Pearls and Swine: Wood and Trees
Christian faith, both its belief and its practice, is in serious decline in the western world, this hardly needs stating. However, what is relatively new is that agnostic passivity has more recently given way to active and at times aggressive opposition, cynical characterisation, and ridicule. Why is this so?
There can be no easy answer, indeed, there are no doubt a multiplicity of answers, including scandal and major societal changes; but a significant reason is a religious literalism which makes nonsense of 21st century life’s experience and knowledge and feeds a belittling characterisation.
The Anglican Church claims to be strongest in Africa, amongst our Pacific neighbours, and in pockets of Asia. Why? Not because of a set of dogmas or doctrine, but because in these diverse cultures the Church lies at the heart of community life and its celebration. The attraction of Christianity amongst the poor and oppressed in the developing world is not hard to explain. This was the identity Jesus chose, the company he sought, and in whose voice he spoke. But beyond ghettos and the company of the struggling, cultures whose identity is confirmed through communal celebration, are the natural home for people of faith across all religions. This does not make such people and cultures less intelligent, more open to superstition, less liberated by science. It highlights an essential dimension of being human we in the West have significantly lost, much to our detriment and grief. We have become so infatuated with individual identity and dogmatic assertion that our very humanity, always more corporate than individual, is severely diminished.
The emergence of the Diocese of the Southern Cross (GAFCON) and its arrogant claim to ʹorthodoxyʹ (by implication saying that those who do not adhere to its interpretation of truth are unorthodox – even heretical) does nothing to address the urgent claims of Christ, either in the West or in the developing world. In the West the claims of groups like GAFCON have made the proclamation of the faith infinitely harder, and the ears of the general population hardened against listening. Let me explain:
The West (GAFCONʹS north)
Knowledge of Christianity in the West is now quite abysmal, but it is worse than that, large sections of the population have a caricature of Christianity in their heads which they then conveniently and vehemently reject. This caricature is fed, in large part, by those who take a literal or fundamentalist approach to every verse of scripture without reference to the whole of scripture. (Last Sunday the lectionary led us to a verse in Luke’s Gospel which reads: "Unless you hate your father and mother …you cannot be my follower." Versions of this text exist in other NT writings and in pseudo-canonical writings). Is that verse to be taken literally? Of course not.
Scripture demands we hold in tension apparently irreconcilable opposites knowing that truth is found in the paradox or tension between them. Christianity has given credal affirmation to truth in paradox in requiring submission to the reality that God is both one and three and that Jesus is both man and God.
Scripture focusses human identity in a name – Adam. This identity connects us to the earth – the Adamah. We are earth creatures made truly alive through wind or breath. Adam is both singular and plural. Adam is the name of the human race, but equally Adam is known as every individual. In the West we over emphasise the individual ʹadamʹ and undervalue the whole ʹadamʹ of whom we are all part. The scriptural paradox is that while every individual is unique, we become whom we should be through relationship with others and not least the earth itself, from which our name is drawn. Paul said that in the realm of God there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male or female, bond or free. He may equally have said there is neither heterosexual nor homosexual. In other words, there can be no differentiation in value or respect between people who live who they are. The counter side to this story is of course there should be unequivocal condemnation of heterosexuals or homosexuals who use their orientation for exploitation.
The Developing world (GAFCONʹS Global South)
This serendipitously draws us into the developing world. Some years ago, I spent a week in the HIV AIDS hospital in Soweto, South Africa. Most of the patients were heterosexual. In the male group meetings, skiting about sexual prowess and conquests dominated conversations. In the circumstance, this was almost impossible to comprehend. There was one homosexual in the group and the last to speak. Disgusted with what he was hearing, he said to his heterosexual peers: "Your manhood is not tied to your sexuality it is expressed through the discipline you set, the example you offer, the respect you demonstrate to others". Which of this group was most deserving of blessing, or indeed who sounded most Christ like?
President Thabo Mbeki was slow and reluctant to respond to the HIVAIDS crisis because he was reluctant to tread on what was perceived to be part and parcel of African male identity – sexual profligacy. In scriptural terms, this was and is a far bigger issue than dealing with same gender attraction. Indeed, the latter is a very convenient distraction. A visit to the refugee camp at Deepsloot outside Pretoria magnified many times over for me the issue of perceived male rights and privileges and female subservience.
In my last blog I pointed to how the extraordinary and wilfully distracting focus on same gender attraction in Rwanda potentially diverted attention from the Church’s involvement in the genocide, which should have absorbed every ounce of retrospection available.
That truth is revealed in paradox and seldom if ever in singular assertions is one of the Christian pearls so often "trodden by swine" in the binary addicted West. No time to develop it here, but communism and capitalism, the chief foci of global struggle in all our lifetimes are equally capable of half-truth, distortion, and chaos. Each needs to be moulded through the prism of the other.
The Diocese of the Southern Cross is far from an orthodox oasis planted in a barren landscape of heretical syncretism. It is the opposite. Christian orthodoxy does not hold to one truth while at the same time denying another. Sexuality of any form that is exploitative should be condemned. However, it is the antithesis of Christian faith to condemn or exclude any human being simply for being who they are. It is ironic that many outside the boundaries of formal Christian faith understand this. That is why GAFCON verities have made the telling of the Christin faith so much harder and deafened the ears of those who might otherwise have listened.