2019… And Beyond: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Theology is not, or at least should not be, propaganda. Propaganda at heart is manipulative. It is not an objective presentation of information. It’s sole purpose is to influence an audience through the use of selective “facts” often divorced from their context. “Straw men” will be set forward and then attacked with the intent of producing an emotional response to what is being presented. While claiming to deal only with “facts” for discussion, the outcome of the discussion is already predetermined with malevolent motives assigned to those who might question such “facts” or, indeed, interpret those “facts” in a different manner.
In discussing theology, we are prone to engage on the periphery. Often we debate abuses which no one is defending merely wishing to provoke a reaction. Even name calling, reminiscent of the school playground, can be used, especially if it is drawn from scripture. So we will hear terms like “sodomites”, or “the mother of harlots”, or “false teacher” or “Babylon”. Terms may even be drawn from the secular scene in which one is accused of being a “liberal” or a “conservative”. Yet let us be clear, this is not theology… it is the call and response of propaganda. Based in insecurity, it is fueled by the desire that others should be, or should believe, like us – not in part, but in whole, that is, in every aspect. Once again, this is not theology, nor does it lead to a fruitful discussion of theology. Moreover, it is not conducive to clear thinking or the thoughtful articulation of a theological position.
I would posit that 2019 may well teach us that the time for “cheap debate” and propaganda is over.
Recently I posted a short quote on one of my social media accounts that suggested that rather than trying to imitate the latest ecclesiastical trends, Anglicans should simply be Anglicans drawing on Anglican liturgy, music and sacraments for identity. The thread blew up… and the blow up was positive. It seems that there are a good number of Anglicans who simply wish to be Anglicans. In addition, there were Lutherans who simply wanted to be Lutheran; and Roman Catholics who wanted to be Roman Catholics. Laity tend to understand the importance of identity in a manner that is not always grasped by a leadership that all too often will sacrifice identity for the sake of momentary “success”. This is an issue that may well come to the forefront of church life in 2019.
As the political situation in the United States appears to be heating up and approaching a crisis point, those who have identified themselves with one or another side on the basis of their faith may well find themselves having to reevaluate that decision. As the mainline denominations continue to fade from the scene at a more rapid pace, questions concerning past decisions may well have to be asked of leadership and laity alike. The continuing saga of sexual abuse and cover-up in the Roman Catholic Church is quickly moving toward a crisis point, the result of which is at present unknown, but likely to lead to more revelations, lawsuits, resignations and an increasingly disenchanted laity.
While some hope that new denominations, formed out of the old, or having broken away from the old, may revive their respective traditions, it seems unlikely. Divisions are already appearing. Wanting to quickly plant new churches, many of the clergy in these new groups are untrained, unfamiliar with their new church and have been ordained in haste. Having acted in haste, they will repent at leisure.
Without doubt, these are turbulent times. In such times, the bluster of propaganda may well increase. Yet, controversy is not always harmful. Clearer views of the future may well emerge as a result of what takes place. Nevertheless, mischievous and misrepresentative propaganda will do no good. There are those men and women of faith who will look for informed discussion and debate, and will accept no less. Note that I say “informed”. The latest power point presentation from the latest leadership conference will not do. The mere parroting of dogma and formularies will not do. To be “informed” means to have the humility to know what you do not know as well as what you do know. We must discuss the real differences between us without the straw men, without the name-calling, without the posturing. It is only then that we will begin to listen to one another.
By truly listening to one another, we might then learn from each other and, in time, we may grow to love one another as Christ has taught us. Together, under God, we might then retrace the principles of our faith. Together we might beseech God to show us what it means to have unity despite our diversity. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, even though we all have our differing rooms, we are all in the same house. Finally, if we begin to learn to listen to one another, we might also learn to listen to those outside the church, those whom we are called to reach with the message of Christ’s love. Together we might constitute what it means to be the Church in 2019 and beyond.