Tradition for Progressives

Church, I must confess.

I made a mistake.

I got into an argument about communion on the internet.

My advice: Don’t do it.  Never, ever, ever.  Folks who are normally extremely charitable and loving can become petty, smug, and vociferously uncharitable.  This is especially true among clergy.

That said, it does give us an opportunity to think about the role that tradition plays in our theology, and especially in the life of the church.

To define what I mean by tradition, I turn to GK Chesterton, an early 20th wit who wrote in his book “Orthodoxy” that tradition was “…giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead.”

Although I believe that more often then not, our interactions with tradition should resemble a dinner table discussion rather than a parliament, the sentiment stands.

Note the distinction between  and language that is being used here: tradition should serve as a conversation partner, a voice in the room, not necessarily the sole decider.  Tradition is invitation to for the past to have a seat at the table, not that they should run the whole show.  Tradition is not a dictatorship of the dead.

Traditions reckons that the dead have a place in our democracies.

This does not make me some kind of hardboiled reactionary.  Sometimes our ancestors did very bad things, and sometimes we are only beginning to realize our (and their) complicity in systems that have hurt people.

Sometimes our ancestors left us with legacies that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, or imperialist. Most assuredly, these legacies should be grappled with. But it is hard for me, at least, to pass ultimate judgement on them as people without listening to their reasoning, if its available.

After all, most assuredly our children and descendants will think the same  of us one day, and I hope they give us the same benefit of the doubt.

I also hope that we are good conversation partners when that time comes.