Brad Rothrock on Practice, Power, and Neutrality

Brad Rothrock certainly has some finely crafted phrases in his latest response to the discussion sparked by America’s policy on labeling Catholics. I particularly admired this discussion (emphasis mine) involving the practice of the faith:

Is faith belief that then gets played out in actions? Or is faith action that becomes codified in belief? Is faith both belief and action, distinguishable poles between which the electric current of faith is birthed and sustained? Shadle hints at how he might answer such questions in his definition of Catholic social teaching as “those principles and policies that flow from our faith.” I would describe Catholic social teaching differently, I would describe it as the codification of the principles and policies arising out of lived discipleship. Faith, in this sense, is the gifted movement of head, heart, and hands such that each informs the other. While one can then distinguish the different aspects of this movement, they cannot ultimately be separated, and yet I believe such separation is at the unconscious and perhaps even unintended heart of Shadle’s notions of faith and the ecclesial.

This pairing of head, heart, and hands is very consistent with L. Gregory Jones’ discussion of the relationship between belief, practice, and desire, in which practice and desire embody belief; belief and practice form desire; and practice carries belief and desire. Jones, too, advocates for a coherent, mutually-reinforcing understanding and embodiment of these three aspects of the church today.

Rothrock then goes on to give a neat illustration of how ecclesial structures are influenced by other social structures:

…the structures of the institutional Catholic Church as they have shifted from the communitarianism of the early faithful in Acts, to the monarchical expressions of the Counter Reformation, to the “return” to collegiality inspired by modernity (which is not to say that forms of hierarchy and authority were not present in each). These different ecclesial structures were formed by and in turn informed the political, social, and economic structures from which they arose. Consequently, each pattern of these ecclesial structures can be described in political, social, and economic terms – as I just did with the titles “communitarianism,” “monarchical,” and “collegial.”

And then here is an extremely good point about power and neutrality:

Neutrality does not bring peace and reconciliation, it simply allows the powerful to define those topics and practices that are now off limits for criticism.

Go read the whole thing, especially if you found the arguments quoted in my earlier post persuasive. His post does not address the particular issue I raised, but he makes a very good case. And I’m very glad to see the issue of power dynamics explicitly raised in a discussion about Catholic ecclesiology.

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