In this second series, I want to highlight just a few ways in which we are significant to American religion and society. Obviously, we are not as large and powerful as mainline Protestant denominations, or Evangelical churches or the Roman Catholic Church. We don’t shape major policy decisions in America–just look to how often Eastern Christianity is ignored in foreign policy–not every single time (Clinton did meet with the Patriarch in Syria recently, for whatever that gesture is worth), but nearly all the time.
One way we are significant, though, is that we do sometimes follow trends in American religion in general. This is not the only way, but the way I want to highlight here. Now, I know that is hardly “significant” in the way we might like, but bear with me through this series. For today, what I want to highlight is the book I mentioned a couple posts back by Amy Slagle. She notes how for many converts to Orthodox Christianity, the language of the “spiritual marketplace” and “novelty creation” that is so prevalent in American religion generally, is present. This is important. She does not deny real theological reasons for conversion, but that’s not her approach. She uses ethnography and sociology to show how a sociological trend in America is also a trend among Orthodox converts. Not every convert fits that, but quite a few to whom Amy spoke do. Many converts trusted their own individual judgment to know what to read and when and how and what to see and when and how and were operating as individual choice-makers.
So, this is one way we are significant. We’re significant inasmuch as we are part of an ongoing trend within America. To what degree we’re shaping that trend at all remains to be seen but given our numbers, only minimally. Largely, we’re Americans swimming in American waters. Many Orthodox converts are part of a large American religious trend, a trend itself that has significance.