Heretic : Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
So, this last week I was accused of being a heretic.
Now, there are probably a number of theological points on which I might be dragged before a Tribunal of the Inquisition. Among Lutherans and the Reformed, I might be questioned on the finer points of the third use of the Law and be found wanting. Among my Baptist and evangelical friends, I’m sure that my high view of the Eucharist would probably reveal to them that I am most likely a Crypto-Papist. Of course among most Western Christians my hesitation concerning the inclusion of the Filioque Clause into the Nicene Creed subsequent to the first two ecumenical councils (Nicaea in 325 and Constantinople in 381) might surely call for the stake to be raised and the pyre prepared. Indeed, among varied segments of the Christian community, my keeping of the Church Year, my use of a prayer book, my devotion to Mary the Mother of Our Lord, or even my donning of a clerical collar might be the occasion to call forth the torches.
My heresy, however, did not involve any of the above issues. Instead, it had to do with leaving a favorable comment on a post by a conservative Anglican commentator advocating a standard minimum wage and healthcare for workers in McDonalds and comparing American workers with their counterparts in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. He pointed out that while we count many of the nations as “post-Christian” there seemed to be more care for “the least of these” than here in the United States. As a result of his post and my subsequent favorable comment, one writer classified both of us as heretics. After diatribes referencing Hegel, Marx and the dreaded “Social Gospel” the thread continued on…
How did we ever get this silly and ridiculous?
I have a friend of over forty years standing. He currently serves on the board of a Libertarian think tank. He has served on the staff of two Republican senators. We met each other when, 43 years ago, we were both applying for a Rotary International Scholarship. I’m happy to say that they gave one to each of us. Since that day we’ve maintained a friendship. We’ve attended each other’s graduations, both here and overseas. We were present at each other’s weddings. We’ve reviewed each other’s books. When I had a residential fellowship at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., my friend invited me week by week to lunch in the Senate Dining Room. When my friend was instrumental in securing a major gift for a library, I was the one who was asked to deliver the speech honoring him. Now, we do not agree on many areas in politics and economics. Through the years we have discussed such matters, and often disagreed, for countless hours. Nonetheless, we have thought the best of each other and have never impugned the others’ motives. Both of us, however, have learned, grown and changed through the years. Moreover, we have allowed for that learning, growth and change in the other person.
I don’t consider this friendship to be something unique, but I may be wrong.
We seem to have come to a time in which presenting one’s opinion, whether political, economic, or theological must be done in absolute terms. We now seem to think that any opinion that differs from your own must be attacked and, if possible, destroyed. We have watched how this has played out in the political and economic life of not only our nation, but other nations as well. The divisions, and the anger behind those divisions, is palpable. Relationships, including familial relationships, have suffered. Distrust of facts, or news, not to mention motives, is endemic. Conspiracy theories abound and take hold further dividing us. Worse, the anger and divisions, the second guessing of motives, have now come to the doors of the Church and will likely have the same destructive power.
To be called a heretic by a fellow believer over the issue of the minimum wage is almost laughable. We should not, however, expect the weaponizing of theology to stop there. It has already been taken up into the politics of the moment. Even the decision of opening churches for worship, with some on one side and some on the other, will be yet another dividing point. Some will take in the other point of view, but others will see it in terms of faithfulness or apostasy and will not be hesitant in pointing this out. After all, if God tells someone to open their church and you do not agree, one of you must be wrong. Likewise, if God tells someone not to open their church and you do not agree, one of you must likewise be wrong. Worse yet, what will be the repercussions if lives are lost. Once we go down the road of absolutes, there are very few exits and it is no longer laughable.
This weaponizing of theology is meant to leave us with binary choices… a choosing of sides.
Perhaps the forty year friendship with my libertarian friend is unique, but I don’t think it is. The friendship has lasted because it was built on a relationship of trust and good will, not the binary choices which, frankly, would have destroyed it. We both decided that there was little to be gained in choosing sides, whereas there was much to gain in nourishing a relationship. Hopefully, we can return to seeing our faith and our churches in a similar manner. It may be our best hope to overcome this time of division if, indeed, it is still possible.