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Going Public with My Privates (part 3 of 3)

Written by geoff holsclaw : August 11, 2008

…on becoming post-(whatever I was).

After talking about my brief movement in evangelical fundamentalism rather than evangelical liberalism (part 1), and discussion how they really are not that different (part 2), what needs to be rethought now is that we must abandon the movement from private to public altogether, and this abandonment is what I finally emerged into (all three parts are best read together, otherwise the innuendo will be lost…)

Beyond the Private

We must stop trying to find the right mixture of, or the correct position on the spectrum between Fundamental/Evangelical/Liberal.   We must repudiate the ground, or rather the gene pool, from which both spring.  The common heritage from which Fundamentalism, Liberalism, and Evangelicalism springs are the very dichotomies we have been investigating: private/ public; individual/communal.

The Church never conceives of a movement from private to public, or individual to communal. Rather there is always merely the public and the communal.  We can see this most clearly when we consider the obsession Fundamentalists and Liberals have with the family. Both are totally fixated on the family, and for good reason.  For modern politics, the family is the interface between private and public life.  The family moves between the oikos of the home and the polis of society.  It is the source and symptom of culture.  Fundamentalists desire to protect the family from what they see as the corrupting influences of culture, while Liberals want to infuse the family with all the liberating elements of their progressive culture.  But this battle over the family (over sexual difference, over gender roles, and identity formation) only makes sense if we already assume that these two areas are actually separate, that there is a movement from one to the other, from the private to the public and back again.

But the Church is both oikos (household, family) and polis (city, society), and therefore beyond both.  There is nothing private about the Church.  In a sense, simultaneously as the Bride of Christ and the Body of Christ, being one union (for marriage is only a picture of the union between Christ and His Church), the Church has no privates. Everything is revealed.  Everything is exposed.  What the sexual revolution attempted to accomplish in society, the Church has already accomplished. The Church has already subverted all categories of society, of social structuring, based in or outside the family, which is why the early Church was persecuted so viciously.  The Church, as both Bride and Body of Christ, exists beyond essential sexual distinctions, and therefore beyond distinctions of public and private.

Beyond the Public

What this means, therefore, concerning our initial question is that we cannot rest contented moving beyond Evangelicalism by going public either as Liberals or Fundamentalists.  There is no lasting life, no potent seed, springing from this marriage.  Only prolonged infertility.

Rather, whatever it might mean to be post/progressive-evangelical, it would mean to affirm the centrality of the Church as its own public display of the Gospel, which has never been, nor could be private.

“But will not the perspective that the Church is always public, lead straight to fideism (epistemology) and sectarianism (sociology)?”

Yes, it will! But I would counter that these criticisms only spring from the project of universal reason (epistemology) and the myth of the public square (sociology), both of which created the divisions (private/public; individual/communal) which we are trying to subvert.  These are not really criticisms at all; merely a modern nostalgia unable to cope with the present reality.

By affirming the centrality of the Church as public we dismiss the rhetoric from the Left (the keepers of the public sphere) which police religious language, submitting it to an equally private notion of universal reason (and do not be fooled by recent rhetoric by presidential hopefuls).  We reject the rhetoric from the Right seeking to legislate private morality without reference to the social good.  And we refuse the idea that there is any conception of the Good outside the Gospel (and its living witness in the Church). By this we will insist that the Church, not the State, is God’s means of salvation.  For far too long the State has persisted in the myth that it keeps the public peace by means of private policing.  But this only fosters a more insidious violence, and a perpetual war on terrorism.

We the Church must develop more self-confidence, not assuming ourselves merely one soul among many hoping to be infused into the Frankensteinian body of the state.  We already have a body, a flesh in which we are living.  We are the public Body of Christ, and as such we must continue to proclaim to the world, “This is my body, given for you.”

Geoff Holsclaw is co-pastor at life on the vine in chicago and a ph.d student at Marquette University studying liturgy and politics.


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    What does all of this look like?
    I agree that we must reject the Fund/Evan?Lib spectrum. We're off the charts. Again, this language reminds me of the Libertarian diamond diagram.
    The common heritage described has a simple name: statism. Call it cultural relevance or what-have-you, but the point of contention remains influence over the public sphere, and what methods are permissible for the Christian.
    While the church is to be completely vulerable, as you describe, it is also intensely exclusive. The peculair ethic we adopt is required of Christians only. Altruistic concern for the least of these only makes sense in the context of regeneration. Lifelong marriage covenants only become attractive once we become the bride of Christ. Pacifism is madness apart from the Gospel. Only the believer can adopt this radical lifestyle.
    And so I agree that being the church and living the Christian ethic are the political activities of the church.
    This clears away the vast majority of policy debates. But there remain those issues where systematic oppression has become a part of the law. In these cases concern for the least of these requires Christian action.
    The disciplines of sociology and epistimology have been ethical expolits from the first, primarily funded by those in power to legitimize that power and to determine how to maintain that power.
    The needed self-confidence is indeed in Christ. So often when I argue that the Church must assume full responsibility for the least of these I hear the argument that the church does not have sufficient resources. Nonsense. This is OUR Father's world. He is sovereign, and provides our every need. He wants us to work hard and be productive so that we have something to offer him who is in need. Frankenstein of the state indeed. We must not compromise, nor adulturate ourselves in this way. Statism must be called out for what it is - idolatry.
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    This is really good - and a great point about how sectarianism isn't really a problem after all, if we've given up on the "project of universal reason."

    I read similar thoughts over here awhile ago. It has far-reaching implications I'm eager to explore.

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