Monday, November 7, 2011

Brethren orthodoxy

A little while ago (I can't seem to find date stamps on his blog), David Stiles wrote this post about Feast of Love, in which he urges COB progressives to split from the Church.  I find this a little unfair, given Carl Bowman's analysis showing "gay supporters" are more likely to find staying Brethren important than "gay opposers."

What got me going as a seminary student, though, was this particular wording:

If congregations find themselves outside of the basic orthodoxy of the COB, why continue to fight?
Firstly, it seems like a big leap to name the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference's position on same-sex covenental relationships as constituting or being key to the basic orthodoxy.  When someone asks you about the Church of the Brethren, what do you say?  "We're Anabaptist [and here's what that means], we're a peace church, we practice simple living, and we're opposed to the homosexual lifestyle?"  Does it really make it on to that list?  Why this, and not our statements about depleted uranium and global climate change?  What makes the 1983 human sexuality paper so basic to what it means to be Brethren?  And more pointedly, Brother David, why this and not our position of women in ministry?  Why must those who disagree with this Annual Conference statement leave, but not those who disagree with that one?

Secondly, and more broadly, I have a real problem with the phrase "Brethren orthodoxy."  The word "orthodoxy" derives from the Greek orthos, meaning "right/true/straight" and doxa, meaning "opinion/belief," and the word means exactly what that would lead you to suspect.  It seems to me the Church of the Brethren--this "no creed but the New Testament," "no force in religion" church--has no orthodoxy.

Another word, which might be more relevant to us Brethren, is "orthopraxy," which means "right action/activity."  It seems more appropriate for a church whose Annual Conference has much to say about practices, but little to say about what one should think or believe.  Even this monumental human sexuality paper makes no claim against those whose beliefs run contrary--it is only concerned with actions.

So I put forth that the Church of the Brethren has no orthodoxy, but does have an orthopraxy.  (I ran this by one of my professors, and got a nod of agreement.)

But this orthopraxy is not found in some sort of inerrant Constitution passed down by the founders; it is found in the statements we make, modify, and strike when we meet every year for our Annual Conference.  It changes constantly from what previous generations held, whether due to new information, issues our predecessors did not face, or evolution of moral thought.  What our orthopraxy is next year may be very much different from what it is this year.  That is simply how it's done in this church--attempts to forbid further efforts at change fly in the face of how we as church make our decisions.

One last note: Even orthopraxy, in the Church of the Brethren, is limited in scope.  It isn't found so much in statements like the 1983 paper--which are, after all, merely reflections of what the majority of gathered Brethren believe--but in our polity.  "You can't be in a same-sex relationship" isn't our orthopraxy; "You can't be openly gay and be a licensed minister" is. (I have previously indicated that I think "we don't agree" would be more helpful than "fifty-one percent of us think this.")

It seems to me that preaching a "Brethren orthodoxy" is a far more serious split from Brethren tradition than are evolving views on human sexuality.


Brian R. Gumm said...

Oooh, fun conversation-started, Nick! Thanks for posting this. Here's my somewhat cantankerous from-the-hip response...

It's impossible to have any praxis, ortho or otherwise, without a correlative doxa. So the argument that the CoB doesn't have an orthodoxy but does, somehow, have an orthopraxy is incoherent.

It's my view that the Church of the Brethren has uncritically and completely swallowed the post-Enlightenment Liberalism kool-aid and doesn't have the intellectual resources to even see that this is the case. Liberalism has become the a priori philosophical framework for both progressives and conservatives (and likely the "silent middle"), which constructs the denominational social imaginary and thereby establishes a set horizon for what's possible. And what is possible under such circumstances doesn't look very promising.

Nico said...

Yikes. Well to that I say, the assumption that doxa must precede praxis is a relic of modernist (dare I throw back the accusation of Enlightenment?) thinking. I'd say we form our beliefs to match our actions every bit as much as we act in accordance to our beliefs. This is even true on the level of neuroscience, wherein recent studies suggest that the outcome of a deliberative process is set *before* we experience "deciding."

You could say that a legislation of practice must be undergirded by some kind of position/belief/opinion/philosophy, and I'd be prepared to agree with you, but the Church of the Brethren tends not to say you have to share that belief--only that you are encouraged to (in the case of statements) or must (in the case of polity) *act* accordingly. Thus practice is addressed while belief is not; I give you orthopraxy without orthodoxy.

