Every once in a while, when I fail to show the requisite courage to express my feelings here, my spiritual leader does it for me. In an article in The Independent, I read about ++Rowan's perspective on the English Anglican Church, and it resonated with me.
I often wonder what an alien would make of the Church of England, were that alien to land tomorrow. That alien, in their preparation for human culture, may have acquired its best selling book of all time, and may even have read the bit where the followers of Christ are called to "Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than this". That alien may have been impressed with the moral basis of a Christian life, even to the point of discipleship.
Then their ship lands and they look out of the door and see what it really looks like ...
- Some Christians in the Church of England are so choosy about how to apply Christ's own words that rather than embrace half the population as equal, both in calling and ability, they would sooner walk away and form quasi-denominations. I am not sure that I read "Love you neighbour as yourself, until they don't agree with you or are slightly different biologically, then you may leave and almost join another denomination". The alien may be concerned then why an Ordinariat exists or the birth of baby AMiE. Love with conditions.
- For some Christians, being born homosexual makes you some kind of grotesque mutant, and quite unworthy of the neighbour-love. I can only shudder when I ponder how that same section of loving folk would regard those unable to grow to six feet in height, unable to paint with oils, unable to curl their tongue or those whose hair curls rather frustratingly. You're fine mate, so long as you are like me, mate.
- That Christians seem to want to fight over bits of paper rather than the needs of the poor. Only mention Section 2 and some Christians will lock you into a war of semantics soon as look at them. They may even start a group and ask retired clerics to help out at the coffee-mornings. Is this proper work of a Christian? The alien wonders. The alien thinks perhaps Christians like to get wound up about such stuff yet seems oddly quiet on some really important things.
The alien would surely regard much of the energy of the Church of England as engaged in self-appraisal and self-protection when its Head is the man who self-emptied himself and died self-sacrificially that others may be saved. At best, it might regard many Anglicans as just a little pre-occupied with things that divide.
We are a people with a mandate to love, and ++Rowan very properly drew attention to that lack in our present day. What are we fighting for? What are we defending? Orthodoxy? Our own 'safe place'? Did any of us embrace this faith that we may be safe? Once we place our heads elsewhere, we must surely take comfort that for many invisible and anonymous people, the faith of the Church is worth dying for (notionally and in actual fact), that it lives and breathes with people with real issues of life and death - and it makes a difference. He spoke of a "church in love", a beautiful yet simple phrase. We seem so far from it, and the transformative power that comes with it.
Tomorrow is, in Lectionary Churches in the C of E, the day when we listen to the Parable of the Sower. The alien is likely to wonder when we will stop fussing over the soil that is already very good and have a crack at the margins.