SALT AND LIGHT
IT IS EASY to criticise politicians or double glazing salesmen or estate agents - in fact any group that doesn’t include ourselves. We have a natural expectation that though their propriety should be above reproach, it probably won’t be. But we’re all subject to the temptation to be economical with the truth, disingenuous, deceitful or worse.
A politician, for example, advances his party’s cause in an election campaign by pledging no rises in (income) tax. No sooner is the election over than he is actively investigating increases in dozens of other kinds of tax.
A Scottish couple separated recently and divorce proceedings are pending. The wife was about three months pregnant and decided to undergo an abortion operation, but her husband sought a court order to protect the life of their unborn child. The legal challenge was eventually dropped, but not before media hype had castigated the father for causing his wife mental anguish when she had merely sought medical aid to kill their unborn baby. We have nice euphemisms for that; we call it “terminating the pregnancy” or “a woman’s right to choose”. But you and I were foetuses when we were very young. How do we manage to sustain a moral argument which defends the right to life, unless of course you happen to be particularly young, particularly small and unwanted? Why are we squeamish about late abortions but unmoved by early “terminations”?
I suppose what really incenses us is humbug, hypocrisy and cant - and rightly so, but there’s a scriptural warning about trying to remove the speck from our brother’s eye, while ignoring the plank in our own.
Have you noticed how liberalism in the Church manifests itself in a far from even handed way? I require you to allow me to indulge in novelties of faith, doctrine and practice and in the name of comprehensiveness or charity or generosity, you concede. It is not long before I denounce you as illiberal, narrow minded, irrelevant and failing to move with the times because you won’t adopt my novelties as well. I then demand that you accept my novelties in your parish since not to do so would demean me.
In February this year, Anglican church leaders from the non-Western world, meeting in Kuala Lumpur, issued a fairly conservative statement calling on the Anglican Communion to remain true to Scripture as the final authority in all matters of faith and conduct. The statement went on to affirm traditional views on appropriate forms of sexual expression - endorsing only heterosexual relationships within marriage. So will the Kuala Lumpur statement be something for the Lambeth Conference to endorse next year, or will it be sidelined to avoid embarrassing bishops from other parts of the Anglican communion who apparently see things differently, if indeed they see anything at all?
Are we any better ourselves? Within the last couple of months one of the PWM agencies has taken steps to staunch its publishing losses, by inter alia redundancies among its staff. If the press reports are anything like accurate, the business plan must have been, to say the very least, lacking in certain respects' But never mind: the price of mismanagement can be paid by the lower ranking staff.
There is another PWM agency whose Council apparently took the needs of the staff fully into consideration before deciding on a course of action which could well result in all of them being made redundant. As one of my friends in the City said to me, “The Church seems prepared to learn a lot from the world and to implement all the worst practices.”
Then there is the Turnbull Report, with its attendant euphoric cassette tapes and briefings. The proposed reorganisation has been presented as a streamlining measure to facilitate the efficient implementation of policy. But all the papers I have seen are strangely silent about where the real power will reside if Synod were to accept the proposals in anything like their present form. It’s all very well to say that the Archbishops’ Council will need the consent of Synod - so it will - but it is no mean undertaking to try and overturn a platform motion that you don’t like. I have known it done during my fifteen years on Synod, but I can count the occasions on the fingers of one hand. If Synod’s elected standing committee is replaced by a body with a substantial number of Archbishops’ appointees, I think it would be a little fanciful to maintain that the Synod could be much more than a puppet legislature.
Briefing Paper No2 acknowledges that “The Church is heavily reliant on the voluntary giving of its committed members” i.e. the laity. Two paragraphs later the paper changes its tune. We read “In order to ensure that the Dioceses (who provide much of the Church’s money) are involved at the point of decision making the (Finance) Committee would include membership drawn from the Dioceses as well as from the General Synod.” You could be forgiven for thinking that General Synod members were not elected by diocesan electors!
If we, and the Church of which we are a part, are to be the salt and light that Jesus calls us to be, should we not demand of ourselves and our leaders the very highest standards? Rather than aping the standards around us, should not our 'yes' be 'yes' and our 'no' be 'no', in contrast to what prevails in the Society which we are called to be in but not of?
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.
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