Ember Wednesday Food for Thought: Bring back ordination in chains (Peter Leithart)

Peter J. Leithart (Against Christianity, pp. 117-118) longs for the days when pastoral candidates were not so enthusiastic about jumping into the fray.

Historically, a pastoral candidate’s desires often had little to do with the Church’s call to serve in pastoral office. Far from seeking out positions of leadership, the greatest of the church fathers resisted with all their strength. Augustine had to be dragged into the cathedral for his ordination to the bishopric of Hippo. When he was a deacon, John Chrysostom made a pact with a friend that they would enter the priesthood together, but when the friend went forward John was nowhere to be found. Martin of Tours was carried from his cell and conducted to his ordination under guard. Gregory the Great, so we are told by his earliest biographer, fled from Rome to hide in the woods when rumors began to circulate that he was being considered for bishop. A humble anchorite saw in a vision where Gregory was hiding, and the Romans trooped out to bring him back for ordination. Calvin was persuaded to remain in Geneva only because Farel’s warnings made leaving even more terrifying than staying. So common was such resistance to ordination that as late as the nineteenth century the patriarchs-elect of Alexandria were led to their ordination wearing shackles.collar

In the modern church, calling has been reduced to little more that a strong desire to hold a position of ecclesiastical leadership. The terror of responsibility for the Church described by many of the leading pastoral writers of the earlier centuries is seldom expressed during ordination exams. Candidates with even slight reservations about entering the ministry are treated with more than a little suspicion.
This dramatic shift in the Church’s understanding of calling is part and parcel of what David F. Wells had identified as the professionalization of the clergy, the reduction of ministry to technical and managerial competence. Pastoral ministry, Wells charges, has been detached from its theological moorings, and has become another career option for the upwardly mobile “helping professional.” One might well recoil from a duty imposed by divine vocation; but one aggressively markets oneself for a career. It is no accident that so many pastors disdain the clerical collar, which is, after all, the collar of the slave.

The Church will find herself in a healthier, if more intense and serious, condition when pastoral candidates begin again to appear for their ordination exams wearing chains.

The Nixonization of Tom Kirkman


Designated Survivor was never quality television. It was interesting only for its highly unlikely, but still remotely possible, premise of a low level cabinet officer being elevated to the nation’s highest office after a terrorist bomb wipes out the entire federal government during the State of the Union address. Once Housing and Urban Development Secretary Tom Kirkman takes the Oath of Office moments into the first episode, the utter fiction of the world created by the show begins to become painfully apparent. Week after week, President Kirkman faces crisis after crisis, domestic and international, resolving them with simplistic solutions that often materialize out of thin air. Along the way, he survives an assassination attempt, discovers his vice president was in on the plot to wipe out the government, takes out the mastermind of that plot with a drone strike, and loses his wife in a tragic car accident.

Despite the numerous circumstances that should make him a sympathetic figure with inexhaustible political capital, Tom Kirkman is maligned by a growing number of political enemies on both sides of the aisle while he eschews allegiance to either political party. An attempt to remove him from office via Article 25 fails after he manages to convince the majority of his cabinet that he is, after all, the same regular guy who had been unexpectedly thrust into office some two years earlier. That doesn’t stop his political opponents in Congress, however, who immediately pivot toward pushing impeachment, having fabricated a list of specious charges of malfeasance.

When season 2 on ABC  comes to a close, the impeachment threat has pretty much evaporated in the same simplistic manner as so many other crises. Kirkman shocks his staff by announcing his candidacy for re-election as an independent despite a formidable challenge from a former one term Republican president who had subsequently served as Kirkman’s secretary of state before the two had a falling out.

An ambiguous season-ending cliffhanger was made all the more frustrating by ABC’s abrupt cancellation of the program. From the standpoint of both production values and ratings, Designated Survivor did not deserve a third season but the unanswered questions left by the final episode prompted its small but devoted viewership to cry out to various subscription streaming services to revive the dead series.

To the rescue came Netflix, which announced, in a most untimely fashion, that a 10-episode third season of Designated Survivor would drop on June 7, over a year after the final ABC episode had aired.

When I “cut the cord” and converted my television to streaming services, Netflix was not a priority. Like most similar production companies, Netflix is overrun with a cadre of holier-than-thou, virtue-signaling progressive jerks, but my main reason for lack of interest in their product was that I didn’t see the need for paying a monthly fee for a service I might use once or twice every three months. I only broke down and purchased it after the third season of Designated Survivor was announced–not, mind you, because I thought it was quality television, but because I cannot stand irresolution.

The unanswered questions left by the final network episode needed to be answered, so I thought.

Well, after sitting through these 10 episodes over three days, I think otherwise.

A program produced for a subscription service, free from the constraints of network standards and practices, is expected to be edgier, pushing the boundaries of language and subject matter. Quality television can navigate these rough edges and still be quality television. But, as I have already said, Designated Survivor was never quality television. Now, unshackled from network restraints, it has become a dumpster fire of flaming excrement that leaves the viewer in need of a shower with Clorox to kill off the accumulated bacteria.

I will not go into explicit details about the glorification of gay sex, the valorization of gender dysphoria, the gratuitous insertion of f-bombs into nearly every conversation, or the pathetic caricatures of extremists on both the left and the right. Instead, I will fast forward to the tenth and final episode that, unlike the end of season 2, leaves no unanswered questions, unfortunately.

Having weathered an election season during which time he has resolved a potentially divisive illegal immigration crisis, prevented World War III (for about the dozenth time), neutralized a racist bio terrorist working for his opponent’s campaign manager, and brought down the CEO of a pharmaceutical company who was his opponent’s biggest donor, Tom Kirkman is positioned for a decisive victory on election day. But his conscience is troubled by actions he has taken, or not taken, during the final 36 hours of the campaign. He calls in the therapist he had been seeing following his wife’s death and proceeds to go on a rant about how he wasn’t really wrong to withhold evidence proving his opponent had no actual knowledge of the racist bio-terror plot hatched by his campaign staff and donors. For all his self-justifying excuses, however, Kirkman finally admits his real motivation for quashing the evidence: “I wanted to win.”

President Kirkman, of course, does win. But the man who stumbled into office as the “designated survivor” some three years earlier is not the same man who gives the cliché-ridden victory speech on election night. The dystopian world of Washington politics has finally consumed him. He knows this (as his final words spoken directly into the camera make clear in no uncertain terms) but he doesn’t care.

Tom Kirkman has become . . . Richard Nixon, and the trajectory of his political future can only spiral downward from here.