Recently, there was a mini-controversy in the media (and on Facebook™, which I am sure leaves no one surprised. We seem to live on offense and controversy these days. However, this particular one let’s me made an interesting point, and that has to do with our current American approach to nearly everything. Should you be interested, you can find the original story at http://bit.ly/2vtraaQ
Originally, I commented the following:
Here is an excellent example of the current American “morality” that says that if I disagree with you on one point, then you must be ostracized on every point. In this article, much time is spent pointing out Ms. Xxxxxxx’s support of abortion. Then, it is pointed out that she served in a parliament as a left-wing representative (which is irrelevant as this is a purely political slight). Then it is mentioned that she is in support of immigration to Europe, and how immigration is destroying Europe (according to Xxxxxxx). It is only finally toward the end of the article that it is pointed out that the Pope has praised her work with immigration, that the parish priest invited her, and that his bishop did not object. Apparently, the Pope is able to separate issues and praise her on one issue while being against her stance on a different issue. It is too bad that Xxxxxxxx is not able to do so.
But, again, it lets me point out the place to which we have arrived in America. Among the Orthodox, we find the same thing happening. The Patriarch of Constantinople or the Patriarch of Moscow or the Patriarch of Antioch will praise someone for something positive they have contributed, and immediately there are American Orthodox who are horrified because in a separate area that same person-who-was-praised does not behave in a fully Christian way. In other words, we can only praise someone if they are perfect, apparently. We have come to the place where we will demonize people based on one belief, and refuse to praise them in any other area where they might be doing excellent work. How destructive is that?
Not surprisingly, it spawned off a discussion about how certain sins are so bad that not even the Pope should ignore them. This easily let me comment that some of the people answering were more Catholic than the Pope. Of course, that was questioned as well, with people casting aspersions about the Pope (some were even Roman Catholic!). It led to the exchange below.
Xxxxxx, think about it. The Roman Catholic Church is probably the most active pro-life organization on a world-wide basis, maybe even in the USA as well. The Pope is charged with representing that Church and ensuring that its doctrine is faithfully observed. Everything he does is in the public eye, even more than the President of the USA. Not only is his every action judged, but he has to consider his every action.
That Pope had no problem praising a person, in spite of their other faults. The fact that some in the USA have problems with that may speak more to the cultural issues we are having here than to any possible moral issue that might be involved with having a pro-abortion person speak about immigration in a Catholic church.
But, he was not the only one that had no problem. That included the local priest and the local bishop. We are up to three Catholic authorities so far, including the supreme one. Yet, our immediate American reaction is what would be considered a typical separatist fundamentalist reaction, which is to say that if they are guilty of even one sin, then I cannot relate to them on any other basis. Fortunately, the Pope is not a separatist fundamentalist.
And, we wonder why we cannot reach reasonable compromises in the Congress!
As I found myself thinking of the exchange, I remember being taught in seminary about a category of believer that is formally increasingly rare today, but in practice has become very common today. That is a third-degree separatist fundamentalist. Okay, you can look it up, but in brief, a first-degree fundamentalist is a fundamentalist who will have relationships (cooperation) with non-fundamentalists, such as Evangelicals, etc., while having serious question about their doctrines and not considering their churches to be true bible-believing churches. A second degree fundamentalist is willing to relate to (have fellowship with) a first degree fundamentalist but will not relate to (have fellowship with) a non-fundamentalist. There is evidence that third degree fundamentalism emerged in the late 1960’s. A third degree fundamentalist is only willing to relate to (have fellowship with) a second-degree fundamentalist, but will not relate to (have fellowship with) a first degree fundamentalist because they are tainted by their contact with non-fundamentalists. Both second and third degree fundamentalists are separatists, meaning that they will only relate to (have fellowship with) fellow fundamentalists. [There is some argument as to whether first degree fundamentalists would qualify as full separatists. They are certainly partial separatists.] Third degree fundamentalists go as far as saying that anyone who relates to (has fellowship with) a non-fundamentalist is personally tainted, even though the person themself may be a fundamentalist, and therefore is not safe to relate to (have fellowship with). Confused?
Let me give you an easy example. In 1957, Billy Graham would have still been considered, and would have considered himself, a fundamentalist. However, when he preached at the 1957 Madison Square Garden crusade, he cooperated with the local ministerial alliance. Not only was this a first, it also drew condemnations from second-degree fundamentalists because he was cooperating with non-fundamentalists, and even allowing converts to go to their churches rather than pointing them away from them and toward true Christian churches. Within the next decade or so, as neo-Evangelicalism grew, as well as the Charismatic Movement, there is evidence that the stronger reaction set in, that of the third-degree fundamentalists.
But, what has struck me even more is that we have had something strange happen in our country. The early Moral Majority had a number of fundamentalists involved, such as Jerry Falwell, as well as a number of very conservative Christians, and many devout Roman Catholics. I can remember some of the internal soul-searching of that time, among fundamentalists, because some of the best pro-life people were the very Roman Catholics against whom they had preached for decades, many times calling them part of the Whore of Babylon. It took some real accommodation, but it finally happened. The Moral Majority began to make itself politically felt. However, something else also happened. Separatist fundamentalist attitudes crept into the Body Politic and into the culture.
The approach of a separatist fundamentalist is an all-or-nothing black-or-white approach. There are no nuances, and no compromise. One can, easily, understand the lack of compromise on abortion, although an argument could be made that a slow and steady approach might have gotten us farther. However, that same approach became the approach on every issue. Are the only options some type of laissez-faire capitalism or a full socialism? Are the only options a full banning of all ocean oil drilling or full permission for drilling even in environmentally sensitive areas? Must the government declare massive swaths of land to be government-owned or national monuments, and definitely untouchable, or could there be a reasonable compromise on economic development?
As separatist fundamentalist approaches crept more and more into the Body Politic, there came to be an increasing rigidity in both the Right and the Left. Frankly, both are equally guilty of rigidity in various areas. The fringes began to dominate the center as the tails wagging the dogs. Rational argumentation became less and less possible as the identical-to-separatist-fundamentalist attitudes became common in the Body Politic. You see, I did no mention one other facet of separatist fundamentalism. That other facet is that a separatist fundamentalist will not listen to anyone outside the camp. It is not simply that they will not relate to them; they will not even listen to them. “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” This was taken to mean that any ideas broached from outside the fundamentalist circles were not simply unreliable, but needed to be rejected since one did not know whether those ideas were tainted with a seed that might blossom into heresy if one were to listen to them. Does this sound like what you are seeing in politics now?
That is not the sadness of the situation. The original Moral Majority had to do with bringing morality back to America, not only in abortion, but in other areas as well. Yet, the end result has been that there is little focus on morality now, but significant focus on separatism and the unwillingness to either listen to others or to compromise. What is left of morality is the instant sense of offense that many people feel–and cite–the moment they encounter something that does not fully and totally agree with their staunch beliefs. We are now offended, appalled, affronted, enraged, incensed, etc., when we are confronted with any challenge. We respond with calls for ritual expressions of repentance, yet with little real intention to accept them. We beat our breasts; we rip our shirts; we pour ashes on our head, because of the offense we feel. Neither the Right nor the Left deal in true morality. They only deal with Pharisaic remonstrations, with little mercy, even less justice, and no love whatsoever.
The moral agenda of the Moral Majority has become a legalism of the Right and the Left that imprisons us and will neither allow morality nor compromise. So, no morality, no compromise, no relating one to the other, no reaching mutual agreements that incorporate finding ways to live with one another for the good of the USA. A secular separatist fundamentalism has won. Lord, have mercy.