Relationships: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Every evening, between 6:30 and 6:45, I call my mother. As I hear her slipping away from me, it is usually my most difficult call of the day. My mother is one of those who “fakes good”. That is, she seems alright in the first few moments of the call only to say, “Duane, you probably shouldn’t ring me so early in the morning”. After I explain that it is actually 6:30 in the evening, she seems unsurprised as she asks me how my day was. Every evening we have the same conversation. She can’t remember who else might have called her during the day without bringing up the names of her sisters or her niece. She can’t remember her meals or what she might have eaten that day, unless they served one of her favorite deserts. At the age of 93, resident in an assisted living facility, her activities and socialization are limited owing to the pandemic. At the end of the call, just before I tell her that I love her, she reminds me not to call her so early in the morning…
Of course, I will call her again this evening. The “facts” of her day will be either forgotten or misremembered. That really does not matter. She is my mother, and the relationship is important, for both of us.
Every week for the past several years I have had a set time to call my friend, Michael Newnham. The calls began as tutorial sessions as Michael made his way into the Anglican communion. Over the course of years, however, our weekly sessions have evolved into wide ranging conversations. We talk about our families and loved ones. We discuss theological topics and books that we are reading. Often we share opinions concerning reactions to articles posted on his blog. We share with each other concerning challenges we are facing. We may have differing political opinions in some areas, but I’m not sure. I’m not sure because it is seldom the central topic of our conversations. In fact, although I think that I could make a reasonable guess as to who Michael voted for in the last several presidential elections, I really don’t know for certain. I don’t know because Michael has never said and I have never asked. One thing that is said at the end of every call is, “Love you much, Michael” and the response, “Love you too, Duane”.
As with my mother, my weekly call with Michael is about a relationship. That relationship, by the way, is not based upon our mutual agreement and/or interpretation of the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion set forth by Anglicans in 1571. Neither is that relationship based upon where either of us place ourselves on the political or theological spectrum of liberal, centrist or conservative. Again, that really does not matter. Michael is a friend and brother, and the relationship is important, for both of us.
For me, this is basic. The faith which we claim is founded on two sets of relationships. The first, of course, is our relationship with Christ. The second, however, is of equal importance and that is our relationship with one another. The meeting point, or the nexus, of these two sets of relationships is what constitutes the Church.
Yet, for the sake of secular politics, we have been willing to destroy and/or abandon relationships, some of longstanding. For the sake of shouting our point of view, whether in person, or in the comments on a thread or timeline, we are willing to say that my opinion is of greater value than the person I am engaging. Surely this is idolatry. In Christian ethics, the end, no matter how noble, does not justify any means. If the Church is to survive these turbulent times, the first task is to rebuild relationships.
There was a time when a pagan could look at the Church and write, “Behold how these Christians love one another”. Unless that time comes again, our future may be to see the shadows of the last people darkening our doors… as they leave… and they may well be justified…
As a young adult, I emotionally abandoned my relationship with my abusive, alcoholic father. I grew up watching him beat my mother, yell profanities at his children, and make a mess of our family life. I never knew when he would “act out” and ruin a family gathering or just a quiet evening at home. He didn’t seem too much interested in me, either. About two decades ago I realized he had changed-a little kinder, he was in a stable relationship, and he was successful in his career. Although I had never cut all ties, I didn’t pay much attention to him. I started reaching out, visiting him and my step-mom, and we have developed a fairly good relationship. My love for him grew, especially when I realized how very much alike we are. Now, I make the weekly weekend phone call. At 88, his mind is slowly slipping. We have the same conversation every week, with slight variation. I am learning to be more gentle with him. I doubt he knows Jesus, but I keep sharing and hoping. This has brought me to think of my church relationships, troubled by their insistence on being “open.” I have been looking at other churches, but, like the issue with my dad, I need to give it more thought and prayer. We were close once, and I am hoping to be close once again.
It’s true, some relationships can be restored, while others are more difficult. God give you the gift of discernment regarding your church…
I don’t know how to fix the relationships broken around politics.
Some of them, I’m not sure should be fixed.
All I know is that I have to always be open to reconciliation…
My wife’s last few months of phone calls with her father were difficult as dementia was wearing away at lucidity and reality. It was tough as I could hear my wife shouting at my father-in-law over the phone “Dad….dad………dad….” repeatedly for as long as 5 minutes as his awareness was slipping away. In the end, we were able to get a few grunts out of him on the phone 1-2 days before COVID-19 took away his life.