Josh Brockway said...

Nice Nick.

I would echo some of Brian's comment. S I will just expand on what you are saying in response, namely that Brethren have Orthopraxy without orthodoxy.

I actually think that is some of the way Brethren have understood themselves in the last 70 years. Honestly, I think the separation of praxix from Doha is a post Kantian development. Few point in the history of Christianity has such a distraction (or even the priority of belief) existed. Hence Augustine, Ireneaus and Prosper all make arguments which basically, and rhetorically, if we pray in this why why would be believe otherwise.

This brings me to the problem of your definition of Dora. Though belief is a definition of the word, it is better translated as in doxology. That helps us see the inter-relationship of belief and practice with out thhe need to oppose them to each other or give one priority.


josh Brockway said...

Wow, that post was nearly unintelligble! Thank you auto=correct! Sorry for such a mess.

Dana said...

I don't know about unintelligible, Josh, but Nick's problematic "definition of Dora" is definitely something I'd like to see. ScribbleTheology's new sidekick: Boots.

Seems to me that the underlying problem, whether we're talking about praxis or doxa, is that we're completely at a loss to figure out how it is defined/has become "ortho."

This is always our question, isn't it? What makes us Brethren (or, sometimes, Christian), anyway? What I'd like my response to be to that question is NOT a list of acceptable and controlled beliefs OR practices, but a common commitment or covenant to being together in the ways of Jesus. I'd probably point to passages like Romans 12, Acts 2, 1 Corinthians 12, etc., none of which have much to do with doctrine or ritual (though those things are essential and formational) but with the ways we interact with one another.

And then, if that's where we start, nobody gets to kick anybody out, or suggest that anybody ought to just take their toys and go home if they don't like it...because the boundaries and the toys cease to be the issue.

I find David Stiles' suggestion unfair, too, but not because more of us believe one thing than another therefore putting us in the majority and them in the minority, but because Brother David and I are BOTH members of the little bit of the Body of Christ that happens, in this moment, to be called the Church of the Brethren (Inc.). I don't get to send him packing, and he doesn't get to tell me to go home.

Just rambling input from an unoccupied mind, y'all. Thanks for the convo.

Scott Holland said...

Thanks, Nick, for your post on orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

Thinking of Stiles, CAM, and others promoting a new style of Brethren fundamentalism, I have returned to the important little book by Amos Oz, "How to Cure a Fanatic."

I think our young theologians are far too generous with the new fanatics given the dangers of fanaticism to both church and society. The role of the theological critic in a democratic society is to cure the fanatic not compromise with him by implying we happily share life together in the same cultural-linguistic club.

Scott Holland said...

It goes without saying, Nick, that on your suggestion that orthopraxis precedes orthodoxy I agree.

On this matter of Brethren Orthodoxy, I would point to my banquet address at the most recent Believers Church Conference in Winnipeg. I was invited to address a Brethren theology in light of 300 years of the Brethren movement(s). It is in BL&T as well as in the Conrad Grebel Review.

I present non-creedalism and therefore unorthodoxy as a central Brethren theological mood and method.

The Anabaptist scholars from many different communions from Mennonite, MB, BIC to Baptist strongly affirmed the address. However, interestingly, some well placed CoB thinkers (Bowman, etc.) really disliked it.

Several have concluded from this that if there is such fierce disagreement even among educated, progressive Brethren on basic Brethren themes or principles there is no longer anything in the movement to answer the blessed rage for order and unity and thus the center no longer holds and all things fall apart. The Brethren dream has finally been dreamt out in the 21st century.

Dana said...

Good grief, Brother Scott, I think I disagree with you just about word for word in your first comment.

You say, "The role of the theological critic in a democratic society is to cure the fanatic not compromise with him by implying we happily share life together in the same cultural-linguistic club."

I don't necessarily consider myself a "theological critic," I don't believe the Church is or ought to be synonymous with a "democratic society," I certainly didn't mean to imply that I'm "happily" sharing membership in a particular "club" - lovingly and respectfully joining together in the rather large life of the global Christian Church and this particular Brethren bit of the Body of Christ, perhaps.

