St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church


St. Bart's Blog

Why Church: Our War on Idolatry

Posted by The Rev. William Zettinger on

Last month, I was invited to preach in the rector’s pulpit. I mentioned the comment Justice Clarence Thomas made in a recent interview, “there is nothing to bind us together as a nation anymore.” This month I would like to expand on that thought.

David Brooks is an American author and political and cultural commentator who writes for The New York Times. His editorials are printed in The San Diego Union Tribune. Recently, he wrote an article entitled American Idolatry, which highlighted why we are so divided in America right now.

My favorite line is what you see is good people desperately trying to connect in an America where bonds are attenuated - an America without stable families, without tight communities, without stable careers, an America where our sexual morals are conflicted. People are grasping for identity.

Think about today’s America. We live in a world of changing stepfathers and homes, high tech distractions, the influence of pop culture, chronic drinking and drug use. Of course, the waning religiosity of the country makes it harder to put down roots and find a spiritual meaning to life.

With this lack of stability, it’s no wonder that people use partisan identity to fill the void left when their other attachments wither away. Today this partisanship is not about which party has the better policy, as it was when I was growing up in the Kennedy and Eisenhower era. Today this partnership (Democratic or Republican, CNN or Fox News) is often totalistic with no rational consideration for another point of view. Again, there is nothing that binds us together except a visceral hate for the other side.

I need to say that people on both the left and the right who try to use politics as their moral compass have turned politics into an idol like money, technology, and addictive drugs. In other words, politics is used in the absence of spiritual, moral, and social loneliness. This is where church comes in. If we are ever to get out of this maze and find a way to reunite our country, I believe it can and must start in the Church - especially the Episcopal church with our Via-Media of middle way approach that once made America great.

All idols, in the beginning, offer great things, usually for a small price like that first hit of heroine. Those idols quickly fall from grace as the user becomes more and more dependent on them. Politics today makes demands on people. You are for gun control or against it, you’re for a single payer health care system or against it. There is no middle way.

The question is what can we, in the Episcopal church, do to unite us. To begin, we can listen to each other and our neighbors. To stop the visceral rhetoric and put politics in its place and God first. If you are a moderate, like me - it means to be at war with idolatry. It’s to believe that we become free as we listen to each other without hate speech and balance our attachments. It’s to believe that maybe we can’t fix the politics, that we can’t find a theme to unite all Americans, but we can in the Episcopal Church set a tone and example for us all to follow. It’s not much, but it’s a start. What do you think?