I didn’t care that he like one politician that I didn’t like. We are blood by marriage. I would like to say the same thing about my friends who voted unlike me, but I had to make a conscious decision that it wasn’t going to destroy our relationship.
Really good stuff., Duane. Thank you.
I was thinking the other day that there’s very little in the popular culture that has much to do with love these days.. We’re too busy feeding the outrage machine and then defending ourselves to death…
Love seems too sentimental, too soft. But it’s also one piece of the way past our current impasse…
Interesting to ponder for me how much it would take for my friendship with some people to have to be halted over politics. it’s is a scary thought as many of my friends have been there since the late 1980s.
Last night over cocktails my wife and I were talking about the rector of a church that I attended. His name was Ted. I have no idea after working with him for two years as to his politics. That’s not why we were there.
“I had to make a conscious decision that it wasn’t going to destroy our relationship…”
There’s a bit of wisdom…
“We’re too busy feeding the outrage machine and then defending ourselves to death…”
…And are we not all weary of that endless cycle?
I watch my “friends” list on Facebook go up and down…some of those no longer there were people I thought I had a bond with spiritually.
Political issues ate the bond like rust eats metal.
It doesn’t have to be this way…I have many friends who vote differently than I do and I could care less.
I’m hoping all of us simmer down over time.
I’m hopeful…also believe it’ll take some time. And repentance…
It’s difficult. I have a friend of 25 years standing who is MAGA all the way. Part of keeping the relationship (which has become a bit more distant) has been not to engage in any political discussion whatsoever. In conversation I neither agree or disagree… I say nothing and try to change the topic. I don’t know if the friendship will ever be as close, but at least some remnant of it has survived.
I went out one morning to find a fence company tearing our very nice fence down while my (good Lutheran) neighbor stood watching.
“Shirley, why are you taking down my fence?” I asked.
The workers dropped their tools
” its on our property, ” she replied.
“We bought our house as new construction and the survey stakes were still in the ground. The fence is one foot inside our lot line,” i said.
” No, it’s not. The realtor told us you put it on pur property! ”
Wasn’t worth fighting with a fellow Believer over. We gave them one foot of our lot upon which they installed an ugly, unfriendly chain link fence.
As a land surveyor, I cringe at stories like this. It seems what your neighbor might have done was likely illegal, going against California Civil code section 841.
And, I should add, the issue should be rectified at some point. If a future owner (or yourself) ever wanted to remodel, the building might not meet local setback restrictions if measured from the existing fence instead of the property line, and that could cause a nightmare.
Unfortunately, good surveys are expensive.
Whatever happened to “separation of church and state”? it seems to me that too many of us have asked for a king, we got a Saul. I do not care who anyone votes for, that is not my business. I do care that as Christians we have allowed ourselves to abandon Jesus for politics. I do care that we no longer love as Christians, but as politics dictate. And I wonder why I no longer have any hope…
Everstudy, we sold. Turned out it was a relative of theirs that bought it.
And yes, good surveys ARE expensive…. just had to survey a vacant parcel i own up here on the mountains… HOLY COWS! ! !
I have to agree with you… but we have to hang on to hope…
Cathy, I have never heard that separation of church and state is a Christian goal.
Everything I see in Scripture and my denomination’s confessions seems to allow for quite a bit of interaction.
Perhaps I am wrong.
Church and state are not necessarily compatible…not always good for one another…hence the principal. I just meant that we as Christians have allowed the “state” or politics if you will, to dominate our thoughts and actions. We have not followed Christ’s advice, “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” I believe that to mean our hopes, plans, thoughts and actions should be predicated on God’s will, not what will get someone reelected to office.
For me, this is a key takeaway from your article:
“In Christian ethics, the end, no matter how noble, does not justify any means.”
I would like to add, since it might not be apparent to everyone, that we don’t even know what the “end” is. We might think we do; we might want to predict an end; but we most definitely do not know the end.
For one thing, there is never an end, until Christ returns. So at best, we might envision a short term or intermediate term end; but even in the short and medium term, we don’t know all of the potential side effects or other inputs that produce an end or flow from an end.
If I’m correct, then we are back to your argument, that proper Christian ethics involve the means. And along with that, trust that God’s will save His Church and His Christians.
“…proper Christian ethics involve the means.”
Yes, it is fundamental. Without that distinction we are ethically lost.
Cathy, render onto Caesar…and to God is the very definition of Church and state compatibility.
Paul used his national citizenship to keep him out of trouble in a religious situation and appealed to the government for his church cause.
