Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Orthodoxy Is Heresy

What is "orthodox" Christianity? What does "orthodoxy" mean? Who gets to decide what gets considered "orthodox"?

"Orthodoxy" is theological claims that got developed and consolidated out of the many theologies and expressions of Christianity that emerged after the Jesus Movement. It was given shape by the Bible, which is a limited collection of some of the earliest Christian writers. It was given shape by the creeds, which were attempts to stifle diversity. It was given shape by Constantine, who wanted a quick resolution to complex theological matters. It was given shape by the loudest, richest, and most connected theologians. Thus, the story of "orthodoxy" is anything but a univocal passing of original, "pure" Christianity from Jesus and his earliest followers on to us today. It's complicated.

Let's not forget that we stand in a long line of theologians who have attempted to give expression to the Christian faith in their time and context: Jesus, Paul, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Papias, Irenaeus, Tatian, Terullian, Origen, Justin, Athenagoras, Cyril, Nestorius, Augustine, Constantine, Ambrose, Palagius, Anselm, Abelard, Lombard, Bonaventure, Scotus, Aquinas, Luther, Zwingly, Denck, Grebel, Hoffman, Simons, Schwenckfeld, Melanchthon, Calvin, Wycliffe, Knox, Browne, Wesley, Edwards, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Schleiermacker, Hegel, Kirkegaard, Rauschenbush, Barth, Bultmann, Niebuhr, Teilhard, Rahner, Moltmann, Cobb, Tamez, Borg, Fiorenza, Dube, etc. We are all part of this great "cloud of witnesses." So instead of the popularity contest (i.e. "orthodoxy") that empowered some theologians and killed others, maybe we should honor the work of all of our foremothers and forefathers. Instead of forcing false uniformity, maybe we should embrace real diversity. Instead of being at war, maybe we should be in conversation.
Quaker theologian Parker Palmer suggests that "truth is an ongoing conversation about things that matter." In much the same way, I think we could call orthodoxy an ongoing conversation about theology that matters. In this perspective, there is neither orthodoxy nor heresy. That's right. No orthodoxy. No heresy.

After all, "heresy" is simply a new theology that hasn't been accepted into the elite club of "orthodoxy" yet. Those with power hold the keys to the club. Those with keys have the power to open and close the gate. It's all political. And by political I simply mean that it's all about power dynamics.

Knowledge is not power. Power is knowledge. Those in power get to decide what is considered knowledge.

Truth is not power. Power is truth. Those in power get to decide what is considered truth.

Orthodoxy is not power. Power is orthodoxy. Those in power get to decide what is considered orthodoxy.

Christianity should be different. Our original leader was executed on a cross by those in power. We know better than to trust those in power. So, perhaps, a faith that takes the cross seriously should compel us to seek "power" in weakness. And reject the "power" of the powerful in favor of the masses whose knowledges, truths, and orthodoxies are oppressed.

Maybe, for Christians, an imposed "orthodoxy" should be considered "heresy." Just a thought.

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