The Integral Church
“The genius of the American church is for tolerance and ecumenicism — the promotion of Christian unity irrespective of theological differences,” Graham Hillard remarks in his winsome essay on the great diversity in what Christian houses of worship across our land elect to call themselves (“Holy Names,” December 31, 2018).
One could argue over the question of how much theological difference churches can tolerate among themselves before the notion of their “Christian unity” loses most of its meaning, but let me remark on a phrase that Hillard uses earlier in the same sentence: “the American church.”
The universal Church, the whole body of Christians spanning the globe and reaching to its four corners, transcends boundaries between nations, so to conceive of and isolate an “American church” is, from one point of view, a failure to see that Christ’s Mystical Body is catholic, integral, and whole. Insofar as the spirit of E pluribus unum defines the universal Church as well as the United States of America, however, we might say that the two societies rhyme and echo each other in their affirmation of inclusiveness, multiculturalism, and cosmopolitanism in the best and most sincere sense.
While the cooperation among churches of many denominations (and of no denomination) is on the whole a blessing for Christians in America, let’s not forget that, besides tolerating our differences, we enjoy, as Hillard implies, a certain shared style, tone, taste, and attitude of belief. That commonality is on the whole a blessing, but we should be mindful to avoid the temptation to regard as exotic or (the irony!) backward those highly traditional Christians — Orthodox, Coptic, Syriac, etc. — who live in the Holy Land and its orbit.
Francesco A. Sangiovanni
Coral Gables, Fla.
When Tradition Suits You
Kevin D. Williamson’s piece “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, After All” (December 17, 2018) reminded me of the conversion to casual dress in my successful accounting firm in New York City in the Eighties.
On the first day of this new freedom, 90 percent of the men looked like “schlubs” (Williamson’s word, not mine), and the women were just a little better in that a large minority remained in skirts and heels. Don’t knock the striped tie and the gray flannel suit; it almost always makes a man look like a mensch.
In “The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, After All,” Kevin Williamson writes of “putting on an IBM-approved white shirt and tie, and going off to an office.”
While I did wear a white shirt and tie every day (even on overseas plane trips) for my first 25 years at IBM, white shirt and tie haven’t been required or even standard for a quarter century. The big changeover occurred in 1992–93.
As Williamson discussed, U.S. ties go from left shoulder across the heart, but in the ’80s European ties went from the right shoulder across.