Abuse may be at hand, but we must evaluate what goes on within the was of our church. These past couple of weeks we have preached the word, administered the sacraments all which freed folks of their sin as promised by Jesus.
We baptized one and we buried one.
As far as I know, no one from the congregation ran afoul of the law and got arrested. 🙂
Perhaps your church did the same (praise God) but the news focused on who they have identified as the church.
The point is that a large percentage of the American church defines itself as a political body. To deny this is simply to be difficult for the fun of it.
Michael would the Jericho March be a case in point.
This isn’t a debate.
Scores of books and scholarly articles have addressed the fact that one part of the church identifies with one political party and one leader in particular.
All of us are aware of strained families, friendships and churches divided by this fact.
Denying this reality would simply be an attempt to start strife instead of addressing the point.
This is a result of the political pulpit…people divide over a pandemic.
Mask or no mask has already split congregations…
I think that may be an overstatement. Review church confessions – even church mission statements and see how much ink is given to politics.
Christian individuals may be active or activists the political scene on either side. As Christians in a vocation as citizen, I do not see this as outrageous.
Do some act outrageously, yes. In my men’s group of about 40 guys, most old fart former military Korea, Vietnam almost to a person thinks the insurgents should be executed.
I wonder if anyone will poll those arrested to find out if any have been in a church in the past couple of years?
For context and a deeper view, I’d highly recommend the book “American Gospel.”
It’s an in-depth look into “God and country.”
In the American context, this is a very complicated subject with lots and lots of nuance.
Confessions and statements of faith are irrelevant to what has actually happened… documented by dozens of historians, political scientists, sociologists, seminaries and anyone else that observes social movements.
You’re just trying to raise hell again.
Even aside from politics, ‘relationships’ often turn out to be a dime-o’-dozen.
But there’s another kind that is more precious than platinum.
Friedrich Schiller put it best I think when he wrote:
Whoever has succeeded in the great attempt,
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a lovely woman,
Add his to the jubilation!
Yes, and also whoever has just one soul
To call his own in this world!
And he who never managed it should slink
Weeping from this union!
I live in very conservative North Idaho, and what happened in Washington DC reflects very few of our churches. We have one large church in our city that is all about that noise, but most aren’t biting on the political idol bait. Now, I’m sure every church has some people who are pulled into the political rhetoric thanks to TV, radio and internet. But the majority of people I know eschew such nonsense. As Michael says, your mileage may vary, depending on where you live and where you worship. I’m not sharing to defend anything, just to perhaps give a little hope that not all have bowed to the knee of politics.
If the hearing this week goes against CCSJ, it could be the end of that church given $1.5M in fines. If the pastors are jailed in contempt that will be national news, and the fallout won’t be good. Could it go all the way up to SCOTUS? Maybe. By then Cali will have relaxed orders. Interesting times.
American Gospel is a very good read. It describes the very uniquely American tradition of leaders urging citizens to call on God without defining who God is. We have been blessed to have this tradition, but belief in a personal God who hears and answers prayer is rapidly vanishing.
Relationships have always been difficult for me with PTSD. But God has been faithful to me to give me some, sometimes limited but still rewarding ones. Michael has been a dear friend to me for years. And there are others. Duane is kind enough to answer questions from a new unlearned Anglican. Others here on the blog and other believers I’ve met on social media. I’m very thankful to God that, even with limitations, He graciously provides me with support and love in the body of Christ. There is love in us believers. True, spiritual love. It just gets complicated sometimes with our sin natures. But it’s there. Blessings all. ❤️🐑
I miss my mother and father and I often wish I was a better son. I was not but I wish I was. I could give a great deal of rhetoric I am finding MST3K commentary has far more relevance then much of today. My only hope is Jesus Christ, daily I don’t get why that makes me His enemy but it sometimes seems that way. I still ponder this point why is needing God the unpardonable sin?
Thank you, Bob1, for highlighting American Gospel by John Meacham.
You caused me to revisit this fine book. Meacham, as you may recall, was fired by MSNBC for praising a Biden speech he helped write without disclosing he helped write it. He is an excellent writer but sadly could not resist patting himself on the back.
His book recounts how we as a nation chose to embrace the “American Gospel” which makes room for all God believers as well as nonbelievers without giving preference to any group. It is history at its best and his appendix of illustrative speeches and documents is fascinating.
