A recent brouhaha in the United Kingdom over the hosting of a Women’s World Day of Prayer service outlines the problematic relationship of Trinitarian churches with their own Trinitarian beliefs.
As reported in the Burnley Citizen newspaper, Anglican, Baptist, and Methodist churches in Padiham rejected the invitation of the Padiham Nazareth Unitarian Chapel to host the annual event celebrating Christian unity, which falls on the first Friday of March. The Roman Catholic Church, interestingly enough, accepted.
Both the newspaper and spokespersons for the antagonizing churches employed a dumbed-down definition of the Trinity, making the doctrine seem more innocuous, and Unitarian disagreement with it therefore more absurd. According to the news report:
Clergy said they had taken the decision because Unitarians did not believe in the Holy Trinity, that is the father, the son and the holy spirit.
Reverend John G. Hartley of Padiham’s Pendle Street Baptist Church similarly expressed Trinitarianism in this dumbed-down fashion: “the belief in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Unitarians have heard this line many times before; it’s used by Trinitarians trying to claim a scriptural basis for their belief, because the Bible does list those three figures in that order. However, this simplistic phrase is a talking point, not an honest articulation of Trinitarian theology.
Trinitarianism is much more than “the belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” and “belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” is not what separates Trinitarianism from Unitarianism. AUR believes in these three as well, but understands that God is the Father, the Son is the Word/Logos of God manifest in Christ, and the Holy Spirit is the power of God in action.
The less-than-honest reduction of the difference between Trinitarians and Unitarians to something they can actually have in common has a political purpose: it makes it look as if Unitarians are the ones being unreasonable by rejecting what Reverend Mark Jones of Padiham’s St. Leonard’s Church calls, in a fit of hyperbole, “virtually every one of crucial Christian doctrines.”
What we have here is the religious version of the “support the troops” rhetoric used to dismiss criticism of this or that war. AUR is certainly not a pacifist movement and, in fact, rejects the naïve belief in pacifist diplomacy as political panacea. Even so, the use of a dishonest talking point to quash pacifist discourse is an immoral fraud. Opinions should be defended rationally and honestly, not through dissimulation and dishonest framing. To reduce a pro-war stance to “support the troops” when supporting the troops is something that even opponents of this or that war can believe in, is simply dishonest.
More importantly, it implies that the person using such a rhetorical trick does not sincerely believe in his or her own position. People do not resort to fraud when they truly believe that the facts are on their side. It requires a considerable bit of uncertainty in one’s own belief, if not outright disbelief.
Just like reducing support for a controversial war to “support the troops,” reducing Trinitarianism to something that many Unitarians also believe is dishonest. Trinitarians are certainly entitled to their own belief, but they are not entitled to lie about it, or to promote it in a dissimulating fashion.
Trinitarianism is not merely “the belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” It is the belief that God exists in three co-existing, co-eternal persons. It is the belief that the Father and Son and Holy Spirit are each equal to God, yet not equal to each other; therefore A=X and A=Y and A=Z, but X, Y, and Z do not equal each other. It is the belief that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1.
Trinitarianism requires the belief that, because the Bible lists these three in order, that must mean that all three are equally God even though other passages in the Bible make clear that this is not so.
Most importantly (and, despite what some liberal Unitarians might believe, the issue is important) Trinitarianism requires that we believe listing the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in the Bible means that these three are one, but that this reasoning does not apply to any other list within or outside of scripture.
Why? Simply because the clergy says so. The very foundation of Trinitarian dogma is authoritarian, a demand for mindless submission to the demands of authority figures that we accept an idea not found in scripture and frankly nonsensical. Trinitarian theology relies on authoritarian sentiment for its survival, and it spreads this sentiment to society, politics, and the economy. This concept has been a fountainhead of authoritarian sentiment, oppression, and exclusion since Nicaea, and continues to be so today in Padiham and here in the United States.
Earlier, it was noted as “interesting” that Catholics accepted the invitation that Protestants rejected. Considering that the Church of Rome was the Trinitarian polity in ancient times, this might seem ironic. However, it is Catholic tradition (something abhorred by Protestants) that makes it broad-minded enough to reach out to other faiths; unlike many Protestant sects, there is much more to Catholicism than the Trinity.
It is therefore no surprise that outreach toward other religions by Christians, like that of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, has so often come from within the Catholic Church, and no surprise that ecumenical attitudes toward Unitarians in Padiham came from Catholics rather than Protestants.