Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy

ORTHODOXY AND orthopraxy—strange theological words from Sojourners’ past.  But I was recently thinking back to the theology with which Sojourners began—43 years ago—and how it is still so central and fundamental to me today.

I remember the word that we so often used back in our formative days: “and.” As young Christians, we said our fledgling little movement was committed to evangelism and social justice, prayer and peacemaking, spirituality and politics, personal and public transformation, contemplation and activism, real salvation and real social change, orthodoxy and orthopraxy—which means starting with a biblical and Christ-centered personal faith and then living and practicing that faith in the world—in ways that changed both our own lives and public life. “And” was our big word in a church that was so divided and polarized. Another way we expressed it was calling for a “third way” beyond conservative and liberal, evangelical and mainline.

I want to refer back to some of the earliest expressions of our critique of both the conservative and liberal theologies of the time. Please forgive some of the passionate and movement language from the later 1960s and early ’70s (and the generic “male” language), but this was written when I was 23, in 1971! Yet the heart of the editorial commitment expressed so long ago remains true of Sojourners today:

We contend that the new vision that is necessary is to be found in radical Christian faith that is grounded in commitment to Jesus Christ. ... The offense of established religion is the proclamation and practice of a caricature of Christianity so enculturated, domesticated, and lifeless that our generation easily and naturally rejects it as ethically insensitive, hypocritical, and irrelevant to the needs of our times.

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Sins of Omission

WHAT IS THE relationship between one’s religious beliefs and one’s economic and political views? Are some religious beliefs more “American” than others?

These questions come to mind in reading Samuel Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing. Gregg suggests that religion directly informs—or should inform—our understanding of political and economic issues and that religious, economic, and political liberty are inextricably bound. A perceived or real “attack” on one, he contends, is an attack on all.

Gregg is director of research for Acton Institute, a libertarian think tank whose core principles seek the “integrating [of] Judeo-Christian truths with free market principles.”

In Tea Party Catholic Gregg writes of a “new type of Catholic American” who is grounded in a “dynamic sense of orthodoxy” but whose “Americanness” is defined by faith in free market principles. Tea Party Catholic details how free market principles and a view of government “with clear but constrained economic functions” have, Gregg argues, not only deep roots in U.S. political history but also in Catholic tradition. Thereby, he suggests, any U.S. Catholic differing in his or her economic and political beliefs has neither a proper understanding of the United States’ founding nor of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Gregg’s attempt to sacralize libertarianism is not consistent with Catholic doctrine: It runs counter to stated positions of the Vatican and the majority of Catholic theologians and economists. At a recent conference at The Catholic University of America one of Pope Francis’ advisers, Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga, said that in commenting on free market and libertarian influences on our global economy, Pope Francis gave a “sharp prophetic verdict: ‘This economy kills.’”

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Cutting-Edge Orthodoxy

MOST MEDIA ACCOUNTS of Nadia Bolz-Weber focus on her tattoos. She has the liturgical year tattooed on one arm, from creation to Pentecost; another features Lazarus still wrapped, but very much alive. She got that one while struggling to write a sermon on Jesus’ raised friend.

The tattoos on a 6’1” woman with a taste for punk, a bad-girl past, and a gay-inclusive church—House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver—make for easy picking for secular media. You may have caught Bolz-Weber’s book Pastrix on the New York Times bestseller list. Wise, self-aware, hipster Christian celebrities have a market for books, and she’s tapped it.

In contrast to much of the superficial media coverage, what’s most interesting about Bolz-Weber is her deep traditionalism. “Secular media doesn’t understand the difference between orthodox and conservative,” she tells me through a toothy smile, blue-green eyes blazing over thick-rimmed ’50s-era glasses.

“House,” as the community calls itself, is almost medieval in its liturgy. There are no instruments, just a cappella chant and pillows for kneelers at a prayer station. The Eucharist is served weekly. Eastern Orthodox iconography drapes the church’s interior, stoles, website, and literature. Latin hymns fill the communion liturgy on the Sunday evening I attend. Bolz-Weber is proud to be using Franz Schubert’s setting for the Mass.

This is not high church fussiness; it is liturgical and churchly orthodoxy for scruffy hipsters. Bolz-Weber explains that many of her fellow social progressives want to jettison the Bible and Jesus in order to be more inclusive. “But why should we jettison the only things we have going for us?” she asks.

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VIDEO: "Pastrix" Nadia Bolz-Weber

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the pastor of the House of All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colo., and is featured in "Cutting-Edge Orthodoxy" in the April 2014 cover story of Sojourners. Although Nadia uses traditional liturgy and Eastern Orthodox iconography in her services, this 6'1 tattooed preacher is hardly called conventional. In a December 2013 interview with CNN Denver, she talks about her new memoir Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint and about her 180-member downtown church. 

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