March 27th, 2020


Nobody asked me, but . . .

I've already expressed myself elsewhere on the subject of an online eucharist -- something in the same category as "electronic chocolate" -- and also on the subject of the fools and bishops (but I repeat myself) who pretend to have the authority to permit such things. We are left with the question, How could we do communion properly under the current conditions of social distancing?

Well, many of us are already doing online worship, however we can. And many of us are in fairly small congregations. The one I attend averages about 70 or so in attendance -- maybe 40 households, maybe a few more with all our widows and widowers. A manageable number.

So, let us assume that on a Sunday morning, when you tune in your local UM church's FB Live online worship service, we go rapidly from the opening proclamations to the communion service. The pastor and eight servers (plus tech person) gather round the table and consecrate the elements and share together. Then, the eight servers don masks and gloves and each take 5 or 6 readied household baskets containing a host the size of a silver dollar pancake and a sealed bottle of grape juice. These were all on the table at the time of consecration.

Then these eight "extraordinary ministers of the eucharist" as our Catholic friends call them, get in their cars and deliver the household baskets to each household that has requested communion. At each house, the driver gets out, dons a fresh pair of vinyl gloves (since driving the car may have contaminated his or her hands) and then goes up to the door. Without entering or embracing, the server hands the basket to the person who comes to the door and says, "The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given for you. Take and eat and feed on him in your heart by faith with thanksgiving. Amen." And then goes on to the next stop.

In a not-too-spread out parish, everyone should be served within an hour, which hour the pastor has filled with sermon and prayer and music. At the end of the scheduled time, the pastor gives the benediction, and -- done. All the norms of celebration have been preserved. All the rules of social distancing have been preserved. The people have been fed with the body and blood of Jesus.

But, Art, it would take lots of effort to organize and do that. Yes, and worthy things are worth the effort. If you think you can do them with a lick and a promise, then you merely cheapen priceless things.

I suppose there are other ways to tackle this, given other congregational situations. Or we could just wait a few weeks until we can meet together again. Hey, when I was a kid, Methodists complained about having communion more than four times a year. Some things are worth the wait.

Progressivism and Power

One of the first principles of progressive political philosophy is the undifferentiated nature of Power. Whether Mussolini or Wilson, progressivism hungers for Power to do -- everything. It rejects the American Founding, which placed limits upon Power, and set Power against Power, so that one must always ask, "Power to do what?" when considering any office or body within our constitutional system. Progressives believe that power-to-do-what is irrelevant. Likewise, they reject the idea that different kinds of power reside in different bailiwicks. Enumerated powers? Checks and Balances? No. All Power is just -- Power, Power to do everything.

Thus you have Woodrow Wilson trying to consolidate power in the presidency to get past the slow, muddled Congress. You have Barack "I Am Not a King" Obama and his executive orders and the subversion of the IRS and the lawlessness of his DOJ. You have progressive Supreme Court justices saying that the Constitution is a "living Constitution" -- that is, it can be amended by judges' opinions, without the slow and aggravating requirement of passing and ratifying amendments in the manner specified in the Constitution itself.

The only difference progressives acknowledge about Power (in theory) is that there is Less Power and More Power. If you're the Big Kahuna, you get to do what you want. Anything that you want. Even so, those with lesser Power feel free to challenge you at every opportunity, attempting to steal the initiative and get their stuff done.

So you have local city councils declaring themselves "sanctuary cities," challenging the entire national power structure with their defiance. You have federal district judges issuing sweeping injunctions for the whole country because they don't like the fact that Donald Trump is President. You have Democratic Congressional minorities that are constantly pushing the envelope against the majority, then clamping down when they get the majority. You have one house of Congress attempting to strong-arm the other house and the president, too. They all invade each other's prerogatives because they are so impatient. We have Power. Now, we want to get stuff DONE.

I'll leave for a moment the question of what it is they think needs doing. This is not a blast against the progressive political agenda. This is about Progressivism, per se, an ideology that crosses disciplines. Progressivism is certainly rampant in American religious denominations, particularly the Mainline Protestant Churches.

You can see it in how the UMC elites behave. Bishops issue decrees forbidding things they have no authority to stop, permitting things they have no authority to start, renaming offices described in the Book of Discipline, announcing rules for the entire UMC nobody voted for, dismissing complaints and calling it "just resolutions," making it up as they go along. Pastors do the same thing, appealing to "justice" or "[my view of] the Bible" to do whatever they want. Everyone wants to be the author of the Hot New Trend, with an insight into the Bible no one's ever seen before or the practice no one else has tried before. Ego plays a large part in this kind of leadership. I don't necessarily believe this because I think it's right, it must be right because I thought of it. And if I'm the Guy Up Front, then that's what I'm going to do -- and all the paid staff and inner circle laity (who stand to lose position if they demur) cry hosannas and we're off and running. Boards of Ordained Ministry, Annual Conferences, general agencies -- they all just make it up, then say, "the Church has spoken." And if people shrug and go on with things -- which they mostly do -- then that becomes SOP until the next push. And, of course, you have people who promised to obey the rules defying the rules and daring others to charge them with offenses. UM teaching and practice has become "whatever you can get away with."

But UM polity wasn't set up to be like that. Bishops and Elders and Deacons and LLPs and laity have different abilities. Sometimes, they work together, sometimes they work separately. Some can do some things but not others. Each can require certain things of the others. Meanwhile, General Conference has powers no one else has, but not unlimited power; the Judicial Council has a lot to say about sweeping changes passed in haste, and there are also the Restrictive Rules. Only Jurisdictions can elect bishops. And so on. UM polity is set up to run kind of like the federal government, with power differentiated and with checks and balances. Progressives don't like that.

Progressivism likes Power to make people do things. It has no sense of boundaries, acknowledges no private sphere in which the citizen or the church member, the employee or the student can just do as one likes. Everyone must be hectored and dragooned into being virtuous. And, of course, virtuous is whatever the elites say it is. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her ilk would like us all to be thankful for being made into medieval serfs, while they occupy the halls of power and jet around to their next rule-making confab. Progressivism also has little patience with the idea of due process; if you're accused, you're guilty -- if you belong to the other side, anyway. But progressivism likes "substantive due process," which is constitutional jargon for "making stuff up" that you can't find any support for in the Constitution.

Progressivism is touted in our schools. People point to Sen. LaFollette, to Teddy Roosevelt, to journalist Ida Tarbell, etc. But Woodrow Wilson was also a Progressive. TR may have given us lots of conservation areas, but Wilson gave us the Sedition Act of 1917, wartime socialism, and official propaganda. People in this country admired Mussolini, who "made the trains run on time." Cole Porter even praised him in "You're the Top." And, of course, American Progressivism and Italian Fascism were step-sisters to Russian Communism, about whom progressive journalist Lincoln Steffens said (in defiance of what he himself had seen and knew), "I have seen the future, and it works." Finally, all three of these weird sisters are in a conspiracy to deny that they had a fourth sib; namely, German National Socialism. But they did.

Progressivism was the bane of the Twentieth Century, and it is still with us, the dragon that cannot seem to be slain. Its stain infects even those who do battle with it. People who don't normally see themselves as "progressive" find themselves grubbing for some little Power that they might grow into a bigger Power so they can DO STUFF. Other people besides Democrats and bishops are impatient with restraints upon their freedom of action. And so we all lose, because no one will restrain oneself from doing what (we all should know) should not be done.