American Orthodox

June 20, 2006

American Orthodoxy: The fundamental issue

Filed under: General Orthodoxy — americanorthodox @ 11:34 am

Not that long ago, Orthodoxy existed primarily as an ethnic identity. That’s not to say that there weren’t pious Orthodox; but no matter how pious, the Orthodox church one attended was tied primarily to his ethnic group. The Antiochian Church, due partially to the fact that Arab Americans have traditionally been among the quickest to assimilate in the US, and due to their evangelism and welcoming attitude toward accepting converts, have moved us well away from that ghettoized Orthodoxy. The OCA has also been instrumental in helping to Americanize Orthodoxy. Converts are no longer rare, even among the clergy.

Yet, Orthodoxy still has a long road ahead before we can really speak of American Orthodoxy. For one thing, there are still plenty of ghettoized parishes. For another, there are still a great many clergy in the hierarchy of the various jurisdictions that just don’t understand America and Americans.

We converts cannot bear the sole responsibility. It is not enough for us to understand you; you must also understand us. And the first thing you need to understand is that yes, there is such a thing as American culture, because America is a nation that was founded upon ideas.

Our ancestry may be primarily European, but we are most emphatically not Europeans. Europeans obsess on the past; we do not. We don’t much care what happened in the 12th century, and frankly think anyone who still seethes over something that happened that long ago needs to get over themselves and move on. We distrust monarchy and European class systems. Recall that we fought a war in 1776 to kick the monarchs and lords out.

We identify ourselves as Americans, and not by the ethnicity of our parents. Despite the attempts of PC multiculturalists, most Americans still subscribe to America as a melting pot. Ethnicity just isn’t something we care much about, and frankly, we don’t really understand those who do. What could possibly make any difference where your grandparents were born? Who cares?

Despite popular stereotypes, we’re pretty adventurous eaters. Americans love ethnic food. In fact, ethnic isn’t a problem, as long as it’s not exclusive. Americans don’t much like people who come here to take advantage of what our nation has to offer, but turn around and denigrate us and our culture.

Yes, we tend to be somewhat gregarious and open. We’re generous; Americans give more to charity than anyone else on the planet. Although it would be arguable to call us a religious nation, we’re certainly more religious than most of Europe.

Although historically, faith and ethnicity are linked (Cambellites and Presbyterians in areas largely population by Scotch-Irish; Roman Catholics and Lutherans in areas largely populated by Germans, and so forth), Americans do not think of religion and ethnic group as bearing any relationship to each other. No American church (save still-ghettoized Orthodox parishes) would wonder why a visitor would be there, if he weren’t of the right ethnic brand. That’s just something that would never occur to an American, and it brings many Americans up cold when you ask them why they’re visiting. In other words, you’re not helping yourselves by continuing to tie religion to ethnicity, and not understanding how fundamentally un-American that is.

Fortunately, all that is rapidly changing. As we get more and more native-born American clergy, men who understand in their guts what being an American means, the American church will become more American. And the more American the church becomes, the more converts she will gain.

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