Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2004 08:45:31 -0500
From: Richard Kew
Subject: An Interesting Lunch
This last weekend was an echo of my old lifestyle as a wandering Aramean,
because I fulfilled a long-standing obligation to be at the Vestry Retreat
of Christ Church, Charlottesville, Virginia. While there I also met up
with James Davidson Hunter, who I had married to his wife, Honey, more
than a quarter century ago when we were all a lot younger -- James had a lot
more hair and I had less waistline in those days! James was the author of
the ground-breaking book, "Culture Wars," and is on the faculty at the
University of Virginia.
We were able to have a wonderful lunch with the Hunters and with Jeffrey
and Carol Fishwick, the Rector and his wife. During the lunch James was
talking about some of the work that he is doing, and his deepening
conviction that the culture is changed by institutions, and therefore the
task for Christians as they seek to recovere the culture is to find right
and appropriate ways to shape society's institutions. While ideas may
come from the periphery, change comes from the center.
I had a late-night flight home to ponder this piece of data, and I think
that with some provisos he may be right. Of course, he pointed out, this
requires much political involvement, and that political involvement then
needs to be rooted and grounded in prayer and great humility. With this I
would entirely agree. I am not a political type, but I have found myself
even more drawn into the political process in our diocese, and can see no
way out of it if we are to maintain a strong Gospel presence in Tennessee.
Right now, those of us in the Episcopal Church are wringing our hands over
what has happened, and the faithful are looking for ways either to protect
themselves from what could very well become the scorched earth policies of
our detractors, or to make an orderly exit from the church. Some of us
are committed to staying and fighting this grievous error the church has made,
some are making plans to go -- which, in turn, makes it more difficult for
those of us remaining to fight for the truth. However, that is another
I have little doubt that whichever strategy is pursued the Episcopal
Church as an institution is in far worse decay than even those on the left hand
side of this controversy realize. They think they have won the golden
prize -- really they have won the booby prize.
I am increasingly of the mind that within the next 4-8 years further
ructions will shake it, or there will be a forced reshaping of this
entity -- and mostly from the grassroots upward. Yet, if James Davidson Hunter
is right, then we must do all we can to retain some foothold in the
institution and then from that base to seek to win it back. That may seem
an outrageous and outlandish notion, but no more than Gideon routing the
Midianites with a mere handful of warriors.
I would want us to go beyond that, however. We are in a position where we
are being called to challenge the culture, and for this Hunter suggests we
need to think in terms of a hundred year strategy. He, rightly again,
points out that American culture is like a solvent and it is leeching out
into all the world. What it has done to undermine the institutions of
Faith in our culture in North America it will do in all the rest of the world
where the faith is growing and flourishing at the moment.
Our responsibility is to develop congregations and believers who have a
solidly Christian worldview, and who can be generative from generation to
generation. We need to be raising up CEOs and Professors and Lawyers and,
yes, Priests, who think like Christians in such a way that their Christian
mindset is brought into every aspect of their world and leisure. This
transformatory understanding of the Gospel must infiltrate every facet of
life from the corridors of power to the corridors of the local high
Given the size of the so-called Christian community, its captivity to the
secular-pagan culture as it is presently configured is patently obvious.
This means we have a long-term task ahead of us. As one who believes the
future of Anglicanism is more with the nascent federation of Anglican
jurisdictions that is beginning to grow out of the US Anglican Congress
initiative, I believe this is something we need to be working on together
to see what the Anglican part of the big picture might be.