Who is our master?

“How could one possibly support the Labour Party and be a Christian?”

And that’s a fair enough question, as one can ask the same question about the American Republicans and Democrats. What about Likud? The NDP? The Liberty Korea Party? The Nippon Ishin no Kai? The Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela? The Movimento Cinque Stelle?

Over 2000 years and we still haven’t even begun to understand that we shouldn’t put our trust in princes, especially when the princes are our own image. So one can walk into a most self-consciously liberal Anglican parish that obsesses over all the latest activist lingo adorned with national flags over the nave, perhaps even in the sanctuary. If you’re unfortunate enough, you might even see the national flag held aloft in a procession. We American Anglicans are great patriots–after all, the first seven presidents of our republic were Episcopalian! We are so stately that our cathedral of Washington D.C. is mostly known by that most arrogant and pretentious name of the “National Cathedral”. What purchase do the names of the chiefs of the apostles, Sts. Peter and Paul, have next to the glorious political, economic, and military hegemony of the United States? Little, if anything, apparently. St. Basil the Great sold the sacred vessels and gave away his own family inheritance to feed the poor during the great famine. The “National Cathedral” tweets self-righteous indignation and sells the house of God to wealthy and prestigious dignitaries for their amusement. What’s the difference?

And so we have national anthems printed in our hymn books next to our most beautiful sacrifices of praise without any distinction made. That these things are old and have been a part of our churches for decades upon centuries does little to change that in principle it is little more than the expression of a national apostasy. What a dubious privilege that I can enjoy the pleasures of hearing O Canada! be sung in front of our holy altars! Heaven knows what “true patriot love” and the “True North” has anything to do with repentance and charity, let alone the Cross and, well, Christ.

Will the Church have even begun to repent when the Eschaton arrives like a thief in the night? Doubtful, but at least we Christians can find solace in the idea that we will have each other for eternal company in hell.

3 thoughts on “Who is our master?”

  1. Very glad to see you’re still writing here. Thanks for this post.

    I wonder if the origin of the problem is first the establishment of the church — in a cultural rather than necessarily legal sense — followed by a discomfort with praying for people as the embodiments of the nation and of the church. More often these days I hear prayers for church bodies rather than bishops, and countries by name than for heads of state. After all, it’s very hard to complain about having ‘God Save the Queen’ in our hymn-books while also having the collects for the Queen in the prayer book Mattins, Evensong, and Communion services, and other prayers for her scattered throughout besides. But that is a consequence of legal establishment, which culturally has often taken us very far from Christian humility, even as the Church of England more often stands politically against the governments of the day than not (on issues like social welfare, the environment, etc).

    (I know I still owe you another reply! I’ll get to it eventually.)

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    1. Hey Daphne,

      Sorry for the very, very belated reply. I had a heavy few weeks that strained me in various different ways: personal, ecclesiastical, professional. But I was very happy to hear from you, and I wanted you to know that.

      I think you’re right, as I’ve had similar thoughts as you for, well, most of my time as an Anglican. As you might imagine, being a member of the Church of Canada, whenever I pray the Office I’ve always prayed for the Queen and the Commonwealth while in Canadian lands. But I think there is an important politico-theological distinction between praying for the temporal powers who govern the land, as it is an acknowledgement of practical political reality. Even at my most stridently anti-monarchical years I still prayed for the Queen–not because I thought the throne was just and legitimate, but out of my earnest desire that the ruler, nevertheless, be godly and righteous. One of the most moving experiences I had of this dynamic was in the Cathedral of Busan during the presidency of Park Guen-hye, where, despite the great anger and frustrations of the congregation, prayers were nevertheless said for the corrupt president and parliament. For some, as I heard so viscerally, these prayers said literally through gritted teeth.

      For me, these prayers that are so characteristic of the Anglican ethos are a reflection of the once-robust sense of civic virtue that animated our Church. On one hand it stresses the importance of verisimilitude in our engagement with the profane world. Worldly princes always exist, and most of them are always going to be corrupt. Even if we reject the sycophantic path all revolutionary talk is going to be childish smoke if it does not apprehend political realities with clarity, and it will be catastrophic if it is not done for the sake of the good of our societies. On the other hand, the prayers are also a real test for leftists like me about the verisimilitude of my own Christian faith. A man who cannot sincerely pray for his enemies, even if through gritted teeth, has to ask himself some serious questions about his discipline, of his submission and devotion to the unambiguous teachings of the Lord Christ and the Lord’s disciples. The moral corruption of the politicians rightly deserve our contempt, but it should also illicit, in its own way, a profound pity.

      We see from some of the earliest records of the Christian tradition, that Christians prayed for the local rulers from very early on, even for the Roman and barbarian heathens who persecuted and killed them. I have also worshiped with Roman Catholics and Orthodox who prayed for the political authorities in their own way in the midst of their liturgies–and neither our ancient forebears, nor our Christian brothers and sisters who I worshiped with and love dearly, understand such prayers as being equivalent to, and the legitimization of, the confused mixture of nationalism and doxology as reflected in our Anglican hymn books.

      There is much more for us to wrestle here, but I fear that what I first began to write as a short reply continues to bloat! But to return to my primary purpose, it was good to hear from you, and I hope you have been very well of late.

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    2. ps. I also just changed the blog url, so I just wanted to give you a head’s up. I’m totally okay with you continuing to share anything I publish on this blog in any way you wish! I don’t post anything on here I wouldn’t want everyone to see.

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