‘Disgraceful’ hardly covers the behaviour of the two English archbishops reported in The Guardian.’ Today I am ashamed to be an Anglican and ashamed to be a Christian. The shouting matches and arm-twisting described have no place in the selection of bishops – and no place in deliberations over the role of gay clergy in the church.
This kind of ungodly, and I use the word advisedly, failure in decent behaviour can only happen because the selection of English bishops happens behind closed doors. It happens because the Church places too much confidence in the wisdom of bishops and senior clergy and too little in the laity – it is a symptom is a symptom of failing to believe the the Holy Spirit is present to the whole Church. Too many members of the clergy tacitly, or even overtly, beginning to believe that clergy are are not merely Christian leaders who have the very special role of being responsible for the Sacraments in the church, but that they are ‘really’ Christians and ‘really’ understand the mind of Christ in a way lay church people cannot. Of course this idea then feeds upon historical periods when it was still seen as acceptable that serious people chose other like-minded serious people for all positions of responsibility. So in England, it is somehow, bizarrely, acceptable to appoint bishops behind closed doors.
Before we north of the border become too smug, considering our duly-elected bishops, we need to consider why this kind of thing happens.
There is a kind of viscous circle in the church.. The lay part of many congregations fails to grow up. They fail to study. Many know little of the contents of the Bible, and even less about the current state of scholarship concerning it. Too many lay leaders in congregations take the astonishing position that they will only lead worship of a kind they personally find enjoyable. Too many congregations contain many only too happy to bully other members of the laity or their own clergy. I could go on, but won’t. It all adds up to failing to take the quest of following Christ at all seriously.
Oh yes, of course there are many conscientious committed lay Christians, and I live in hope some might even count myself among them. That is not the point.. The point is that for all the struggles of my generation, and of the ones who have come after mine, Christian maturity is in many congregations a rarity. I don’t blame the clergy, or even the laity, or rather I don’t blame one more than the other. I do know that unless and until the overwhelming majority of Christians step boldly up to the mark, we will see utterly shaming and disgraceful scenes like that reported being repeated at different levels all over the church. It is not the job of archbishops to discern the will of God and enforce it – it it the job of each and every one of us, working together, disagreeing without bullying, struggling without squabbling, and learning each from the other. No secrets, nothing kept by ‘adults’ from ‘children’ (because we are all learning to be adults in Christ) no collusion, but frank, kind open debate on all things, and each man and woman seeing the face of Christ in each and every face before them. Simples!