Friday, September 09, 2005

Some Niches Are Just Bigger Than Others

Looking at Al Kimel's post on antinomianism, I am led further back to a post dating from before his renunciation: How to market a boutique church. And I find myself agreeing with half of what he had to say in the latter message. To be precise, the first half.

The second half paints with far too broad a brush-- with William Tighe standing in for Sherwin-Williams. It is perhaps true that the driving liberal forces in ECUSA are pushing towards "high church unitarianism", though I want to save that discussion for later. It is also true that Anglican churches in general, and most expecially the CofE and ECUSA, are not theological monoliths. It's plainly part of the problem that ECUSA lacks (and has always lacked) any kind of theological constraints on its clergy; that is what has allowed traditionally Anglican attitudes to be supplanted of late by theological forces that are clearly foreign.

I'm not happy with Al's characterization of Robert Farrar Capon as a popularizer of Tillich. I must confess not having read a lot of Capon's more recent material, but his older works (e.g. Hunting the Divine Fox are full of the kind of statements that Tillich is alleged to have ridiculed in Anglicanism.

(An aside: Urban Holmes once quoted Tillich as having said that the incarnation was "the Anglican Heresy". I have never been able to find where Tillich might actually have said this. Citation, anyone?)

Anyway-- the point is that, for Protestants looking for a church, Catholicism and Orthodoxy are niches too. Walmart is, after all, a sort of niche retailer; it's just that the niche is really big. Catholicism, for (ex-)Protestants (and especially ex-Anglicans) is the Christian Walmart of "never having to worry about theology again." And just as VGR's niche Anglicanism-- for even (P)ECUSA was much bigger, and remains bigger, than the current liberal fashion-- is a temptation, so is the Catholic Church a temptation for Protestants. In some respects Orthodoxy is even worse, because while you get to escape any kind of liturgical experiments, you also get to denounce everything western.

It's instructive to go to an Episcopal church out west, say, in Great Falls, Montana. at Incarnation they do the 1979 BCP, straight up, no goofiness. There are no guitars, but no strange alterations to the liturgy to trip over. The hymns are sung out of the hymnal, and they are sung seriously. Even at little St. Francis, the tiny church-in-the-round building across town (since closed because the reductions at the airbase deprived it of its parishioners) the liturgy was normal. Out there, the hurricane-in-a-teapot that is VGR and all the works of General Convention can hardly be heard. There is still a lot of life in plain old central church Anglicanism; the problem seems to be that, since it isn't really a niche, it isn't marketable.

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