Saturday, June 17, 2006

What's Your Via Media?

There is an interesting piece on the blog Father Jake Stops the World. In it he says that what is happening here in Columbus relative to the Windsor Report and other issues before us is what others have observed about our church generally. That there is roughly 20-60-20 spread in how people see themselves in the church. (I would push those percentages out to 10-80-10, myself, but for the purposes of this post, I won't go there.)

Who are the 20-60-20 and why is that important? The conversation has usually been spoken of in terms of liberal-conservative, with the 60 being "moderates". Kendall Harmon says this really does not describe and so prefers the terms "reappraisers" and "reasserters." (Of course, some people resort to "orthodox" and "heretic" with the 60 being the squishy, luke warm middle. This is really not helpful, does not win friends and influence people and, thankfully, I have see very very little of that here if at all.)

These attempts at labels don't help me much, and I think they fail to desribe the whole picture. I fall into using them because they are all we've got.

Going back to Fr. Jake's observations: 20% care deeply about justice and the reach of the church into the world--this is where they see the main mission of the church. 20% care about the doctrine and clarity of the church as a witness to the world. 60% see both with varying degrees of importance. The lynchpin could be described as simply the "wanting to be faithful" crowd. The people who know we are in Christ's family and that peculiar part of the family tree called "Episcopalian."

I tend to think about the edges in this way. The "conservative" or "reasserter" crowd like thesis. (Please don't go to philosophy 101 here, otherwise these terms will fall apart!) They are knowledgable about the propisitions and doctrines of faith and their implications. Think of these folks as holding the "via media" between catholic and protestant. That is why some of these folks have appropriated to themselves the term "orthodox."

The so-called "liberals" or "reappraisers" are people who like synthesis. These are folks who think of the via media as a synthesis of classical faith and modern culture. This is why many of these folks have appropriated the term "via media" as their banner.

The people in the middle are much more functional. The 60% in the middle are drawn to one side or the other if it makes sense and if it works. When strains begin to happen, we draw away. We are once fluid--because anxiety can cause us to act reactively--and we are also in tension because we try to hold often contradictory values at the same time. Call us moderate, or squishy or whatever. I like to think of that big middle as functional disciples. That is, they are friends and apprentices of Jesus Christ who attempt to follow him as best they can in the everyday. Among the early apostles, we can be likened to all those apostles who are named and we never know what become of them. We can be like Peter--blowin' in the wind, but a tiger when cornered. Occaisionally, God raises up out of the middle a James of Jerusalem. Think of this as via media as living in the faithful center.

Fr. Jake and Fr. Nick both wonder why the folks from the outer 20's have not yet reached into the middle 60. For one thing, these folks at the edges are convinced. They know they are right and they are clear as to why they believe what they do. They are so clear, that they focus on the those who have the most cogent arguments against their stand--the other 20%.

It is we in the middle--and I lean toward the middle left, I suppose-- who are doing the reaching out the edges. I have spent a lot of time talking to people who seem to represent the edges. At first, I did this because I thought they lead the discussion and so will determine the outcomes. Now, and Fr. Jakes observations were helpful in this, I think the opposite is true.

What will be important is how we in the 60 (80) "squishy middle" will synthesize what the people at the edges are telling us.

We in the middle have been mis-read all along. When many average Episcopalians experienced anxiety after 2003, those in the ACN and their allied groups, read that as a groundswell. Equally, it is tempting for those on the other side to think that because +Gene was approved by a significant margin and that the political-and-lawsuit based attempts of their counterparts has failed, that they have "won" the middle. Just as one side should not confuse anxiety for rebellion neither should the other end confuse the seeking of a functional, faithful solution to agreement.

No one has reached into the moderate middle because they are too busy trying to sell us, or else they don't respect us for not being on the edges, or they are too stuck in their perspective to even imagine that there is a middle.


Jim Strader said...

Andrew - Thanks for this post. I think that you've made some valid points here.

you wrote
No one has reached into the moderate middle because they are too busy trying to sell us, or else they don't respect us for not being on the edges, or they are too stuck in their perspective to even imagine that there is a middle

I agree that I, as someone in the 10-20% "Liberal" side of the church's issues I am often guilty of only listening to my own perspective or the perspectives of those persons I agree with in the matters of the Episcopal Church. I would say this is true in some degree because I rejected the opinions of the "orthodox" group many years ago during my "coming out" process.

Speaking of myself, I trust and pray that I do not in my work or in my life disrespect other people or am completely unwilling to listen to the perspectives of others. We hopefully can live, abide, pray, and communion with one another. I would like to think of myself as a "broad-church" Anglican despite my progressive leanings. I do not know, as I am not in Columbus, whether or not, as you and many Episcopalian leaders suggest, the majority of people who are moderates and struggling to be honest, faithful Christians can continue to bind us together. I commend you for your efforts to love Christ and serve Christ's Church.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Hi Andrew -

I also agree with many of your comments, and that listening is much more important than talking. One of my priests is fond of saying that God gave us two ears and only one mouth and we should use them proportionately.

I've written my piece on the issue here, under the title "Breaking Down Borders." I realize now that I also recognized only two classes- the left and the right.

Ultimately, I think that is because deputies and bishops either have to vote "for" or "against" (whatever the vote is), and that sometimes makes it difficult to think of the middle perspective.

I hope that we can all learn to live less at the poles and more at the equator. The weather is much nicer there anyway.