But, mostly: what a horrid posture to take toward one's sisters and brothers! I don't think my job is to cure anyone of their fanaticism. In fact, just yesterday I tried to tell my (biological!) sister exactly how wrong she was about something, and I can tell you that it didn't go over well AT ALL. I'm not disagreeing out of speculation, but out of the experience of repeatedly attempting to put myself in that posture. It's no fun.

Of course there's a place for disagreement, for calling each other out on BS and bad theology - but all that's only done in relationships of mutual accountability and respect. Rowan Williams, in an article in the Guardian this summer, put it this way:

"And while I think it's necessary to go on rather wearily putting down markers saying, 'No, that's not what Christian theology says' and, 'No, that argument doesn't make sense', that's the background noise. What changes people is the extraordinary sense that things come together."

All that said, I do think that Nico's valuing practice above doctrine can be pretty helpful for us, especially right now. I tuned into a little of the webcast of the Progressive Brethren Gathering this weekend, and during the presentation of "action plans" and possible ways forward, the discussion on the webcast turned a bit from the direction of the presentations. Someone there suggested that we might attempt to do more things together with the people who disagree with us about doctrine: Disaster Response trips, service projects, workcamps, etc. Why not start with DOING things together instead of arguing about what we believe?

Seems to make sense to me.

Scott Holland said...

Well, Dana, when a denomination has made space for fanatics who seek to deny full human, civil and ecclesial rights to women and LGBTQ persons, I cast my lot for justice via the rule of law in a democratic society. When threats of punishment, indeed even credible death threats, are made against our friends, colleagues and students in the name of God, we don't call for a Brethren prayer meeting. We call the police when such sectarian and tribal tensions threaten human security and civil rights. The church is not a Kingdom unto itself. The reign of God in the world must not be mistaken for the unity of the church as your writing seems to imply. In fact, the reign of God is not the church but rather the places in this blessed broken world where God's presence is manifested and peace and justice embrace and kiss. After Grand Rapids, the three men many Brethren admire most, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, all caught the last train for the coast looking for Sophia, for they knew the music died.

Anonymous said...

Scott and all,
Many of us have been around this topic for some time. And I know we have all read your thoughts related to this in a number of forums, and I appreciate your consistency. What I also appreciate is Nico's expanding of this topic by asking about orthodoxy and orthropraxis. As I noted earlier, the idea that belief can be unhinged from practice is a late comer on the theological scene. Rarely, in the long history of the christianity, has then been an understanding that what one does, need not follow from, or even create beliefs.

Now related to your comments about Church. I think your standard line that young people are "leaving church" is 1) an overgeneralization and 2) dismissive of those young people who venture out into new life giving forms of being the community of Christ. To be equally frank, I find the same problems in "conservative" communities as I do in so called progressive congregations. They both emerge from the same paradigm that I am just done with trying to sustain.


Anonymous said...

I want to offer then an alternative narrative of "middle church", those that you say choose staying united over justice. I think that is just flat untrue. I happen to think Middle Church has told fundamentalist liberals and fundamentalist conservatives that their arguments about sexuality are inadequate and even fallacious. I have written else where, and circulated in limited circles, that the Liberal position about sexuality as equating to personal identity is a real problem. At the same time, Conservatives have so idolized their interpretations that they cannot see where their hermeneutics end and where the scriptures begin. In the language of these arguments, the dichotomy between "Open and Affirming" and "Sexual Purity" is a false one.

A friend of mine recently circulated a video interview where he says he doesn't believe in being Open and Affirming. The blow back was insane, but his critique is right on. First, it creates a false vision where in congregations can pat themselves on the back in the name of justice and yet do very little. Also, it continues the market place mentality which says that self-identity is something to be marketed to. In addition, the concept of Open is just not true. If someone more conservative or more questioning in relation to LGBTQ concerns enters the community they soon will be forced out or silenced. How is that open or just?

I also do not buy into the Caputo school of a metaphysic-less Christianity. I do not ever understand how he calls himself Christian and yet clearly works to reject any concept of transcendence, even in God. I do appreciate his deconstruction of the Church (as in the structures and bureaucracies) with the Kingdom of God.Yet, he simply creates a nice humanism that stands just above the immanent to be normative and yet just below the transcendent so not to be a metaphysic. I tend to follow his friend Westphal in regard to this. (I am also more in line with the Radical Orthodox crew, apart from some of their Thomism). And I go a bit further and ask "Why be Christian at all?" The related question for this particular question is "Why be Brethren at all?" Why continue to fight for a religious-like humanism in a tradition that is clearly Pneumatologically rich and is concerned with Belief and with Practice?