I think the way forward for rebuilding relationships is to take a cue from our nation’s founders and other forefathers. They differed fiercely about many things, especially regarding religious issues, but found that by elevating and remembering their (mostly) shared belief in God above their opinions on other issues they could forge a union of competing ideas and a melting pot that has been the envy of the world—a light on a hill.
What was your takeaway ?
I think the way forward for rebuilding relationships is to take a cue from our nation’s founders and other forefathers. They differed fiercely about many things, especially regarding religious issues, but found that by elevating and remembering their shared belief in God above their opinions on other issues they could forge a union of competing ideas and a melting pot that has been the envy of the world—a light on a hill.
Jon, by the way, is a devout Episcopalian and has served as a lay leader in the church.
It seems to me that the mere holding of a political opinion is not what harms relationships. It is the merging of that political opinion with the rule of faith that harms relationships.
Early Christians were considered subversives because they would not honor the genius of the emperor. After Constantine, most believers were imperialists. In the Middle Ages, most were monarchists. Since then we have had Christians who were republican in their outlook (for example many of America’s founders) as well as Christian socialists, totalitarians and, even, Christian fascists. Christians have been on the Left, on the Right and in the center.
All of these were political opinions (some very misguided, in my opinion) not articles of faith. I would suggest that it is when we make a political opinion an article of faith, that we endanger the bond of fellowship with one another.
A lighter hand on politics might result in a stronger hand of fellowship.
Would praying (and leading prayers) to God to to overturn an election be an example of making a political opinion an article of faith?
I concur. I like how Holland, where all my people are from, became the cradle of religious tolerance that spread to Britain and eventually took root firmly in the US. All this came from the horrendous religious wars they endured. John Wylie’s volume in his series, The History of Protestantism ($1.99 for the whole set!) is the best history of the Netherland’s birth I have read. You mentioned that you are related to him. Very cool.
That would be one example among many throughout history…
Time to move on, Jean.
Russell Shorto’s book on Amsterdam is also worthwhile. The only way to reclaim land from the sea was by cooperative effort AND cooperative ownership, leading to the birth of the modern idea of a corporation. It’s the idea that we are identified by that in which we cooperate, not the opinions (religious or political) that divide us…
I think Jean’s point is well taken in the current context…
I’d rather not engage. However, I firmly believe that we should pray to God when we are in anguish and would not disparage anyone for doing so. I will read Shorto’s book. thanks. My family line traces back to the Counts of Holland who founded Amsterdam. I love visiting that land and relatives there which now is the most atheistic of all nations.
It’s strange, isn’t it. The Dutch tend to be very conservative, yet they are liberal in what they allow in their society.
BTW, for a time, there was a modern evangelical revival in the Netherlands, but I hear little of it in recent years…
I can’t summarize Meacham’s book in a sentence or two, except to say that the interrelationship between church and state has always been a nuanced and complex one.
I hope readers won’t not read Meacham bc whatever he did WRT helping Biden with a speech. Don’t see how that’s relevant, actually. To not read what you called a fine book, because of that would be akin tonoticing a pimple on an elephant’s behind and wanting nothing to do with said elephant.
My father left the fundamentalist Calvinist church of his childhood, retired and died in Amsterdam while working with YWAM. I am writing a family history which includes his religious conversion and have a chapter to share about his spiritual transformation if anyone wants it: email@example.com.
The denomination he grew up in is has kept true to their fringe beliefs, which were also held by some Puritans like Jonathan Edwards and David Brainerd. Those in the family who stayed there are walking close to God and the denomination is flourishing. The evangelicals and tolerant ones are now part of the United Protestant Church which is quite a bit further down the godless chute than most American churches and in steep decline.
Duane @5:58am…I appreciate this comment especially. It’s good and helpful that you have a historical knowledge of the church and political involvement. I thing a lot of us are under the assumption that concerns over mixing politics and faith is a recent thing.
As far as relationships are concerned, that may be my boundary…if my faith or devotion to God is questioned, or worse, I’m called a heathen, if my voting doesn’t match up with a friends. I offer much grace to my friends who disagree with me, and I would hope for the same.
Grace and graciousness… they are what constitute the answer.
Dr. Duane and Dan… Yep and amen!
Bob1. Concur completely. Meacham’s book is superb and should be read by all American believers, especially those who espouse the “Christian Nation” fallacy.
Yes. I haven’t read it real recently, but I do remember thinking that folks caught up in nationalism vs. patriotism would really benefit. I mean,, everyone would benefit from reading it.
Another view of relationships…
“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ‘Life Together’
Dr. Duane @11:04
YEP! ! !