“Paul Tillich, commenting on the Apostle Paul’s assertion that the gospel is a stumbling block, once said that the danger is stumbling over the wrong thing.” (David Lose)
In the last couple of weeks we in the Anglican Church have watched a lot of stumbling, one could argue, over the wrong thing. We have listened as the Archbishop of Sydney has called for those of us, Bishops and clergy who support equality, love and inclusion for LGBTQI+ community, to leave the church. The good news here is both Newcastle and Willochra passed a motions supporting LGBTQI community.
We have watched as the Melbourne Dioces has lurched to the conservative right and voted against the Wangaratta’s diocese’s liturgy fo blessing same sex marriages. That same Synod than lurched a little further and gave its blessing to the breakaway Confessing Anglican Church of Aotearoa New Zealand which has broken away from the NZ province over same sex marriages.
The list of Bishops from Australia who attend the installation of the Bishop of this breakaway group will gives us clear warning that this breakaway will be replicated in Australia in the not too distant future. All Sydney Bishops, Armidale, North Western Australia and Tasmania were in attendance, as was the Present and Former Archbishops of Sydney.
This lurch to conservative orthodoxy based on a professed adherence to a narrow reading of scripture and the 39 Articles, in particular, has gained prominence in our own Diocese. At Synod we were shown the success of church planting across our Diocese. All of these church plantings were conservative evangelical plants and have little in common with traditional Anglican worship and churchmanship. We also celebrated the expansion of multi-cultural single language churches who represent, on the whole, ultra conservative Asian and African cohorts who are highly visible inside GAFCON (the body behind the breakaway provinces across the world). Alongside this is the increasing conservatism in the theology of Ridley College and the ministry students receiving their training there.
The Anglican Church has always understood itself as a broad church, a church held together by a shared faith in Christ amidst a diversity of theologies and practice. We have lived in communion with one another; understanding and respecting our differences while celebrating our sameness and successes.
This has or is about to change radically.
Why? Because we are stumbling over the wrong thing.
For many the wrong thing is sex and sexuality, and yes, it does appear to be the lightning rod for much of this action, but I think it is the red herring in the sea of conflict.
I believe it is because some believe they are better than others. Better in following Christ, better in understanding scripture, better in playing by a narrow set of rules, better because they are without sin.
Tyson Tjunkaporta, in his excellent book “Sandtalk”, tells the story of the emu to reminds us of the impact of an “I am greater than you” attitude. There is a “Dreaming story of a meeting in which all the species sat down for a yarn to decide which one would be the custodial species for all of creation. Emu made a hell of a mess, running around showing off his speed and claiming his superiority, demanding to be boss and shouting over everyone.”
The Pharisee in our story may have had all the qualities he expresses and he may have been better at them than the Tax collector with whom he compares himself. He is just better in every way. He is so much better he does not even hear what the Tax collector says as he walks arrogantly from the room to carve a swathe through the world around him.
Narcissism, seeing yourself and your ideas as being the only ideas to be valued, is destructive. Knowing the truth without any doubt makes you wilfully blind to any alternative. In fact, it makes any alternative evil and needing to be destroyed. Like the emu, you rush about wrecking things that have been in place for a long time, destroying others for the sake of the primacy of self and what you adhere to.
“You can see the dark shape of the Emu in the Milky Way. Kangaroo (his head the Southern Cross) is holding him down, Echidna is grasping him from behind, and the great Serpent is coiled around his legs. Containing the excesses of malignant narcissists is a team effort.”
The idea of the church as a body requiring the unity of each particular part to make a whole, and in return maintain the particular is vital to a reading of Paul’s analogy in 1 Corinthians 12: 14-20. Just as the human body is made up of many parts but remains one body, so is the church. No one part is more important than the other. Each part contributes its own particular character and responsibility and together they make up the body.
This idea that there is only one “true” under standing of scripture and faith belies the the teaching of the scriptures themselves. It is simple giving voice to the Emu to run amok destroying all that gives it its identity.
The little ones Luke has Jesus reference are not just children. It is those the”Greater Than” people consider less than them and whom will always be less than them. It is those who the “Greater Than” must subjugate and threaten with destruction (eternal damnation – hell) to ensure they remain in their place and reliant on those who are “Greater Than”. In the present situation the church finds itself in, the “Greater Than” demands those less than them get out of the way and allow them to get on with their mission, a “Mission from God” only they can complete.
The running amok is the damage done to those who are not and can never be include in the economy or ethic of God’s love, those the “Greater Than’s” have decided, speaking on behalf of God, are unlovable. These are friends and family, children and grand-children, aunts and uncles, neighbours and friends. These are real people whom God created and loved into being. These are citizens of the universe and citizens of custodial ethic. They are those we are commanded to love wholly and unconditional, not with a love prescribed in small print at the bottom of an unnumbered page somewhere in the annals of history.
As with the Emu our challenge is to now take the role of the Kangaroo, Echidna and Snake and to sit on the “Greater Than’s” and to stop them from doing more damage. It is our responsibility to stand up for all how are not included and say, “I stand with” and remain faithful to the God of love whom first loved us.
How do we do that?
- By ensuring this space is a sanctuary space for all people regardless of race, gender or faith.
- By ensuring this space welcomes and contains those who speak welcome to all.
- We are to embody the inclusion we are being denied and to stand against those who are committed to closing the doors on difference and diversity in theology, liturgy and practice.
- We are to carry the ethos of this parish into our homes, schools, workplaces and social lives to ensure our church and our community remains life-giving and hopeful.
- We are to be God’s body without restriction or limitation.
- We are to be the Body and Life of Christ as we affirm in the Eucharist.
- We are to remain the image of love and the one who loves us.