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Apocalyptic Mobs — and Politics at Earth & Altar

By Fr. Mark Perkins

Covenant (The Living Church) has published a piece I wrote reflecting on the revelatory nature of mobs through the lens of my experiences in Charlottesville during the “Unite the Right” rally.

Here’s how it begins:

A mob is an apocalypse, a conflagration casting fiery light on what was previously in shadow. On August 12, 2017, we watched scenes of violence in Charlottesville posted to Twitter while we patted and shushed our two-day-old daughter. We shook our heads and tried to make sense of it, speaking in unnecessarily hushed tones. Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Monument was less than two miles from our home at that time, but we heard nothing, not even the helicopters....

Although the essay builds upon my “Notes Towards a Theology of Race,” which we previously published, we decided not to publish this one here. That decision provides an opportunity to outline our editorial policies related to politics — and therefore to clarify our mission.

Earth & Altar plumbs the Anglican and broader Catholic tradition for resources aimed at personal and corporate formation within the context of the local parish. We generally refrain from politics as such, and we engage in polemics only sparingly. (You may think of us as a polemical organization since virtually all of our most popular posts are indeed polemical, but those pieces make up a small percentage of the writing we do, and we work hard to keep it that way.) We will happily publish a theology of marriage or sexuality, including reflections on the implications of said subject for our ecclesiology, sacramental theology, and pastoral care, as well as our social and civic relations. Indeed, we have discussed the subject here and there in the past. But we would not publish a piece centered on the proper governmental policy towards same-sex marriage (so-called) or civil unions.

This is not due to a latent American commitment to the separation of Church and State. Libertarians we are not. Politics are not morally neutral, nor is theology politically neutral — as Catholic social teaching and the broader Catholic tradition to which it pays homage make abundantly clear.

Nevertheless, we are primarily oriented towards the parish, not the “polis” — the broader society out of which the parish calls her children. In ideal situations, political concerns and political actions play a marginal role in parochial life, and so politics likewise plays a marginal role in our project. We are much more concerned with theological education, liturgical formation, spiritual direction, and the community life of the parish.

Of course, all parishes are physically embedded within a polis, and so politics inevitably impinges upon parochial life. Likewise, while parishioners and clergy rightly prioritize the parish, the parish itself fosters the renewal of the polis and indeed the cosmos. St. Paul’s instructions are pertinent: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Political commentary is not “off limits” here at Earth & Altar. Still, our political declarations will be limited. As “the art of the possible,” politics is concerned with formulating particular policies in order to achieve certain ends within the polis. Our project includes the description of ends — the final purpose of all human persons and communities — but it is not primarily concerned to determine which political means are best for achieving those ends, nor is our editorial staff particularly suited by education, vocation, or inclination to evaluate policy as such. We as editors are not always in agreement on the political means to achieve our common ends — and there are other publications better suited to addressing such considerations.

My piece on the 2017 riot in Charlottesville builds, as I said, upon theological groundwork which we did publish here. Though it quite explicitly refrains from offering concrete policy suggestions, we deemed that it nevertheless moved into polemical, political, and historical territory that went beyond our mission. I therefore sought other avenues for primary publication.

As I have already implied, there is no clear and distinct line between theology and politics. The two are intertwined. As such, we have and will continue to wrestle with pieces like this latest one which straddle the boundaries. But politics and theology are not synonymous, and we are dedicated to the latter.

Fr. Mark Perkins is Curate at St. Alban's Anglican Cathedral in Oviedo, Florida and Executive Editor of Earth & Altar.

1 Comment

Mar 18, 2021

Robert E. Lee would never have approved of an apocalyptic mob. Contra the agenda-laden narratives of BlueAnon, he practiced restraint and Christian compassion in his own life and in his dealings with others. He was one of the finest exemplars of the Christian warrior.

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