The Anglican Church is having trouble deciding whether to introduce women bishops. Within the Church, there have been agitation, discussion and arguments over the move for ages. It is possible that, outside the Church, very few people would have any interest whatsoever, in either the arguments or in the development.
By which I do not mean that the issue, and the principles behind it, are not important. I mean that it is simply bewildering and deeply depressing that an organisation whose over-riding purpose is to support and give shelter to the best that humankind can be, should have needed to debate this issue for one moment, let alone for years. Of course there should be women bishops. How can you have time or energy to spare for troubling over this issue ? We who are not of the Church can only look on aghast at the inward-facing anachronistic irrelevance of it all, this diversion and waste of good energy, to the point of dereliction and irresponsibility.
And of course one thinks in the same breath of the same Church’s agonisings over homosexuality. Oh dear oh dear, at all costs we must keep our precious Church together, even if it means doing sorry deals with bigots and fundamentalists, these Pharisees still hissing at the foot of the cross, thereby making nonsense of what the Church means and stands for. In supporting another move entirely, the Rt Reverend Christopher Hill has recently declared that “of vital importance to the body of Christ [is] our care and concern for the equality of all human beings as created by God and redeemed in Christ”. Well, quite.
I have to ask myself why do I feel such despair that the Church is allowing itself to be pre-occupied, defeated and reduced by internal issues of this kind – over which a present Christ, Love in person, would not have a moment’s doubt – while remaining largely silent and on the side-lines over issues that are central, universal, and presently even desperate. Here is the dereliction I referred to earlier. We are indeed looking at the abyss.
Above all, I am thinking of our Society’s enslavement to material gain and individual acquisition as be-all, end-all and measure of individual worth, and our tolerance of the consequent vast inequalities within the population, as some individuals demand and are able to fetch, largely with impunity, incomes on a scale that is obscene, anti-social, and simply void of reason or measure. The present scandal over the bankers is merely the latest in a series of scandals involving various walks of modern life ; clearly they describe a whole Society, not just particular guilty tribes within it.
Was not material gain and God’s relationship with Caesar one of the most difficult and central issues and arguments throughout Christ’s ministry ? Give up all you have and follow me, said Love. It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than…. In these desperate, shaming and pathological times of wholesale greed and ubiquitous corruption, of lost ways and lost purposes, of sleek dishonest sales talk at all levels, of Western Society reeling and shaking, what is the Church’s position, what witness is it giving, how is it engaged ? Sorry, says the Church, call again later. We’re busy discussing whether gays and women are to be allowed a place in our hierarchies.
Not so long ago, when Thatcher was publically triumphing over the “defeat” of Communism by the West, the late Cardinal Hume gave a speech which could be interpreted as directly rebuking her. He said that Capitalism and Communism were both systems which had failed fundamentally to befriend humanity and also the environment where we live and have our fragile being. The Cardinal implied that, far from losing to a success, Communism was merely the first of the two failed systems to collapse.
In search of guidance, strength and clarity, I find myself turning to a Church born of concepts clearly far too radical for the times in which they were uttered, and seemingly still way in advance of these times in which I find myself alive.
So where is this Church ? Walking in front of me ? Walking beside me ? I don’t see it anywhere.
“Nothing is apt to mask the face of God so much as religion.” Martin Buber
July 8th 2012