Biden Communion Debate Shows American Church Burnout


There is an old debate about the fall of Rome: did it collapse because of internal or external enemies?

It is a complex question. Because Rome was indeed assailed by invaders from all sides. But what ultimately succeeded in their invasion were decades, if not centuries, of decline and decay. Rome fell to the invaders. But first he fell on his own weakness.

This is a question I think about when I contemplate the Catholic Church in America today.

An influential account of the state of the American church maintains that divisions in American politics have invaded the church. Specifically, the partisan polarization that has structured so much of American life over the past several decades has now made its way into the church.

There is undoubtedly some truth to this argument, given the profound impact that partisan divisions have had on almost every aspect of life in the United States. And this is often true in subtle and far-reaching ways: from the influence of “Big Money” in the church to the idea that the church should be held accountable for the political ideals of democracy.

The American church is not only polarized; it’s tired. And he’s polarized in part because he’s tired.

But the way we talk about this problem – that political dynamics are brought into the church – often assumes that the problem is just external. Coming back to Rome’s problem, however, is the problem the enemies at the gate, or the weak, edgy culture that offers no resistance to them and perhaps even welcomes disturbances from outside?

There are always forces from outside trying to influence the life of the church, and many of them are good. But because the American church lacks the drive to support its own culture, its own mission, and its own sense of solidarity, it is particularly sensitive to influences that would distract it from its mission.

The American church is not only polarized; it’s tired. And he’s polarized in part because he’s tired.

May 2 from Andy Smarick editorial about the state of the Republican Party reminded me a little too much of the Catholic Church. Mr. Smarick maintains that the party has a governance problem. The “GOP political closets” are “mostly empty,” he writes, being reduced to “a failed effort to replace Obamacare and a week of infrastructure waiting for Godot.” Because of this exhaustion, “whatever the question, they relied on the old reserve measures – tax cuts and deregulation – as answers.”

The debate over Biden’s fellowship is more an effect of our current state than a cause of our current dissension.

Is the American Church Very Different? In each issue, flash points are predictable, reactions are habitual, and interactions ultimately sterile. There is little energy for a new adaptation.

Note, for example, the ongoing “wars of communion”. Apparently, nothing should be more at the heart of the Church than a discussion of the Eucharist, calling the best of Christians to recover our mission and identity as a Church. And yet, most of the articles written on this controversy have been painfully predictable. Catholics knew what they were going to read before reading them and knew if they were going to agree with them from the signing.

Indeed, part of what is so exhausting about this debate is that it is nothing new: we have been debating this issue with little resolution since at least the 1980s. The battle lines have been drawn since. decades, but no one wins the war.

To put it another way: No matter how new a Catholic president may be, his rise to the White House does not reveal an entirely new problem but rather exacerbates a problem that the American Church has grappled with for decades. The debate over Biden’s fellowship is more an effect of our current state than a cause of our current dissension.

When people say that Americans made politics into religion, one might assume that it is a metaphor. But when politics take precedence over religion, the meaning becomes literal.

These are symptoms of exhaustion. Yes, this conflict, like others, involved frantic activity, but this is only a sign of the sterility of the ritual. The ferocity of debate in the American Catholic Church is a sign that we are hopelessly trapped in intellectual ruts. Our brains have been re-wired through years of futile conflict, and there is no obvious way out. We’re just used to reacting, and it would take a tremendous amount of energy and time to change, which we both lack.

Reduce religion to politics

When people say that Americans made politics into religion, one might assume that it is a metaphor. But when politics take precedence over religion, the meaning becomes literal.

Partisan balkanization has touched every corner of American society, from popular culture to sports, and so it’s no surprise that it has come for the church. But the church is not just another sector of society. It is meant to resist and transcend politics in a way that no other part of society can. We can therefore assume that its politicization would lead to something different and deeper than this process in other spaces. Its politicization, in other words, would result in a profound failure on its part.

When we “politicize” the church, the problem is not just political. It is the Church’s task to remind us of her essential mission, which is to say that she is obedient not to earthly powers but to heavenly powers.

But there is also an irony in the complaint. Decades after the Holocaust, when so many Christians have shockingly failed to engage in politics in defense of the innocent, especially the Jewish people, there is little fear that Christians are avoiding the social dimensions of their faith.

When we “politicize” the church, the problem is not just political. It is the Church’s task to remind us of her essential mission, which is to say that she is obedient not to earthly powers but to heavenly powers.

Indeed, the time may have come to clarify that, whatever the interconnections between Catholicism and political life, there is something unique to Catholicism that is lost when it is treated as simply continuous with life. Politics. It is indeed a problem when the political and the religious are confused.

A humble and poor Church

If this is true, we don’t just need to complain about the influence of politics. We need more attention on how we can renew the church. What we need to recover is an emergency to the questions: What is the church? What does it mean to be baptized? Who are we when we act in the unity of the Holy Spirit? How is it different from our other social ties?

Here we cannot ignore what our culture asks us to give. We live in anxious times, to borrow the title of Joseph Bottum’s awesome book. It is also a fragmented and dissipated era, in which many seemingly enduring characteristics of American culture are giving way.

It may be tempting for Catholics to think that Catholicism will be the new basis of American society, or at least a key component. I have my doubts.

But if we can be less preoccupied with occupying space and claiming power, then we will be better able to withstand the anguish of our time. We will, moreover, be in a better position to help our fellow Americans to do the same.

But that requires humility and poverty. It requires spiritual poverty to admit that we are tired, that we are not getting anywhere with our efforts to evangelize the culture, and that we need the help of Christ if we are to be useful to our country and to our country. world.

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