Simon Barrow

The Independent on "the ignored Gospel"

By Simon Barrow
February 13, 2010

"Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear ... Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer


Perhaps the most powerful commentary on the spectacle of the Church of England's General Synod over the past week came not from a Christian source, or from within either the inherited or emerging churches, but from a newspaper proud of its secular tradition - The Independent.

Its leading article the day the Synod completed its business is alive to the dynamic of the Gospel message and the contradictions of Christianity in a way that some within the household struggle to see, and importantly it is more than just critique. It is a proposal for an alternative path - the challenge of reshaping and redirecting "organised religion" in the trajectory of what many of us call post-Christendom.

Not 'post-Christianity', note, but a rediscovery of the Christian message beyond the church of privilege and power, and towards something much more hopeful and creative.

"The ignored gospel message" is worth reproducing in full, and we do so with full acknowledgements:

Lord what fools these mortals be. It is difficult for an outsider to look upon the febrile maunderings of the General Synod of the Church of England without a sense of bewilderment and mild irritation. The body which is the parliament of the nation's established church is, all things considered, a pretty poor advertisement for the message of good news which its founder set out to bring humanity.

Indeed it seems more focused upon bad news – as if it were determined to project its faith in entirely negative terms. Listening to its preoccupations the casual listener could be forgiven for dismissing it as a reactionary institution which is anti-women, anti-gay, anti-Muslim. That is a caricature but it is drawn with the Church's own ink.

The Synod does, at least, have the virtue of being a democratic forum in which such issues can be debated. That is an improvement on the autocratic style of the Pope who recently, in officially announcing his visit to the UK in September, took an almighty side-swipe at Britain's equality laws with the demand that his church should be allowed somehow to stand above those laws.

But both churches put their institutional interests and their abstract theologies above the need to embrace equality and avoid stigmatisation – which was one of the fundamentals of Christ's message in the gospels these clerics purport to place at the centre of their vision. The Church will doubtless blame the media for reporting only on its bitter wranglings – and it is true that the speech by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Synod contained some interesting nuanced philosophical musings on both equality and euthanasia. How should society balance one set of freedoms against another, he asked, and when does a "right to die" not just manipulate the vulnerable but cross a moral boundary?

The Church ought to stand as a sign of contradiction in a consumerist culture whose focus constantly and unquestioningly narrows on ever-greater individualism and self-interest. But where it ignores the lessons which secular society has to teach it about its own gospel message, and does so with such shrill intolerance, it has only itself to blame if the rest of us dismiss it as a foolish pageant.
(c) Independent 2010


Also on Ekklesia: 'Christianity versus "the church of power",' by Simon Barrow -

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