Monday, 14 September 2009

Binary Follies and missional drift

There are two kinds of people: people who divide others into two kinds of people, and people who don’t. Sometimes it’s wise to distinguish between others, but often not. Usually it’s helpful to remember that any one of us has it in us to be several things at once.

Which brings me to Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s great sermon at yesterday’s Racial Justice Sunday celebration in Oxford. St James tells us about pure wisdom, and that the harvest of true righteousness is sown in peace, for/by those who make peace. So he roots our divisions in our pride, frustrations and faithlessness, and calls on us, double-minded people, to wash our hands and cleanse our hearts.

Jesus told the story of two boys, one of whom refused to do as his father asked, but ended up doing it anyway, as against his brother, who said he would obey but never did, nor even really intended to. We will be surprised in heaven by all sorts of people getting there ahead of us.

Classic bourgeois hypocrisy is all about striving officiously to appear respectable, but another, possibly more pernicious form of double-mindedness is dividing up and compartmentalising the whole world, in ways that tend put ourselves perpetually in the right.

Looking at our grasp of St Paul’s great revelation of unity in Christ in Galatians 3 — all One in Christ, neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female — is not entirely encouraging. It took the best part of 100 years of bitter disputes to bring words and public deeds into alignment over Greeks and Jews, 1800 over slaves and free, and among Anglicans, we still seem to be a tad confused over male and female...

I notice, myself, another intrguing way of indulging this ugly side of human nature; making up novel denominational, racial or religious reasons not to engage with others, producing a technical but narrow conformity to our own particular interpretion of Galatians 3, or whatever.
Who’s driving the narrowness? God, or the limited way we see ourselves and others, and our reluctance to engage?

This all leads me to surmise that if ever we do decide to give practical Christanity a go, there are all sorts of people out there who would love to see it put into practice, much more than they can bear all the fear, excuses, bickering and other symptoms of doublemindedness they are picking up now.


Charlotte said...

Well, you have just put your finger on the reason I now attend the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's services. Unlike the churches of the Anglican Communion, they are not preoccupied with tossing out gay people and their families and friends. They are of differing minds, but have agreed to disagree. No one seems to feel they have anything to gain by agitating for schism.

The Church of England, on the other hand, wishes to impose a uniform no-gays policy on all its member churches, and states that all who disagree must depart the Communion. There is a growing feeling in the Episcopal Church that we ought not to fight this sentence of banishment. Let us join instead with healthy churches like the ELCA, the churches of the Porvoo Agreement, and the others you wish to exclude.

Meanwhile, I leave it to you to figure out how you can run a nationwide "come back to church" campaign, while stationing bouncers at every church door to exclude anyone who does not appear to come up to your standards of heterosexuality.

Joan of Quark said...

I wonder if the South African runner issue will lead more people to get beyond a simplistic binary view of gender?

Anonymous said...

I must be blind. I've never seen anyone at any Anglican church door anywhere exclude anyone who does not come up to my standards of heterosexuality, let alone bouncers. I've not read any Anglican policy document seeking to banish homosexuals.

Well, either I'm blind or someone has a serious chip on their shoulder.

By the way, is there a classic proletarian hypocrisy?

Ann Memmott said...

Yes, I agree - our faith is a banquet to which all are invited.

All? Does it include the person in a same sex partnership, people of a different race, people who are not of 'our' level of intelligence, people who look different to 'us', people whose behaviour or manners challenge 'us' to accept those who we don't want to invite to 'our' church social events? Who is this 'us' that makes these decisions, and on whose authority if God has issued an invitation to all? Big questions, and we all fall short sometimes.

What sort of banquet is it? One where all are participants in the full feast of church, community, bible study, home groups, social events... or that 'bring your own bread roll and eat it in silence in the church and think yourself lucky to even be allowed to sit in here' experience that some report happening in some churches? Even getting to sit in the church can be a challenge way, way beyond the skills and courage of millions. We sometimes set the barriers so very, very high and guard those doors with every weapon we have - silence, busyness, forgetting to reply, forgetting to invite people, forgetting to make it possible for them to be there.

Bishop Stephen, in church, said a wise thing last year - that churches often say they're friendly, but what they mean is that they are filled with their personal friends. Not the same thing.

It's a challenge for all of us who are working to make a difference.

True welcome and true love for our fellow neighbours, no matter how different they are from us. A banquet fit for all. I'll drink to that.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Many thanks to all for thoughts on this. JQ, I share your aspiration for a more sensible and, frankly, humble, realistic account of gender. Thanks, Ann for +Stephen's vital distinction. It's great to be welcoming, but the very language raises the question "into what?" The vision and general idea is fine — the practicalities can take some serious working out, though.

Anonymous said...

A very interesting and timely post. I have just decided not to attend a Eucharist tomorrow because it will be conducted by a woman priest and in conscience I shall be unable to receive communion. It will be a small group in a semicircle around the altar and my non-participation will be very obvious. This will lead to discomfort and embarrassment on both sides which I would rather avoid, so I feel that the best thing will be for my wife and I not to attend. There can be a sense of exclusion even where this is not explicit.

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