Church, politics & the Politics of the Church.

This week the Daily Telegraph suggested that the Church of England was rapidly becoming the religious offshoot of the Labour Party. Apparently the C of E once thought of as the ‘Conservative Party at Prayer,’ is now the ‘Labour Party at Prayer.’ I hope not. The Church and Politics.

I hope the Church always takes the moral (and biblical) imperative to serve the outcast, the poor and the refugee at face value. I pray that all Christians take seriously the injunction ‘love your neighbour as yourself,’ and, a doctrine of creation that understands that each and every person is made in the image of the living God with the doctrines of creation and incarnation having real world consequences for how we live..

Politicians aren’t mandated take creation and incarnation as their guiding principles, Christians are. Enough said!

A few weeks ago an Archdeacon suggested to me that women bishops would soon be reality because the ‘conservative evangelicals’ now have a bigger prize in their sight: the prohibition of blessings on same sex couples. Church Politics.

And, in these two thoughts is contained one of the reasons why so many are turned off church and, Christianity. Many people expect the Church to be on the side of all who are subjected to perceived (and real) inequality and injustice. Perhaps such a church would be a true missionary church? A true missionary church is a church that meets the aspirations of those with a heart for those who are discriminated against – a true missionary church provides a home for those seeking to live righteous lives and in so doing introduces them to the person of Jesus (see Acts 17,22).

The problem is that a Church that is perceived to be on the side of the poor whilst also being anti women and gays looks just ‘plain weird,’ (Rosie Harper’s term).

Now, we need to be careful of always accepting, uncritically, the prevailing consensus or cultural norms. We must be prepared, where required, to look and act weird. Agreement with the majority doesn’t necessarily equate to good, as in moral or ethical, decisions. We also need to acknowledge that the consensus is frequently wrong. One of my investment maxims is to do the exact opposite of the prevailing wisdom presented by the consensus economic view!

But, we also need to be humble and discern those areas in which the emerging consensus may be correct. Sometimes God might use those outside the Church to teach us a thing or two! It could be that those outside the Church are the ones charged with telling us insiders how to mend our ways!

Theologically we also need to guard against confusing conformity of thoughts and behaviour with unity. Unity, I think, is a destiny arrived at only through working through disagreement. Jesus, in Gethsemane, prayed that we may all be one. However, he also described Himself as a catalyst for disagreement and division. In fact, he linked this directly to His vocation: A quick look at Matthew 10 verses 34-39 makes this abundantly clear. But the way to unity is not through some form of soggy relativism that pretends to respect the opinions of all (some opinions are bad opinions), bullying or appeasement.

The Church should not in any way shape or form involve itself with the politics of appeasement. Appeasers tend to pat themselves on the back for their political astuteness (pride) whilst laying the seeds for ongoing and escalating levels of abuse and atrocity.

Pilot, despite being fully aware of the errors of his ways, sought to appease the religious elite (and just consider the hatred they were then able to stir up against Jesus). Chamberlain thought that the politics of appeasement would lead to ‘peace in our time.’ As we know it didn’t. As we also know instilling hatred against Jews, gays, disabled people, gypsies and so on was core to Hitler’s ethos. Let’s hope the House of Bishops hasn’t sought to appease the conservative evangelicals through its recent pronouncements on same sex unions; if my Archdeacon friend is correct it has and, history suggests, the results might be disastrous.

So how do we move from disunity to unity? Well one way is through the process of progressive revelation and, this is a process, at least theoretically to which the Church of England is deeply committed. Progressive revelation regards Holy Scripture as the basis of all theological understanding. Progressive revelation is biblical to its very roots. But, progressive revelation also regards the Holy Scriptures as being involved in a constant dialogue with reason, tradition and experience; the Church of England calls this the Westminster Quadrilateral.

The Westminster Quadrilateral is one of the ’historic formularies’  ministers vow to ‘assent’ to at ordination. So far the arguments in the Church of England, over women and gays, by those arguing against the ordination of women to the episcopate and the marriage /blessing of gays have constructed their arguments referring only to Scripture and tradition. I am not against this as an approach, except where participants in the debate have freely ‘assented’ to understand how God progressively unveils His plan through the employment of Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.  

For my part, I would prefer to live with disagreement, than to compromise the Anglican way of ‘doing theology.’ The tragedy is that this is what taking place at the institutional level, by a group of men determined to appease a powerful, vocal (and economically valuable) subset within the church. Like all appeasers the House of Bishops is blind to the consequences of its self-perceived sense of political astuteness. The Church should concentrate on doing theology and not politics. Enough said!

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