Why Do Americans Become Orthodox Christians?

I do not intend to provide full book reviews here at this time, but I do think it is nonetheless appropriate to inform our readers about two new books that discuss American Orthodox converts.  Studying converts was the area of my own dissertation research (which I’m editing in order to get that published some day!) and I hope it will be an area of interest to our readers as well.  First, what spurred this posting was receiving the following announcement:

Mattox & Roeber- March 8 2012

Dn. Gregory Roeber has co-authored a book with Mickey L. Mattox.  Mattox presents why he converted to Roman Catholicism and Roeber why he converted to Orthodoxy.  Both discuss it within the context of what Lutherans see in those churches (as both are former Lutherans) and what the larger theological issues are.  This event will happen March 8th at Marquette University.

Likewise, last fall Amy Slagle published The Eastern Church in the Spiritual Marketplace: American Conversions to Orthodox Christianity which is an ethnographic study of converts from parishes in the Pittsburgh area and Mississippi.  I have read this and would highly recommend it.

I believe they have relevance for those of us looking at this question historically (or from any other vantage point) and hopefully these books will be of interest to many of our readers.

6 thoughts on “Why Do Americans Become Orthodox Christians?

  1. Rev. Herbel; Respectfully, it would appear that you are more interested in “stealing sheep” than bringing people into the Church catholic, (Bringing Christ to the Nations). I would hope this is not true, but that’s the way it looks from here.
    Thank you.

    • Thank you for your comment! If I understand your comment correctly, I would note it’s a both/and. Amy Slagle’s ethnographic research included converts who were not Christians prior or immediately prior to becoming Orthodox. So, that is of concern and we certainly would like to see non-Christians become Orthodox! Also, some of the people she interviewed had drifted from Christianity. That could be seen also as “sheep stealing,” but if they had committed to something else (New Ageism, atheism, etc.), I don’t think that would be an entirely accurate description.

      Now, Dn. Gregory Roeber, like myself, had been Lutheran prior to becoming Orthodox. Furthermore, there are a fair number (relatively speaking, we’re a small church in America) of non-Orthodox Christians becoming Orthodox. One should keep in mind that such really does not happen because of any intentional targeting of any particular group of non-Orthodox Christians. Key, though, I think, is that Orthodoxy does not share the 19th liberal Protestant ecclesiology that has become standard within much (if not most) American Christianity. Orthodoxy understands herself to be the Church founded by Christ through the Apostles. So, from that perspective, other Christians are in schism. Some, like Oneness Pentecostals, would be considered heretical. Of course, there are various ways of understanding this, such as arguing that Orthodoxy is the “fullness” of the Tradition/Church, which is probably the start of a more helpful view of things, but even then, the Church, inasmuch as we can discern it, is seen to exist it her fullest sacramental expression in the Orthodox Church.

      • What is…”the 19th liberal Protestant ecclesiology”? Clearly defined?
        There are Sacrements and sacrementals. Are you talking about them in the broad or the narrow sense? Which brings in the definition of grace. Again, broad or narrow, (You could say “saving or sustaining”.)

        • By 19th c liberal Protestantism, I meant that which gave birth to the Broad Church Movement. It has greatly influenced Protestantism to this day, wherein we’re all in the church together, all slices of the same pie. Of course, there are exceptions. I remember reading a Wisconsin Lutheran website back in the early ’90s that did not hold to such a position but clearly stated the Lutheran Church was the reestablishment of Christ’s church. There may be invisible members elsewhere, but that church could be seen in the Wisconsin Synod. I have no idea how far that person would have pressed it and I haven’t checked into the WI synod’s current official views. Anyhow, a broad church approach simply isn’t Orthodoxy. We believe the Orthodox Church is the Church founded by Christ through his disciples.

          I’ll have to keep thinking about Sacraments/sacramentals. I see what you’re getting at, as one doesn’t want an equal sign placed between everything one does in church, but I find the distinction a bit artificial, too. I prefer to speak of a sacramental life in a more wholistic perspective.

    • Thank you for this Adam! I have a post scheduled to run Monday already, so I will read this interview and write up a little intro to it and post it later next week. I haven’t had a chance to read your site in over a week! It’s been hectic up here for me.

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