” parishes in favor of Byzantine-rite or traditional Latin Mass parishes. We all of us — not least we “traditionalists” — are customers at the cafeteria.

  2. My syntax definitely could have been better. All I meant was that I didn’t want to give blanket endorsement to his ecclesiology, but neither did I want to slow down and nitpick the tacitly Lutheran implications of a column with which I was in basic agreement.
    Your points about Orthodoxy remind me how atypical my parish may be, and thus how parochial my view.
    Of course, legally, a church is a voluntary association in the United States. But I think Rogers is trying to say that it has an ontological reality not captured by either the legal or the sociological equivalent of “voluntary association.”

    1. Thanks, this clears things up considerably.

      After decades of being both Orthodox and Lutheran (one decade Orthodox, two Lutheran), I can say that, however different the two Churches may be in polity, their ecclesiologies have more in common than you might think. If you haven’t read Richard John Neuhaus’s essay on How I Became The Catholic I Was, read it; it will give you an idea of why we too regard ourselves as “ecclesial Christians.”

  3. I doubtless read Neuhaus’s essay at the time, and may read it again. My Older brother, in the ELCA, has a very catholic view of his Church – a view that I tried to understand through a book titled, I believe, The Catholicity of the Reformation.

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