Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Return of "Hospitality of Orthodoxy": Take Three

(Author's note--Last month, I wrote a two-part series on how I viewed statements of faith and the enforcement of Christian orthodoxy through the lens of church hospitality and openness.  Please consider this an unplanned third installment to complete the trilogy. -E.A.)

Every faith tradition, whether it realizes it or not, is clad in both iron and cushions.

Ironclad belief surrounds the tenets that the faith community is built around--the principles that make that community unique unto itself, the "non-negotiables" of belief, doctrine, and orthodoxy.

But those tenets that are not as foundational to a tradition, those tend to be surrounded by the more forgiving nature of cushioning that allows people to more comfortably adapt themselves to the contours of their particular faith community.

It feels like more and more belief is becoming ironclad, rather than cushioned.

I'm not sure if that is the way it is supposed to be.

The Washington Post is reporting that the Roman Catholic Diocese of  Arlington outside of D.C. is now requiring all Sunday School teachers (who are generally laypeople--ie, not clergy) to sign "fidelity oaths," which are vows of intellectual obedience to the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

I've already talked about how my own denomination and practice of Christianity is less hierarchical, so I won't rehash those thoughts just now.  As a Christian cleric, if a church wants its clergy to take vows of obedience, I completely understand, even if I'm not totally on board with it myself.

But I think a serious barrier is crossed when now laypeople are being asked to sign such vows.  Why not demand all laypeople to sign those statements of obedience?  Or at least all laypeople who hold any sort of position in their parishes?  What would such a requirement say about the openness of a parish, especially towards inquisitive and curious souls?

More to the point, the text of the fidelity oath itself (which you can find here) goes beyond signing a creed or a statement of faith (which is exactly that--a statement).  This oath, though it begins with the Nicene Creed, also promises unswerving obedience to any future doctrines the church cooks up, "even if they do not intend to proclaim these teachings by a definitive fact."

Yes, that's a direct quote.  The Diocese of Arlington is asking its lay teachers to obey teachings that may not exist yet and that may come into existence basically by accident.

That isn't a statement of belief, it's a blank check to one's ecclesiastical superiors to take whatever they teach hook, line, and sinker.

Of course the diocese is fully within its rights to ask any of its members to sign it.  But that doesn't mean it is the most hospitable thing to do, and my heart goes out in a big way to all of the teachers affected by it, including those who have already resigned their positions.

I worry what this says about Christianity when so many people my age already believe that we care more about rules than about ministry, or that we care more about doctrine than about Jesus.

And with stories like these, it looks like we really aren't doing a whole lot to prove the doubters wrong.

Yours in Christ,

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