For as cranky as Augustine was related to heresies, I am struck by his response to the so-called 'Semi-Pelagians.' When he received word of the monks in Gaul and their teaching by some over zealous lay persons he wrote back simply saying 'They are brothers along the jounery. For as much as they appear not to agree with me, they are similar enough to notice a shared journey of faith." For me, there are those on the left and right that have jumped the shark, yet there are many that clearly have enough similarity to be called sisters and brothers. There is always room for those who are intentional about a journey of faith and practice, but when whole either side begins excommunicating others in the name of a ideological position then I have no need to companion with them. Maybe Middle Church is actually more Open that either end pretends to be.


Scott Holland said...

Thanks, Josh, for your response and for continuing this exchange on orthodoxy and orthopraxis.

Nick's position is of course closer to American religious pragmatism than it is to classical Christian dogmatics. Thus, those working out of this paradigm -- Stout, West, Glaude, the late Rorty, etc. -- would defend him using arguments different from the language games of historic Christian apologetics. Dana's call, listening in on the Progressive Summit, to "work together" in Disaster Programs beyond belief would warm the hearts of this circle of Pragmatists. However, they would then ask, indeed they have asked, if it is therefore necessary or even possible to pray together if those swinging hammers hold incommensurate views of the divine.

I will respond to your questions, Josh, but I have a long day ahead at the God Factory, beginning with an 8:00 AM thesis meeting with Jeff Meyers who is writing on A.J. Muste. Jeff is a student on the ESR side of the partnership.

A quick question about Middle Church. Are you working here with Bob Edgar's model of the Middle Church? If so, let me say that I was a member of NCC Faith and Order when Bob headed the NCC. We recruited many young theologians to that commission because the theologians present from Middle Church were quite antique. Almost every young theologian recruited soon resigned because they found Middle Church, as well as its classical Faith & Order doctrinal theologizing, obsolete for the Coming Church and its more interesting spiritual promiscuity.

After drinking with a circle of these younger departing theologians at a bar in Oberlin, I too left Faith and Order and gave more of my time to the WCC-DOV side of my ecumenical engagements because the quest for Just Peace seemed more urgent, interesting and pragmatic.

josh Brockway said...

Quickly Scott.

I am not speaking of Middle Church from any pespective than from the Special Response Forms Report at Annual Conference. I am not trying to imply a particular form other than to say those in the Middle are reacting to inadaquate ideologies of the left. Read David Fitch's refreshing work with Zizek on ideaology. Similar work needs to leveraged in the pragmatic and progressive circles.

I will also speak bluntly thatg few pew sitters give a rip about the rarified and false unity discussions at the NCC and institutional levels. If persons look to these places for faith formation there is no expectation other than to be disappointed. There is a particularity to faith in a Christian mode...simply based on the Incarnation itself. What pragmatism ignores, or consciously sets aside is this uniqueness of belief.

Scott Holland said...

Thanks Josh, for the clarification on Middle Church. Bob Edgar does have a book by that title and I thought perhaps you were referencing that work and its agendas, which some of us found neither hot nor cold but lukewarm in its vision of the church. I still prefer "The Coming Church" over anything merely "middle."

More later. It was a long day at the God Factory. I'm just in from a very nice farewell gathering for Elizabeth Keller at Gallo's in Richmond. Our Nico was also present. We will greatly miss Keller. Not only has she been an excellent director of recruitment for the seminary but also a creative and constructive theological conversation partner for many of us.

Tell me more about the Zizek work you reference. We are reading him in my Postmodernism class.

Anonymous said...


The first book I reference is David Fitch's "End of Evangelicalism?" He uses Zizek's Master Signifier to deconstruct Evangelical ideologies around scripture, conversion, and the Christian Nation.

The book of Zizek's that I followed up with is Interrogating the Real.


Scott Holland said...

I'll check this out, Josh. I likely won't respond to your earlier questions until "after San Francisco." I'm on the run to the AAR.

One thing I will address is the problem of "the normativity of history," whether it is using the norms of historic Christianity (Brockway & Gumm) or the norms of Brethren history (Bowman) to cage constructive contemporary theology.

