Tuesday, July 8, 2008

General Synod

Currently my brother is attending the annual General Synod of the Church of England at the University of York. My brother is not a bishop or anything like that. On the other hand his 14 years of experience as vicar have set him in good enough stead to attend this year as a humble member of the assembly.

This year it discusses if women should become bishops, that is, holders of the most senior positions in the Anglican Church, except for the two Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and The Queen, who is Supreme Governor (and a woman, funnily enough).

If you live in the UK you will probably know about the Synod already. Our media tends to drop its customary lack of interest in the spiritual health and affairs of the nation when some controversial point affecting the Church of England can be set upon to incite scandal or reflection on its allegedly beleaguered fate and advancing decline.

But what interests me is how utterly bizarre and bonkers, if not sinister, this must all seem to your average, everyday post-Christian. Their knowledge of the gospel, after all, floats somewhere between non-existent and a stable, a star, some shepherds and three Kings gathered around a manger.

Are Christians aware, I wonder, of what these people must think about a gospel they know nothing about when all that they’re told about it by their favourite media outlets is that the principal institution in the land subscribing to it doesn’t like gays, doesn’t want to employ gays, and doesn’t want women to break through any threatening glass ceilings?

Don’t worry. I am not advocating censorship of the press to advance some rosier, less prurient Canterburian presentation. I set my colours firmly to the mast of our hard won, post-medieval liberties of conscience. I do not seek to imitate the authoritarian ambitions of certain other Godly paths I could mention.

Nor, just to let you know, do I believe, as a Christian (of a kind), that there is no place for a discussion of sexuality, homosexuality or the role of the ‘sacred feminine’ in Church debates.

All that confuses and perplexes me is how Christians have allowed it to come to pass that their faith can be seen by the wider, general, unbelieving public as something primarily, if not only, preoccupied with such secondary and, relatively speaking, irrelevant matters such as is homosexuality wrong and should women celebrate the Eucharist.

Just as I have no problem at all understanding why someone might not believe in the existence of God if they have had no experiences of what they take to be God, especially in light of the obvious sufferings of the world; so I have no problem understanding that if you are an atheist, or if not then a believer in some self-styled divinity of your own devising, you might very well, according to the lights of your own notions of virtue, see no reason why the Church's teachings on homosexuality, for example, can hold any water at all; how they could be anything other than a mere ideological justification for an ancient, hysterical homophobia.

Christian morality is morality for Christians. That is a logical utterance that seems robust enough for me. And when I say Christian morality I mean Christian morality, not Christian sexual morality – which is a mere outworking and expression of Christian morality, as is Christian business morality, Christian martial morality and Christian table manners for that matter.

Asking or expecting a non-Christian world to understand or embrace Christian morality without being Christians first, is a bit like criticizing players of baseball for fouling up the performance of cricket when they are not even trying to play the game.

First invite people to become Christians. First explain to them, present to them, show to them, demonstrate for them the glory and splendour and majesty and freedom that resides in the Gospel of Christ. Only then, if they become Christians, can they be expected to behave like Christians. Before this point, what justification can there be for Judgement? You tell me.

Why moralize to the outsiders when they don’t know what your’re talking about.


Anonymous said...

i loathe him but CS Lewis rightly said that if you define a word too broadly it losts its meaning. Something similar has happened with morality. The idea that Christianity should become so broad as to encompass everything is...well, it's another way of saying Christianity shouldn't exist.

Jonathan said...

I agree but Im not sure this issue is as relevant to questions of morality as it is to questions of actual metaphysical belief.

For example, apparently something like 30% of Anglican minsters are atheists. I can but imagine how many may question the notion of the unique significance of Christ. I find that highly weird and consequential to any notion of Christianity alleging that it actually has anything distinctive to say or impart.

If it doesnt, why doesnt it just shut up. After all, moralities that criticise homosexuality, for example, or advance general feel goodery, are commonplace in the world. They do not need the superstructure of a belief in a loving interventionist and gracious God that Christianity uniqueley reveals to the world.

Or thats how I see it.

To me, Christianity is not fundamentally about morality at all. It is about love. It is God intervening in the world and rescuing us from darkness and doom. No other religion sees God do this in the same way. In my opinion.

Of course it involves morality. Indeed i would say it marshalls extremely high standards of morality that are harder to find in other paths (i.e love of enemies, devotion to the material uplifting of all people in the world). But it is not fundamentally about morality, not even its exalted morality.

It is about man and God becoming one - and the arrival of a transfigured world dawning as a result of that. The morality is an outworking of the essence, not the essence itself.

It is a religion of the spirit, not the law (even though it involves laws - just like all belief systems do).

Paul, after all, did not preach mere morality in Athens, he preached the gospel of his crucified and risen Lord. Or am i mistaken?

Anonymous said...

you are not mistaken, my lord