A friend once tried to describe the Anglican Church to me... admittedly a daunting task at the best of times. He said the Anglican Church was a party church. By this he meant that it was an amalgam of widely diverse parties operating under a single umbrella. You hear terms like high church, low church, broad church, anglo-catholic, evangelical, liberal anglo-catholic and so on. I am not even going to pretend that I understand much of this.The reason I bring up this bit of ecclesiastical history is because it has a direct bearing on our current situation.
Since Vatican II the Catholic Church has broken out into a multitude of competing factions, parties and liturgical observances. Where once identifying as Catholic was enough to set you apart, today it is not enough. You must qualify the word Catholic with some kind of modifier to indicate which party you belong to. We have become fragmented and, what is worse, each party is absolutely convinced it is the real deal, the only one legitimately entitled to call itself Catholic. This unfortunate attitude has even led to schism.
We have even brought the tactics of party politics into our church. The truth has taken a back seat to the drive to win the hearts and minds of the faithful. In such a fight a catchy slogan or a well aimed slur takes the place of reasoned argument and civil discourse. Why argue when a good smear campaign is so much more effective? Perhaps characterizing this as party politics is being too generous. This behavior in probably more reminiscent of schoolyard or playground group dynamics with their competing cliques and bullying tactics.
So long as factional loyalty eclipses a Catholic identity, it is likely that conflict will degenerate to this sort of level. Having an identifiable enemy is a great boon to group cohesion and vitality. If the group in question is in a minority position relative to some larger group then it is to that group's advantage to see the larger group as the enemy thus consolidating its own position. 'You have heard how it was said, You will love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Indeed this is an ancient concept but Jesus goes on to say something that turns it on its head. 'But I say this to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may be children of your Father in heaven... The old dynamic that worked so well in the schoolyard and in party politics is no longer valid.
The anger and bitterness with which these factional conflicts are carried out are a source of scandal to many, myself included. I am sure many of you know websites that you avoid simply because you do not wish to be exposed to the angry and bitter commentary. Everyone has an axe to grind and a computer full of boiler plate text with which to grind it. Catholics are called to do things a little differently. Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God. James 1:19-20.
"You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill, and whoever kills shall be liable to judgement.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire." Mat 5:21-22
Factional dissension is not a new thing in the church. St. Paul experienced many of these difficulties in his dealings with the Corinthians. Brothers, I urge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to have factions among yourselves but all to be in agreement in what you profess; so that you are prefectly united in your beliefs and judgements. 1Cor 1:10
How then are we to deal with people with whom we disagree if our favorite tactics are no longer acceptable? That may be beyond the scope of this blog as it involves our spiritual life and a radical change in the way we do things. However, it may be useful to point to one concrete example.