We worked on this last month at Louvain and it was not theological radicals like Caputo, but scores of Vatican II inspired theologians from around the world who affirmed how problematic it can be to lock theology into the historically orthodox, whether old style or Neo-Orthodox.

Nico said...

Ohhhh my goodness what have I started.

Thank you all, for carrying on this conversation despite any activity from me (apparently the author IS dead), and thanks to Scott for proxying for me :)

I'm going to respond piecemeal to a few things that stood out at me throughout the conversation, though I imagine Google is going to limit my comment size...

Nico said...

Josh, you challenge my definition of Doxa, saying it should be rendered as "praise" rather than "belief." It's an interesting and valid point, but I question its usefulness in this context. "Right praise" might be a theoretical translation of orthodoxy based on the roots, but it's not what the word means in the strict, dictionary sense. If David were to jump in and say that's what he meant, it would be a different matter.

A couple of times you bring up the novelty of the praxis-doxa distinction: "I think the separation of praxis from Doxa is a post Kantian development. Few points in the history of Christianity has such a distinction (or even the priority of belief) existed. Hence Augustine, Irenaeus and Prosper all make arguments which basically, and rhetorically, if we pray in this way why would we believe otherwise" (sorry that my de-auto-correcting is incomplete) and "The idea that belief can be unhinged from practice is a late comer on the theological scene. Rarely, in the long history of Christianity, has there been an understanding of what one does, need not follow from, or even create beliefs."

I'm not sure where you're going with that--it seems like the beginning of a "this therefore that," but I'm not seeing the "that." Yes, such a distinction may be recent, but so what? I see no reason to presume that what people in the long history of Christianity thought should be any more useful than what people have said in the last seventy years, or what I say now--any more than I assume that what I say now will prove more useful to people a thousand years from than what they're saying at that point. Are you making an appeal to the authority of our history, or are you getting at something else?

Nico said...

I also want to jump in on Scott and Dana's discussion on curing fanatics--Scott says that's the job of the theological critic, whereas Dana objects that such a comment is presumptive and breeds exclusion. (And Josh's later comments about the openness of the Middle Church come in to play here.)

I'm going to side with Scott, while holding sympathy for Dana's position. Should we strive to be grounded and humble with regard to presuming we know what is "correct" theology (or belief or practice or what have you)? Yes. Can telling someone else that what they're saying or doing is wrong be horribly unhelpful? Yes.

But I've come to believe that there is no such thing as full openness--a pure "live and let live." We will ALWAYS be rejecting something, so we should be clear about what it is we're going to reject. Understanding that, to say "we exclude no one but those who would exclude" is not hypocrisy, but mere pragmatism. As the old saying goes, "your right to punch the air ends at my face."

I would welcome in to any communion a diverse group of people punching the air. I will happily sing and pray with those who fall in to Carl's "gay opposer" camp (and I do). But when the punching air becomes punching faces--such as in the denying of marriage or license to minister--that crosses in to the unacceptable, and it has to be challenged.

The recent development regarding exhibit hall booths is a good example: BRF and BMC should be allowed to have booths and punch the air all they want. When one starts trying to deny the other that space, that's punching faces.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for pressing for clarity from my comments. Both the Doxa as praise and the "appeal to history" are connected to the same thesis/

Let me say it clearly and probably bluntly: The idea that practice (the things we do) and beliefs are not integrated, or mutually informing is a fallacy. No one before Kant thought that and few in the wake of Post-Structural and Cultural Anthropology and Behavioral Psychology hold onto it today- except of course those who want to prioritize belief, trying to hold onto a vision of pure reason.

So in response to your comment about those of the last 70 years holding to a distinction between actions and beliefs, I simply am saying that ship of modernity has sailed. Even Scott, for all his visions of pragmatism and an ideological approach to Justice has acknowledged a role for practical theorists such as Turner and Bourdieu.

The "this, therefore that" part of my comment is simply that our actions shape our beliefs just as much as beliefs give influence action. This is not an appeal to history, but rather a very current conversation- Jamie Smith, most recently, MacIntyre, Merold Westphal, and Pierre Hadot. To then say that Doxa is Praise is to subvert David's idealizing of Doxa as belief. Who cares what the modern dictionary says it means, language is fluid. I find it interesting you want to set aside a history of ideas and beliefs, but would champion a rigid dictionary definition.


Dana said...

