The identification of moral conservatives in the twenty-first century with historical periods that predate the experience of twentieth century totalitarianism reveals a fundamental blind-spot in contemporary conservatism. Conjuring up political constellations of the 1920s to 40s as analogies for contemporary struggles between conservatives and progressives willfully ignores the ‘lesson’ of totalitarianism. Nothing exemplifies this forgetfulness better than the recent closure of Memorial, the NGO dedicated to the critical memory of Stalinism, by Russian authorities.
On the pages of Public Orthodoxy, Aram G. Sarkisian recently pointed out the odd affinity which some American Orthodox cultivate vis-à-vis the time of the American Civil War and how ultraconservative Orthodox groups appropriate an eighteenth-century story to fit a twisted and ahistorical agenda of the twenty-first. The identification with past epochs it nothing unique to American Orthodox. In my own studies of moral conservatism in Russia and the US, I have also encountered this identification with the past, in particular with the period of the 1920s to 40s.
The recent dustup over Archbishop Elpidophoros borrowing the historic St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City for a celebration of the Divine Liturgy and then subsequently meeting with its rector, Bishop Dean Wolfe, highlights the perennial debate among Orthodox about how we ought to relate to outsiders. Throughout church history some have seen threats where others see opportunity. But opportunities can be threatening, because they imply risk and change. And for churches to make the most of opportunities requires leaps says Charles Taylor, the eminent Canadian Catholic philosopher and author of the widely praised A Secular Age: “There can and must be leaps. Otherwise no significant forward steps will be made in response to God. Someone has to break altogether with some historic forms” (669).
This conflict over relating to outsiders is as old as the gospels. Jesus made a point of engaging with people “outside the camp” (Hebrews 13:13). While this was refreshing for some, among religious leaders and traditionalists it mostly ignited opposition. They saw Jesus and later the Apostles as threats to familiar and even God-given customs and traditions. Time and again throughout the gospels we see Jesus standing his ground in the pursuit of the mission to open new opportunities to generously advance God’s Kingdom through compassion, healing, offering a spiritual oasis, simplifying and widening access to grace. He does this often quietly and secretly, but at other times in open defiance of religious leaders and the expectations of his own family and disciples. Here are a few examples:
The term “accommodationist” has recently become a topic of some contention in global Orthodox Christian conversations on human sexuality. The term was derived from the widely influential book by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (first published in 1989, and reissued in 2014 with a new foreword and afterword). Because this term could continue to influence the way that we as Orthodox speak with each other about our tradition, bringing some clarity to the term itself might be helpful. I therefore reached out to Hauerwas and Willimon directly in order to gain some insight into their understanding of the concept. Both graciously agreed to speak with me about this topic. What follows is my reflection on their key points. (Direct quotations without citation are taken from phone conversations that took place in April of this year, and citations from the text itself are taken from the most recent 2014 edition).
I would summarize Hauerwas and Willimon’s understanding of the term “accommodationist” in the following way: the term “accommodationist” is a critical heuristic, not a category of heresy.
There is little doubt that we are living in a “digital age,” an age characterized by a move to the virtual and the electronic. The COVID-19 pandemic simply accelerated this trajectory to the point of no return. From an ecclesial perspective, parishes are equipped to live-stream their liturgies, and the need for a functioning and updated website has never been greater. From an academic perspective, virtual learning has become mainstream, along with conferences and webinars that scholars can participate in from the comfort of their home. Amidst the flurry of these innovations, one shift has remained under the radar: the role of theological education in the Digital Age.
Since its genesis, Christianity has embraced the media necessary for effective communication. This is why, for example, St. Paul wrote letters to various church communities to convey his message as opposed to painting pictures on the walls of a cave. From writing letters to composing dense theological treatises, to radio and television, to our days of the Internet, Christian leaders have found it necessary to utilize the best forms of communication in order to spread the Good News. But the democratization of the Internet—the fact that anyone can publish a blog or upload a video—has had unfortunate consequences for theological education. While there have always been false teachers, never before have such teachers been able to reach millions of souls in seconds.