Let me offer you a thought experiment.
Yesterday on the Orthodox Church in America’s website there was an interesting press release recounting a “discussion between members of the Holy Synod of Bishops [of the OCA] and a number of congressmen during a late-January 2010 meeting in the US capital” (OCA Holy Synod members share human rights concerns with US congressmen).
The meeting addressed, again in the words of the press release, a
variety of issues affecting traditionally Orthodox Christian lands — among them, the situation of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Turkey in light of His All Holiness, Patriarch Bartholomew’s widely acclaimed December 2009 interview on “60 Minutes”; the plight of Orthodox Christians in Kosovo and Coptic Christians in Egypt; human trafficking; and other human rights issues.
Let me first say, I think it is a good thing for the bishops to speak with representatives of the US government; it is a very patristic thing actually. It also speaks well of the Holy Synod that instead of bring their own, relative narrow concerns to Congress, they went not as advocates for Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Christians and for human rights more broadly. Generally and except for pro-life issues, Orthodox social witness has typically focused on matters of immediate interest to the Orthodox community. The Holy Synod speaking on behalf of human rights generally, and doing so in a face to face meeting with members of the US Congress, is in my view something we should welcome. Not only that, by our words and prayers we should encourage the bishops to build on this latest meeting.
For such a witness to be fruitful will mean that we must learn how to speak to a broader audience then those sympathetic to the Tradition of the Orthodox Church. Though not without there own challenges, speaking to traditional Anglicans or Evangelical Christians investigating Orthodoxy is not the same as making a case for human right before the US Congress. As I have argued here before, and as I will continue to argue, we cannot limit our witness merely to inviting Christians from other traditions to join the Orthodox Church. We must learn to speak more broadly. As part of this we must learn how to established collaborative working relationships with those who share our concerns but WHO ARE NOT INTERESTED in becoming Orthodox.
And now, the thought experiment.
Let me suggest that learning to work collaborative with those who are not interested in becoming Orthodox will, on balance, be a good thing for the internal life of the Church. The more skilled we become in establishing and maintaining collaborative relationships with those outside the Church, the more skilled we will become in establishing and maintaining similar relationships among ourselves.
It is to our benefit as a Church to learn how to make our case without having to depend on a shared tradition. While a good thing, at least in an American pastoral context our shared tradition has resulted in Orthodox Christians–where ever they are in the ecclesiastical hierarchy–making arguments from authority . To our determinate we are many of more inclined to coerce then persuade.
Absent a way of enforcing my authority such arguments are little better than the posturing of school yard bully. While my authority might secure your compliance in the short term, it comes at the cost of the long trust between us. The harm however does not end here.
Consistently arguing from authority–or what is just as bad, preaching to the choir–increasingly restricts my vision of the tradition. Whether we are talking about a person or a community, with restricted vision comes rigidity, fear, distrust and anger. All of these compromise not only our witness but our shared life.
To be effective, persuasion requires not simply that I constantly meditate on the tradition but that I also make the effort to know you evermore fully. Yes, I might be tempted to sophistry–but this is hardly an argument for coercion and besides arguing from authority is equally prone to sophistry.
Are there risks involved in the Church broadening her witness beyond the immediate concerns of Orthodox Christians? Will we be tempted to compromise the Gospel for political gain? Yes.
Riskier still, however, is to refuse to work together with others of good will–Christian or not–”in behalf of all and for all.”