(While listening through an “Ancient Faith Today” podcast, I stumbled upon a discussion between Orthodox defender Kevin Allen and Orthodox deacon Michael Hyatt. A caller asks about Orthodox attitudes towards ethnic diversity. This is a topic which interests many of my Orthodox racialist friends, and so I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing the relevant portion of the podcast. I’ll offer brief critical comments, from a Protestant perspective, below the transcript. Enjoy):
Allen: I do have a call from Gary from Tustin California. Gary, you’re on Ancient Faith Today.
Gary: Hello. It’s good to talk to you guys. Mine is more of a practical question. I find that, for myself, before I became Orthodox, and for many of my friends who are Evangelical, our question was: Orthodoxy looks theologically good, but ethnically, it’s … it’s so ethnic! (laughs). How could this be the true Faith?! How do you deal with the issue of ethnicity that seems to be so strong in each of these different traditions, whether it’s Russian, Greek, Syrian; no matter which group it is, they all have their explicit ethnic aspects to them, and yet that seems to be what’s so hard for many Evangelicals to get past …it’s such a cultural shock. How do you deal with that?
Michael: Yeah, that’s a tough one too, because that is a reality and I think we have to acknowledge the fact that we have a lot of churches here (Orthodox churches) that are made up of immigrants where they brought with them, in addition to their Faith, their ethos. Their culture from wherever they originated. But the truth is, is that American Orthodox churches, like – I’m from a *very* American Orthodox church where probably 95% of the people who attend St. Ignatius Orthodox Church in Franklin are converts to the Orthodox church from Evangelicalism… we also are very ethnic. We’re ethnic Americans. So, somebody who comes in who is Russian or Greek thinks that *we* feel a little bit weird.
And I think that we have to acknowledge that ethnicity is not the problem. Ethnicity is inescapable. What we hope is that, with time, our ethnicity, will more and more in this country reflect the best parts of our culture and we’d have an authentic American expression of Orthodox Christianity. But behind that, or above it, is the one Holy Catholic Apostolic Faith, that whether you’re worshiping in Greece or in Russia or Bulgaria or Tennessee, it’s the same Faith, even though it’s expressed in a diverse number of ways.
Allen: (Allen goes on to tell a story of his aunt who had an old Roman Catholic parish bulletin from the Bronx written in Italian. He talks about how, just a short time ago, there were uniquely Italian parishes, uniquely Irish, and even uniquely Korean and Vietnamese parishes, but that they’re coming together. Then he cites Peter Gillquist of “Blessed Memory” who says – it’ll “..take time to work all this out.”)
Earlier in the show, this topic was skirted around when Michael and Allen discussed church unity. Allen asks:
“How can the Orthodox church be the one true, visible church? How do you rationalize that?”
Michael responds by noting Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17, and suggests that we can take it in one of three ways: 1. Either Christ’s prayer was ineffectual (and all Christians would reject that); 2. Perhaps Christ meant a mystical otherworldly sort of unity (but this is rejected as well, because the unity Christ prays for is meant to be a testimony to the world and thus, must be observable by them); or 3. Christ meant some form of institutional unity – which the Orthodox church has supposedly maintained for all these years.
But then, a few minutes later, Allen asks Michael about 20 separate independent National Orthodox churches represented in the U.S. alone, and yet, Orthodoxy claims to be the ONE holy church. In reply Michael distinguishes between different sorts of “unity”.
There is “doctrinal” unity.
There is “sacramental” unity.
There is “liturgical” unity. (Even those who observe the so-called “Western Right”, are still liturgically united with other Orthodox churches.)
then, there’s: “Administrative” unity.
On that last note, the Orthodox church is wanting, which, according to Michael, is “frankly, annoying”.
But apparently, this administrative unity does *not* disrupt the Unity of the church. He says administrative unity is desirable but not essential.
So, apparently, when Christ prayed for unity in John 17, He was NOT praying for administrative unity, rather, He was praying for doctrinal, sacramental, and liturgical unity?
This smells of ad-hoc reasoning; not to mention, Michael’s different types of “unity” seem arbitrarily drawn for polemical purposes. We might say that “doctrinal” unity, by definition, encompasses “sacraments” and “liturgy”, but then Orthodoxy would have only 1 out of 2, instead of three out of 4, and that doesn’t sound as good, does it? (On a related critical note: I could argue that all of us Orthodox Presbyterians have both doctrinal *and* administrative unity, so, does that make us the one true church Christ prayed about?! Presumably, we’d have to add something about historical succession, but then we Presbys could reply with our doctrine of Presbyterial succession…and down the rabbit hole we will go…)
But it’s not my intent to critique Catholic theology here.
Instead, I want to briefly examine how this plays into the Gillquistian notion of “ethnic” homogenization.
We have two propositions:
1. When Orthodox adherents contrast themselves with Roman Catholics, they are quick to note that their view of the church is that it’s decentralized among various Patriarchates, while the West was / is centralized under the Roman see (an unfortunate fact of history from the Orthodox perspective).
2. Orthodox adherents also claim they’re the “one Holy Apostolic church“. Fine. Let’s give them that for a moment.
To maintain 2, they have to argue for a special meaning of “unity” that only applies to their church. To maintain 1, they have to allow for a Godly diversity among the Patriarchates. (So far, so good). But to be Gillquistian in their advocacy of ethnic homogenization, they must argue for some form of centralization that seems to violate the “diversity among the patriarchates”.
So, on the final analysis, if an Orthodox adherent wants to hold to some notion of Gillquistian homogenization, they must either give up proposition 1. or proposition 2.
Which will it be Gillquistians?
(Someone might argue that the Gillquistians can take a third route to avoid the horns of this dilemma. They might hold to some form of propositional ethnicity. But if they make this move there doesn’t seem to be anything left to proposition 1. Patriarchates become arbitrarily drawn human conventions and might as well be governed, “in time” as Gillquist is quoted as saying in this podcast, by a central religious government and the Orthodox would be forced to admit that Rome had the right model after all.)
We all know the solution to this dilemma is to do what my Orthodox racialist friends have been advocating: give up the Gillquistian notion of ethnic homogenization all together and instead of recoiling in horror at diversity, celebrate it as Godly and beautiful.