I should know this from my catechism and from Scripture, but I still find myself amazed by it. What I mean is this: the behavior of theological liberals such as the Episcopal Church never quite goes where you think it will. Here is an organization completely dominated by all the typical tropes of liberal Protestantism. From the hand-wringing about the Perils of Christianist Theocracy to pro-abort claptrap to the enthusiasm for gay marriage to theologians who routinely deny, not just the deity of Christ, but some of the most basic tenets of monotheism, the Episcopal Church has made itself a sort of living parody of goddess-worshipping trendiness. It takes the lead in every attempt by religious liberalism to create a kingdom of the Imperial Autonomous Self and call it the will of God (or the Goddess, or Whoever).
But then, just when you figure they will zig, they zag. Result: you open the paper one fine morning to find the Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. has decided to have a fawning fete for Mohammed Khatami, the former president of Iran, at the National Cathedral. Understand, we're not talking "respectful dialogue". That I can buy. The Christian world has to talk to the Muslim world sooner or later or we will be sharing a burnt cinder for a planet. But this was not a conversation (in no small part because the Episcopal Church has nothing to say). This was a groveling, lickspittle, giggling schoolgirl, spaniel-like, isn't-he-just-a-dreamboat? celebration of a man who has headed one of the most brutal Islamic regimes on the planet. And he was wined, cheesed and doted on by damp-handed, balding men and wealthy women in power suits who support NARAL, react to the words "Religious Right" like salted slugs, and pray for the day when Hillary Clinton can lead our nation back to a land flowing with condoms and NOW membership fund drives.
What can account for this bizarre and fashionable tendency of religious liberals to bow, scrape and crawl before a Foaming Bronze Age Islamic Thug? After all, we're talking about an organization that routinely produces battalions of fainting Victorian Lady Novelists who dissolve in tears and declare they cannot breathe in the presence of those who suggest gay marriage is not exactly what the Good Lord had in mind. We're talking about people who don't see what the problem is if, by "God", you mean "Mother Ocean" or "My Personal Truth of the Moment". How is it that these people, who act as though fellow Episcopalians--those who reject homosexual practice and abortion and who say "Jesus is Lord"--are something that just crawled out of the sewer, will suddenly fall all over themselves to hang on the words of a man who enthusiastically endorses hanging homosexuals and imposing the chador on every woman in the world? How is it that people who hyperventilate about Dr. James Dobson's imminent imposition of theocracy on the United States swoon with admiration of a man who actually ruled a theocracy on the cutting edge of 9th Century thought?
Looked at this from the perspective of politics, money, culture, feminism and all the other earthly angles, I can make no sense of it. But looked at from the perspective of revelation, I begin to wonder again if the old saint didn't know what he was talking about when he said, "For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens" (Ephesians 6:12). Viewed from that perspective, the common cause is startlingly clear: so long as you are an enemy of Christ, we can deal.
Interestingly, the gospels take note that this phenomenon attended the First Coming of Christ. Repeatedly, throughout his ministry, Christ created friendships between the unlikeliest of people. He was, after all, in the business of reconciling people, not simply with the Father, but with each other. And so, there was never a more eccentric band of unlikely friends than the apostles. Not a few contemporaries must have wondered, "Matthew the Tax Collector is buddies with Simon the Zealot? What's up with that?" This reconciling power of the gospel also plays out in other curious ways. Under the Old Covenant, Saul was the mortal foe of the house of David. Under the new, Saul (also called Paul) is tamed and becomes the servant of the Son of David. Even today, after Germany nearly annihilated the Polish people, Christ creates the beautiful friendships between a German bishop named Ratzinger and a Polish bishop named Woytila.
But in addition, the biblical account shows another side to this power of the gospel to reconcile: enemies of Jesus are joined in a sort of hellish parody of friendship in their mutual enmity to him. The Devil is the Ape of God. And so we see scenes like this repeatedly as mortal foes drop all their quarrels in their lust to kill him:
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come here." And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (Mark 3:1-6)
And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in gorgeous apparel, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. (Luke 23:11-12)
Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, "Behold your King!" They cried out, "Away with him, away with him, crucify him!" Pilate said to them, "Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, "We have no king but Caesar." (John 19:14-15)
In every case, you find people making alliances that are utterly inexplicable via normal human "follow the money" analyses. But when you look at it from the perspective of Paul, things fall into place. It would appear that the real war taking place is not a culture war, but a spiritual war. I have a notion that as history progresses toward the Parousia, we shall see more such strange bedfellows. I am inclined to think that what took place during the First Coming will take place again as we approach the Second. Weird and unexpected alliances that make no sense except that irreconcilable parties put aside their differences in order to attack Christ and his Church. It should be interesting! Perhaps one of the consolations of the martyrs will be to laugh at how their persecutors make self-contradictory fools of themselves. We shall see.
Copyright 2006 - Mark P. Shea