Thanks for keeping the conversation going and my inbox filled, Nic (dude, do you refer to yourself with a "k" or not?)

I definitely agree with you that there are attitudes and actions (beliefs and practices) that need to be challenged - there are plenty of them. I just don't think the way to challenge them is by talking condescendingly about or at someone who thinks or acts that way - though certainly I've been guilty of that very thing countless times.

My issue is much more about how we treat the Church, and, by extension, our sisters and brothers that make it up. The Church, at least in my own ecclesiological estimation, is not just another human political institution, meant to be won with a majority vote or pandering to a base. It isn't something that we can or ought to control. Josh hit the nail on the head when he insisted on paying attention to our Brethren pneumatology. The Church is the Body of Christ enlivened and guided by the Holy Spirit. That's pretty unique, I think, and calls for another way of behaving toward one another.

When I disagree with you, I don't get to kick you out or use force to prove you wrong. A majority demographic doesn't automatically wield power. And (here comes the heresy), even when I act unjustly, I am STILL part of God's church. If there's room in the church for felons and addicts and liars and sinners, there's room for someone who votes against a booth at a conference. The ways we go about talking and arguing and discerning those things are important...but we do them together. Not because I want us to smile and make nice and sing kum ba yah, but because God's already created this thing we call church, and we just get to join in.

Nico said...

Josh - I resonate with the idea of using an alternate definition to subvert what David is saying, though I think the claim to a "basic orthodoxy of the church" is egregious enough on its own. I also agree that doxa feeds praxis just as praxis feeds doxa--my main objection was that doxa must necessarily and completely precede praxis. Practices will both create (in the future) and imply (from the past) beliefs, and beliefs will both justify and inspire practices. So I think we're on a similar page in that regard... I still want to emphasize the importance of emphasizing praxis as a corrective to the doxa bias you've mentioned.

The prefix "ortho" throws a wrench in the works, though (and here perhaps I'm reiterating something Dana was saying like a zillion comments ago), because while I'll agree that we cannot have doxa without praxis or vice-versa, I think we *can* have explicit orthopraxis without an accompanying explicit orthodoxy. Take, for example, criminal law: Nobody cares what you think. There is no "right belief." Actions are what matter.

My understanding of the Church of the Brethren is that we have little in the way of orthodoxy, but prefer to emphasize orthopraxy. That's the hair-splitting objection to David's remarks. The more significant objection is that this orthopraxy is merely whatever we're saying in the present. Living in to our own promise as Brethren (whatever THAT is) could well mean betraying what we have understood being Brethren to mean (Rollins, anyone???). I think ours is a "tradition" that can actually embrace such thought.

Nico said...

As for the spelling of my name--that's the mystery, isn't it?

I maintain that since it is not my "proper" name, there is no "proper" spelling. If you're still curious, look to my personal blog.

Scott Holland said...

Good conversation! Yes, Nick began this discussion by offering a critique of David's particular and disturbing claims about Brethren orthodoxy and thus it seems important to attend to that discourse rather than to a more general word study of the concept in the long history of Christendom, which gives Stiles and the BRF an undeserved pass.

Also, Nick is working and thinking out of a lower church ecclesiology than some of his conversation partners on this blog and this makes a 'difference' in the language games and God-talk.

I heard Judith Butler hold forth in a brilliant way last night. She holds together speech-acts and performance (beliefs and behaviors) guided by justice which is not a mere theory but a practice with the face of the excluded other in view. Yet this would lead her to a different explicit politics of sex and gender than the paths taken by Smith in Grand Rapids or Brockway in Elgin because of their personal and professional subject positions. So the question still remains: even if we hold together some orthodoxy and orthopraxis, which beliefs and behaviors? Which speech acts and public performances?

From San Francisco

Brian R. Gumm said...

I had some EMU undergrads interview me for a project today, and their topic was the feminine divine. I basically tried to affirm the relative goods that the academia of the oppressed - feminist/womanist studies, queer theory, liberation theology, etc - has to offer to the longer, deeper, richer Christian tradition, while also maintaining that the tradition isn't necessarily the boogeyman that we all need to run away from as fast as we possibly can.

That I'm now being characterized as a "new traditionalist" by Scott brings a bewildered smile to my face. I certainly don't think of myself as a stodgy, stale traditionalist for tradition's sake. There are some edges to my theological and philosophical work that I think are for lack of a better term.

