Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Entrepreneurship & Evangelism: More Thoughts on the CAPS Conference

An interesting comment on economic recovery from Tyler Cowen of the Kauffman Foundation by way of Michael Giberson at the Knowledge Problem.  Referring to video of Cowen talking about blogging economics and other topics, Giberson quotes Cowen's  concluding comments on current economic conditions in the United States:

If there is one point I could get through about the mess we're in, it's that even if you think that the government needs to do something proactive, that is a holding action. Recovery is about entrepreneurship.

While Cowen's economic prescription has much to recommend it, what caught my attention is this: I think that it is not only the economic recovery but also the Church that needs to embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship.

Let me explain.

With the reception of Fr Peter Gillquist and the other clergy and lay members of former Evangelical Orthodox Church by the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of American, there was an increase both in awareness of the importance of mission work and actual missionary activity undertaken both in the US and overseas by American Orthodox Christians. Unfortunately, as I have said before, that initial zeal was not always (in my opinion) always wisely guided and indeed has lead to an unfortunate narrowing of the Church's evangelistic outreach.

While not absolutely the case, in the main Orthodox evangelical outreach (especially in the US) tends to focus on disaffected mainline Protestant and Evangelical Christians and very little to either the vast number of unchurched Americans or our own lapsed Orthodox Christians.

Beyond our quasi-official policy of proselytizing and neglect of the unchurced and the fallen away, I am also concerned that we have largely neglected the worlds of academia and public policy and morality. While in the latter case there is some hopeful progress—f or example Fr Hans Jacobe's American Orthodox Institute—in the former situation we have limited our engagement to a few, woefully underfunded, campus ministry programs. And while we have built seminaries and one undergraduate college, after more than 200 years in the States, we still do not have even a viable parochial school system for our children.

All of this was very much on my mind this weekend while I was at the CAPS conference. In session after session, I saw people who desired the riches of the Great Tradition in both its Western and Eastern forms. Unfortunately, there was in attendance only two priests, myself representing the tradition of Orthodox Church and my friend Fr Christian Mathis, a Roman Catholic priest.

Let me say upfront, I am ambivalent about the lack of a numerically substantive Orthodox presence at CAPS. We have in the last 30 or so years gotten rather comfortable talking down to people. Oh granted, we're gracious when we do so, but in the main we are more comfortable talking to people who want to join the Church. We our happy to enter into conversation, really often a monologue, with those who affirm us, who see us the solution to their problems. We are less comfortable with those who wish to relate to us as peers—as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I am not convinced that, with a few exceptions, we would prefer to avoid conversations with those people who have competencies and expertise in areas about which we know little or nothing. Let me offer an example of a CAPS presentation I found not only interesting and valuable but challenging.

On Saturday morning the first plenary session was presented by Debra Taylor, MA, of Institute for Sexual Wholeness (a graduate program/ministry focusing on sex therapy). Taylor offered us an update on the research into women's sexuality that she published in her book that she co-authored with Archibald D. Hart andCatherine Hart Weber, Secrets of Eve .

Taylor's presentation,“Prisoners of Hope: Is Healing Possible for Sexual Strugglers?”was a challenge to the gathering to imitate the words of Jesus in Lk 4:18-19: (the Spirit of the Lord is upon Me...) and ourselves as psychologists and pastors to proclaim liberty to the captive, to set free those who are burdened and battered in the area of sexuality.

What made the presentation unique was not just what was said, but what wasn't said. Taylor did not focus on sexual immorality—we did not hear about homosexuality, adultery, fornication, or masturbation. Instead she spoke with great eloquence on the suffering of married men and women as they try and understand each other's different, but equally legitimate, sexuality.

At the core of this struggle is not simply the fact that husbands typically don't understand their wives sexuality. This lack of understand is situated within a social (and for that matter, research) context that pathologizes women's sexuality and foster in women (and so also in men) an increasingly unrealistic and unnatural view of feminine sexuality and the woman's body.

Listening to Taylor as she related experiences from her own life and clinical practice, I wondered how I might apply her insights to my own pastoral work. How many married couples who come to see me either together or individually, I wondered, are suffering because of the very lack of mutual understanding that the speaker has articulated? Having spoken with current and former seminaries, I know that if sexuality is addressed at all in their coursework, it is only done so in terms of morality (and even this, I suspect, is rather deficient, but that's for another time). But sexuality is never addressed as it was in Taylor's work.

Considering the apologetic energy we expend on the fact that—u nlike Rome—we have a married clergy, this lacunae is troubling. If, as Taylor argued, many, even most, married couples suffer because of a lack of information about human sexuality, how can this not be true for clergy couples? And how can this lack of information not but have an negative influence not only on the personal lives of clergy couples, but the pastoral practice of the Church?

Let me return to the question of an entrepreneurial approach to outreach and evangelism. As in my experience at CAPS, as well as in my participation in other professional settings, I have found that my willingness to participate as a peer—albeit one who wears cassock, cross and cap—has always brought a rich reward both for me personally and for my ministry. And, not incidentally, it has also resulted in new Orthodox Christians.

Over the years, I have spoken with man men and women from various professions who have become (or have always been) Orthodox Christians. A consistent theme in the stories they tell me is the joy and gratitude to God they have for their Orthodox faith. But they also tell stories of frustration that there seems to be little interest among the clergy to make use of their professional skills and gifts. While these professionals are happy to be the spiritual children of the Church, they are also competent adults whose potential contribution to the Church is often greatly limited by the inability of the clergy to engage them as professional colleagues.

At its core, I think this inability of some—maybe even many—c lergy to engage the laity as professional peers (though different professionals to be sure) both is the reflects our limited vision of evangelical outreach and is also a contributing factor to our narrowness of vision.

One of the participates I spoke with at CAPS was quite taken by the patristic notion that what is not assumed by Christ is not redeemed. I wonder, are willing our we as a community and personally to work to redeem academia and the professions? Are we willing to engage those who challenge us not simply because of their interest in the spiritual life but because they bring to the Church skills and insights that are new to us?

Or, let me make this personal, do I want ADULT spiritual children who insist on the integrity and value of their own professional contributions to the life of the Church?

As always, your comments, questions and criticisms are not only welcome but encouraged.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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