Archive for June 25th, 2011

If You Can’t Take a Label, Stay Out of the Debate

When I was a boy out in the sand hills, I didn’t know about any denominations except Baptists, my mother’s family, and Methodists, my father’s family, and the general category of “holy rollers” that we could hear a mile away on Sunday night as we sat outside.

I guess I was about five when we went to a Lutheran wedding out in Lexington County, which was once German-speaking. About that time I realized that every Sunday, in the Apostle’s Creed, which all of us knew by heart by age three, in the list of things we declared we believed in was “The catholic church and the communion of saints.”

By that time I was truly aware that a Methodist is not a Catholic. But I didn’t understand what the Trinity was, either, nor did most people.

That was my fist lesson in the critical difference between a word that is capitalized and one which is not.

Through the years it became second nature to realize that while a Catholic priest will refer to ‘An Orthodox priest,” he is convinced that he is the one who is orthodox. That “Orthodox priest” will call him a Catholic priest, but he is absolutely convinced that the only truly catholic church is the Orthodox faith.

“Episcopal” just means a church has bishops, but the Methodist Episcopal Church had as permanent a rule by bishops as did the Anglicans, the Catholics, and the Orthodox.

The names of churches are a study in themselves. Most churches, and most political parties, bear names which they once fervently objected to. “Methodist” was originally an insult. “Mormon” was originally an insult. “Quaker” was originally an insult.

Especially in America, the time came when a Catholic got tired of being ridiculed for eating fish on Friday, stood there, crossed his arms, and said, “You’re damned right I’m a mackerel snapper and I’m proud of it.”

That happened so long ago in the Methodist Church that practically no Methodist is aware that it was once a term used only as ridicule by their enemies.

Vanishingly few of the Loyalists who proudly called themselves Tories were aware that the a “Tory” was originally the term for a highway robber in Ireland, and was used as an insult.

Vanishingly few of the proud “Whigs” in the same war were aware that Whig was a Scottish word for a highway robber, with exactly the same evolution.

Which may be an important lesson about those groups who stay the course.

There are so many churches and political and other groups who proudly bear the names their enemies hurled against them that it may be that a group simply does not survive for long if a label can make its adherents back down.

Respectable conservatives all whine and grovel when labels like racist or isolationist are used against them.

No group that can be cowed by a label should be in the vicious game of political power.

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