It's hard to have the kinds of conversations I have with neo-Anabaptists in Brethren circles because the liberal and conservative shit-fighting in the CoB seems so incredibly ideologically hidebound to liberalism that it's impossible to get a word in edgewise.

But I'll keep trying and run the risk of being called a traditionalist at age 32. :)

josh Brockway said...

So one simple questio : how is David's excommunication any different from progressives who have stated similar things about more ideologically conservative Brethren?

Nico said...

Josh--two opposite answers for you depending on how strictly I interpret your question.

It's the same thing in terms of the wrongness of excommunication--I'm with Dana on the not getting to kick each other out thing. That applies to progressives and conservatives.

If you want to get a little more nuanced, though, it's different. If we ignore the "can we excommunicate each other" (no) part and focus on the "why are we trying to," there is a definite difference between disallowing a private activity and disallowing oppression.

It's not unlike the difference between a Black Student Union and a White Student union--exclusion has to be viewed in light of one's position of privilege or marginalization.

Joshua Brockway said...

Just quickly, I'm not convinced that sexuality is necessarily a Private Act. In so many ways it is public. Again, I'm not sure that the Enlightenment has really helped us hear. We are blinded by an arbitrary line between public and private.

I also think the discussion of sexuality further problematizes your distinction between doxa and praxis. Any approach to sexuality includes actions and beliefs.....beliefs about the human person, the constitution of subjectivity, the place of virtue in the life of faith as well as practices related to sex, covenant, ecclesiology. I think you are right that the problem isn't really doxa or praxis, but rather the Ortho prefix.

Though I've been construed to be historicist and pigeonholed to be a champion of orthodoxy, I'm not one to narrowly define the term. If fact, when I teach history I often try to identify the Christian tradition as one of heterodoxy...that is of many beliefs/praises. Yet, I think there are limits.. So when I teach Rollins' stuff on belief I don't talk of belief is centered-set terms, but more in terms of a bounded-set. There are many beliefs that exist with a large fence, but there are still those which are to be noted as out of bounds.

Scott Holland said...

On the 'public' nature of sex, Judith Butler here in San Francisco made an important point, I think.

She reported that many were distressed that some in the Occupy Movement were having sex in the tents. Their critics wanted the Movement to be more politically upright and correct.

Yet Butler insisted that THIS IS WHAT BODIES DO so why pretend otherwise?

In this sense, sex and sexual orientation, like gender, are not simply private even if they are deeply personal and part of individual identity.

The question is who REGULATES sex and by what criteria? Would you rather get a sex pass with the proper rules inscribed upon it from Nick Miller Kauffman or from the Boyz of BRF? Ah, perhaps the Enlightenment model isn't so bad after all?

Also, I'm confused, when did David Stiles get excommunicated?

From San Francisco, where, because Brethren couldn't enter the cultural climate, most have become extinct -- Scott

josh Brockway said...


Couple of things...I like the Butler comment.And you are right to say that the question is more about who or what regulates the sexual practice.

However, I think the dichotomy you pose is a false one. I'm not convinced by either options you present.

Also, I did say David has been excommunicated. And for that matter neither has the left.....though you'd think this was second only to the SBC takeover. Rather I was saying that many have wished the BRF would go quietly away....just as David made plain regarding the left. Both end of the church have made plain that they are the protectors of the tradition and wish the others God speed on their journey out the door..

Scott Holland said...

Which dichotomy? The Nick versus the Boyz of BRF dualism on who might regulate our sex? In this case, my old teacher John Howard Yoder would say we must insist upon 'a duality without ontological dualism.' We don't want to deny the humanity of either the Boyz or Nico, but we must insist upon the presence of a political dualism or we embrace a false unity and a fake peace in the name of brotherhood, sisterhood and church.

And while we are on this, let's face it, the Club of David Stiles and the Club of the Progressive Brethren have such different politics, deities, principles and practices that their gods will always be fighting bloody wars if they seek to be part of the same Meta-Club.

Wouldn't it be better for the peace of the city and for civil religion if members of each Club might greet one another in a spirit of civility and humanity at the Green Grocers? I imagine this greeting: "Good morning. Lovely day. How are your children? The cabbages are especially nice today." Then each would peacefully turn and return to his or her Club with its particular rules of engagement and god-talk. This would reduce the need for opposing gods to fight so fiercely.