So out of touch

Sometimes you get through a lovely day at church and then look online or look at the papers and wonder just how Christian leaders manage to go about getting such bad press on behalf of an organisation which is at heart full of people who are basically generous and loving.

Such was my weekend.

I was struck last week by a letter in the Herald from someone from the Church of Scotland who was trying to explain to someone who was exasperated that (in their view) that church seems unable to give clear comment in public and seems to lack someone articulate to speak for it to the press.

It included this paragraph which made me very cross indeed.

Denominations that hold to the “one person speaks with all authority” model run the risk of being out of line with a majority of their own members. Our presbyterian model of reflection, consultation, debate and discernment may struggle at times to respond to a 24-hour news cycle or a demand for an instant quote, but at least it has an authenticity rooted in the real life of the church.

It made me cross because that first sentence is so obviously untrue. (And seems to reflect a certain rather unpleasant anti-catholic strand that can appear to come from the presbyterian churches). And yet, it made me even more cross because of the kernel of truth that it does contain.

Let me explain.

It is very obviously untrue because, at least in the Episcopal system I know best, there is no “one person speaks with all authority” model. Our bishops meet in synod with the rest of the church, they go to more meetings than they know what to do with, they spend hour upon hour consulting, conversing and just generally chatting with people in the pews and those who fill their pulpits. Generally speaking, I’d say that the bishops that I’ve known have put themselves about quite a lot and I think they would all be quite offended to be accused to speak from a “one person speaks with all authority” model.

And yet.

After the weekend we’ve just had, you wonder whether church leaders do PhDs in how to get out of touch with the people whom you are trying to lead.

Three examples will suffice to prove the point that there just might be something in what the author of that letter was getting at.

Firstly, over the border, we must consider the home life of our own dear Church of England. They are meeting in General Synod this week. And they find themselves in the absurd position of being shown to the nation as chosing how to write discrimination against women in ministry into their canons and codes of practise. I’m not going to get into the details here. All I want to note is how silly this makes us all appear to the world. (And by the way, being a fool for Christ is not the same as sabotaging the gospel, which is what we see all too commonly). My point particularly this morning is that it is the bishops of that church who bear particular responsibility for making it worse by tinkering with legislation which was already an uncomfortable compromise. Not only that, but the synod was led down that path previously precisely by Rowan Williams and John Sentamu. A huge dose of responsibility lies on the doorsteps of the Archepiscopal palaces in Lambeth and Bishopthorpe.

Then, closer to home, we’ve got the RC Cardinal in Scotland using the papers to “declare war on gay marriage” and pledge to spend £100 000 (£150 000 in some reports) on opposing it. Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion. Well, everyone except perhaps those who actually go to Roman Catholic churches and put money in the coffers. You don’t need to go to twitter to see the outrage expressed there. There have been people having tweet competitions to suggest better uses for the money – paying for counselling for gay Roman Catholic youth damaged by their church was one of the suggestions I saw being bandied about.

And yet, the evidence we have from independent sources suggests that there is quite a strong level of support for equal marriage from Roman Catholics. By and large, Roman Catholics believe in marriage and seem to believe it is more than strong enough to withstand a few more people opting in.

And then even closer to home, we’ve got Bishop David going to the US Episcopal General Convention and trying oh so hard not to take sides. (See his comments here:

Now, I understand the politics of that situation. I understand immediately how uncomfortable it would be for a primate to go into that situation arguing against the Covenant. However, that there is a primus with a mandate from his church. Given the overwhelmingly clear majority in this church against the Covenant, it seems to me that explaining why the Scottish Episcopal Church said such a clear “no” to the Covenant has to be a part of the point of going. We didn’t simply say yes to the communion, after all, we said no to the covenant itself.

Well, actually, I think we said, “NO!!!!”

Whenever there are progressive values around, it so often seems as though Christian leaders will flee in the opposite direction for fear of scaring the horses.

I don’t know how we have come to such a low place as this. Nor do I understand how anyone forming an opinion of the church who does not already belong to it would feel any desire to enquire of what faith means.

And thank you for asking – yesterday’s day at church was just lovely.