St. Hegesippus, a Jewish convert to Christianity in the late second century of the Common Era, was the first to use the term “orthodox” to define those who were within the apostolic tradition of Christianity. He was a vigorous opponent of the Gnostic heresies and wrote a history of Palestinian Christianity after the pogroms of the despots Vespasian and Domitian. Those who believed that Jesus was an actual human, who suffered, died, was buried and rose on the third day, were the “orthodox,” as contrasted with those who had adopted Gnosticism’s grim, anti-humanist hyper-spiritual version of Jesus. As the Christian church grew and encountered many more challenges to the apostolic faith, “orthodoxy” came to mean those who affirmed the ecumenical Creeds, like the Apostolic and Nicene statements of faith, which are still recited in Christian churches today.
But that was a long time ago. Today, calling yourself “orthodox” may mean lots of things, but few of them have anything to do with Hegesippus’ definition. For example, Sanctuary, “a Company of orthodox Episcopalians in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina” has no reference at all on its website to belief or acceptance of the Creeds. Its entire purpose, it seems, is “to resist all forms of revisionism [sic] within ECUSA, specifically but not limited to the actions of General Convention 74 whereby a false gospel of acceptance of sinful actions was officially, legally, formally, nationally, and publicly proclaimed.” In other words, they don’t like gay people. And they don’t like people who love gay people. And they think the Episcopal Church is not orthodox because we have said that we love gay people, just like God does.
But Episcopalians are not the only ones dumbing orthodoxy down. In today’s Washington Post, a group of 55 House Democrats issued a joint statement on the role that their Roman Catholic faith plays in their public lives. They are tired of being defined by their positions on abortion (which vary greatly), and instead want to be defined by their belief in Jesus as Lord. Sounds orthodox, right?
Not according to the right-wing Family Research Council’s resident Catholic, Tom McClusky. “What is at the core of being Catholic is the life issue, and that’s something the pope has never strayed from. While other issues are important — such as helping the poor, the death penalty, views on war — these are things that aren’t tenets of the Catholic Church.”
Well that might comes as news to millions of Catholics (and other Christians) who believe that those things are tenets of the faith that Jesus proclaimed. It would come as a surprise to Jesus as well, who spent a great deal of his ministry proclaiming that the poor are very important to God, and that the way we treat them defines whether or not someone is his follower.
Of course, the Family Research Council has no reference to the creeds in its site, because it is a political religion, with a different definition of orthodoxy: opposition to abortion and gay marriage, the elevation of the United States of America to “holy nation” status, and “a civil society composed of families, churches, schools, and voluntary associations.” One presumes that the churches they have in mind do not include the Episcopal Church.
It’s far more important to the “orthodoxy” of the FRC that people agree with its political positions (especially on sexuality issues) than in the Trinity. Or the Resurrection. Or the life of the world to come.
You’ll find the representatives of the FRC (which is closely allied with James Dobson’s Focus on the Family), pushing the agenda of the decidedly unorthodox Mormon Church in venues like the World Congress of Families, and the Family Action Council International. These umbrella groups are bound by their opposition to abortion and homosexuality, but cannot in any sense of the term be thought of as “orthodox” in Christian belief. (Of course, Dobson is far more excited about his love letter from Justice Samuel Alito than he is about orthodoxy in the Christian sense.)
Conservative American Christianity is really a radical departure from the faith once delivered to the saints. It has abandoned the historic Christian faith and replaced it with an idolatrous worship of the American Empire.
It’s not orthodox. And it’s time liberals said so.