If too many Salon articles and SPLC reports have got you doubting that liberalism is the dominant cultural force in America, listen to an Episcopalian sermon. The standard criticism of the historical WASP elite typically involves the charge of being indifferent to common people, preferring rules to justice, and being reluctant to examine their society too closely lest doing so imperil their social privilege. In the past, this was deployed on behalf of institutions like Jim Crow. Today, with the left occupying most positions of cultural power, this patrician diffidence now works to the benefit of left-wing causes and state power.
I was in Williamsburg several weeks ago for homecoming, and went to services at Bruton Parish (est. 1674). It was confirmation Sunday and Suffragan Bishop of Virginia David Colin Jones was preaching. They’ve finally put his sermon online; it begins with a weird dig at the Synod of Bishops (italics mine):
This week, the Roman Catholic Church released a paper by a synod of bishops. The headline in the Washington Post read “Vatican softens tone on same –sex and divorced couples.” While this news was welcomed by many calling it “extraordinary,” one spokesperson for a Catholic organization condemned it as “emphasizing grace over truth,” adding that he truth is objective.
Such was the mindset of the Pharisees in Matthew’s gospel. The truth, as the Pharisees saw it, is the truth, period. And this man, called Jesus, profoundly offended their sense of truth. He had upset he temple authorities by his teaching. He had been attracting to much attention. He had stirred up enough trouble. Too many people were listening to him – and following him.
They were seeking ways to trip him up with his own words. And this time they had him cold. It was the perfect set up. There was no way he could escape their questioning. So the group of Pharisees approached Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” We know the setting. Regardless of the response, someone would be offended. The question was similar to those asked of people in public life today – questions that would lead to headlines, controversy, hearings, and investigations. …
Jesus then establishes two clear lines of authority. First, the state, with God’s blessing and permission, has lawful right to claim a portion of the resources of each of its citizens or residents. The state, in turn, has a responsibility for the welfare of the people.
Second, God who is ultimately the owner of all that is, has an even higher claim on our resources. The authority we have over our possessions is delegated to us by God that we might be stewards, caretakers, and trustees of the riches of creation. When we look at he attitude we have toward paying taxes, we se in our culture a strong personal philosophy that cries out “What’s mine is mine! I remember that one of the first words that my son learned to say was MINE. It came right after he learned to say NO! He was not born with a clear theology of stewardship. He like most of us, needed to learn to share.
A theology of Christian stewardship is then in direct contradiction to a philosophy of “What is mine is mine.” It is that attitude of holding tightly to one’s possessions that we need to address. From the perspective of Jesus, one’s possessions are only temporary belongings; they are ultimately God’s
My perspective (and this is a perspective on Christian Stewardship) has ben shaped in part by my travel outside the United States. On numerous occasions, I have seen a dirth [sic] of what we often take for granted. I’m sure that many of you have also traveled to places where there is not enough food or water, where there is no quality education, poor health care, and little electricity or fuel. As I have ridden for miles upon miles of dirt roads, I have developed a new appreciation for what the state can actually provide.
Looking back to the United States, where my citizenship offers me extraordinary resources, I could never again complain about paying my share.
… If you conclude that your resources are really yours and only yours, don’t even consider tithing. It will make you too angry … and will not help your spiritual life. But if your reflection leads you to a sense of appreciation, to an experience of gratitude, then you are ready to pray about how much you will want to give. “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
So pay your taxes, rubes, because Caesar told you to. And appreciate your violent, confiscatory, licentious government, because they don’t have flush toilets in the third world, and probably not gay marriage either.
Look, generosity is a wonderful thing, but there are more deserving recipients than the Department of Homeland Security. The bishop does a troublingly poor job of making that distinction, in a way that almost seems reminiscent of the days when Episcopalians actually did run things. Perhaps there’s a reason; some have reacted strongly when I say the ECUSA is the clerical adjunct of the Democratic Party, but I really don’t know how this can be read in any other way.
Anyway, Solzhenitsyn said a few words on those words of Christ in his fusillade against Andrei Sakharov:
It would be more correct to say that in relation to the true ends of human beings here on earth (and these cannot be equated with the aims of the animal world, which amount to no more than unhindered existence) the state structure is of secondary significance. That this is so, Christ himself teaches us. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” — not because every Caesar deserves it, but because Caesar’s concern is not with the most important thing in our lives. …
The state system which exists in our country is terrible not because it is undemocratic, authoritarian, based on physical constrain — a man can live in such conditions without harming his spiritual essence.
Our present system is unique in world history, because over and above its physical and economic constraints, it demands of us total surrender of our souls, continuous and active participation in the general, conscious lie. To this putrefaction of the soul, this spiritual enslavement, human being who wish to be human cannot consent. When Caesar, having exacted what is Caesar’s, demands still more insistently that we render unto him what is God’s — that is a sacrifice we dare not make!
The most important part of our freedom, inner freedom, is always subject to our will. If we surrender it to corruption, we do not deserve to be called human.
But let us note that if the absolutely essential task is not political liberation, but the liberation of our souls from participation in the lie forced on us, then it requires no physical, revolutionary, social, organizational measures, no meetings, strikes, trade unions — things fearful for us even to contemplate and from which we quite naturally allow circumstances to dissuade us.
No! It requires from each individual a moral step within his power — no more than that. And no one who voluntarily runs with the hounds of falsehood, or props it up, will ever be able to justify himself to the living, or to posterity, or to his friends, or to his children.
We have no one to blame but ourselves, and therefore all our anonymous philippics and programs and explanations are not worth a farthing. If mud and dung cling to any of us it is of his own free will, and no man’s mud is made any the less black by the mud of his neighbors.
No doubt the good bishop thinks our own time is much different, and that his perspective has nothing to do with the old Episcopalian class having abdicated, then abolished itself.