Sometimes it is good to be set apart from the flurry of blogs, posts and press releases when a big story breaks. Silence can be voluble, and sometimes if we disagree from the core of our being, a nice, calm, silence will thunder our disappointment throughout the stratosphere without ever hurting anyone, nor being discourteous, never mind downright rude. Ironically, a peaceful silence is the kind of disapproval that is heard, acknowledged and respected, unlike the all-too passionate tirades that only gain attention in terms of their hyperbole, delivery and timing; in some sense the message is actually lost amidst the clamor it engenders. I feel able to say this having been guilty of it so often myself: we live and learn.
Given that circumstances have enabled me to listen, think, watch and wait before writing this blog about the Archbishop’s response to Gay Marriage announcements, I would like to say that I have had a growing sense of deep joy since both the announcements and press releases were made.
Firstly, we are heading into Petertide, a festival during which people are ordained as deacons and priests. As a tutor for a group of curates I am particularly prayerful and thoughtful during this week on behalf of those about to make their vows to God and to the Anglican Church including vows of obedience to the Bishop’s. Smacking of authoritarianism, we have to remind ourselves that Synod includes ordinary Christian people of all shapes, backgrounds and ethnicities, gender identities and sexualities, as well as clergy and bishops who must all come to a mind (similar to agreement but with a bit more ‘begrudging’ thrown in) thus informing the Bishop’s rules and regulations. In reality we might describe it as something akin to a co-operative but with the checks and balances that those elected (yes, elected) to Synods are people in which we place the trust necessary for those who will speak on behalf of many, in order to seek a mind for all. No small order.
What a joyful place (*is she insane? I hear you cry*) that is. A place where the Hooker’s three cornerstones of the Anglican faith: scripture, tradition and reason, are wrangled over, and I mean *WRANGLED* (as evidenced by press images of synod).
Secondly, there is such passion about issues of gender, sexuality and marriage as have not been witnessed since slavery became illegal, or more recently apartheid overthrown, a mere twenty or so years ago. Wasn’t Nelson Mandela imprisoned for 27yrs, while the final Governmental negotiations took three years to complete apartheid’s demise?
Correct me if I’m wrong, but there was a white backlash, there were uprisings, there was a surge in anger, violence and disorder as this momentous change occurred and captives were liberated from an oppressive regime, some of whom vented considerable pent-up frustration and other-sided racism. Now, I cannot comprehend that such a situation still existed where any one group of people could make an underclass of another, particularly occupying invaders holding fast against an indigenous population in the C20. I am aware that many more decades will be needed to heal wounds, fade scars and fully integrate people groups, but thanks to the suffering, sacrifice and stubbornness of many, we’re moving in the right direction. Joy.
Finally, the Church, whether it be Anglican, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, Free, Mennonite, Amish or Quaker (a list neither comprehensive nor deliberately loaded) is not ours, but Jesus Christ’s. It’s meant to be His living, breathing body, and it is meant to be fulfilling the call He acknowledged of Himself:
‘“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed…” Luke 4:18
It might surprise some to know that Jesus wasn’t universally popular, hence the crucifixion. People oppressing others in order to maintain others in their own likeness aren’t very comfortable with anyone who proffers the spectrum of divine perspective – or diversity, never mind a blatant challenge to the status quo and an apparent disregard for religious power and position. (Jesus remained silent when asked to answer his charges in a trumped up court. He was probably ‘in contempt’ given His refusal to co-operate with the patriarchal power-system He was undermining, as He worked out the final cosmic act of salvation, flying in the face of received wisdom about what is and isn’t the right thing to do in order to save your own skin. Little did we know that it was our skin He was after, happy enough to exchange His own for it. But I digress). Yet again, joy.
Joy, joy, joy. Joy that the Church cares enough to go through lengthy elections, synods, debates, disagreements and endure the frustrations of coming to a mind on divisive issues, as all issues affecting minorities of humanity are. We still suffer with the original sin of wanting to be God’s image, forcing others into it, not grasping that we are but a pale reflection of it while people very different to ourselves might share a glimmer of something of God’s glory that we don’t.
Joy that the Church does have a basic calling, ‘to set at liberty those who are oppressed’ and that we are so doing and have so done. We are unraveling the wrongs that have been done in Jesus’ name as He inspires others with the vision, passion and foresight to step beyond the narrow confines of legally ratified religion into the spacious grace and favour with which we have been truly blessed. It’s a freedom that can actually overthrow powerfully oppressive state and even military regimes but you’ve got to be in it for the long game. Nelson Mandela embodies just such a faith. It was never meant to be a cosy club that acts like a pacifier for adults; Christianity makes for a challenging call.
Joy, because the Church isn’t mine, yours or even the Archbishop’s. It’s Christ’s church and it cannot be overthrown. Anything that is built by us human beings that claims to be ‘The Church’, but is merely a pale imitation will merely crumble and fall away to reveal what exactly Jesus meant when He called us to be the ‘living stones’ of God’s house (1 Peter 2:5). And we might all be a little bit surprised at just how inclusive that turns out to be.