FATHER ROBERT ELLIS IS THE LOCAL ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN IN MAJORCAK Apparent tension
DURING the past few weeks we've lived through a period when the relationship of the Church with the State has been a matter of apparent tension.
Two weeks ago the Daily Bulletin carried a photograph of the Bishop of Majorca leading a peace march through Palma in contradiction of the national government's stance on Iraq. Three weeks ago the quality press in Britain carried a photograph of an agonised Tony Blair standing in Canterbury Cathedral at the enthronement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Both men had totally opposing views with regard to Iraq. The tension in his face was palpable. Unlike other columnists in this paper I do not believe that the Prime Minister is a war monger in any understanding of the phrase and I'm sure that for someone who's a paid up member of the Christian Socialist Movement the present situation will have caused anguish beyond comprehension. Yet two practising Christians had come to different conclusions. This tension between Church and State is nothing new. During the time of the Thatcher government it was jokingly said that the Church of England was the official opposition party in the absence at times of anything better! Christian history is full of such standoff periods from the time of Nero onwards past Thomas Becket to Bishop Bell's utter condemnation of the blanket bombing of Dresden and other German cities in the Second World War. Underlying Christianity is not an idea but an event. In the words of one author a life lived, a deed done, a death undergone. Christianity is best defined as a tradition of action and interpretation rather than a system of ideas or beliefs.
A faith without a practical working out is anathema and that's why the Franco era and Nazi Germany were such a test for the church and which it blatantly failed. Recently I sat with twenty young Spanish students, not one of whom would give the time of day to the church because of its perceived non action during the dictatorship period in Spain. Similarly it was a Europe with a higher incidence of Christian allegiance than we have today that allowed the holocaust to happen. Faith is fine but faith with action is the only alternative available to the Christian. For he or she knows that it's in the world that we have to live out this interpretation and reflection.
K Called to be human
TO the Christian, God is revealed in Christ as one who was involved in human life to the uttermost. We are not called to be spiritual but human as Jesus was human. It's now over forty years since Bishop John Robinson wrote his controversial book Honest to God in which he argued that man's aim was to be truly human. It is in our humanity, which is not a personal possession but a shared one that we find God not in some mystical experience divorced from the world. So over the last two months like the rest of thinking rational people the Church has had to wrestle with the world in which we live with our fellow human beings. A few weeks ago the Editor of this newspaper asked me to sit on a forum reflecting various stances with regard to the war with Iraq. I just did not know where I stood. Like many others I was totally undecided and still am.
Last weekend my wife brought back the last two months post from our house in Staffordshire. One of the letters was from CND, which I have been a member of for over twenty years, asking me to renew my membership. In the present situation I honestly do not know what to do for the best. I am confused, boy am I confused. But that is part of the human condition and to pretend otherwise is stupid.
K Future generations
Each Sunday Christians associate themselves, their human labours, their aspirations and frailties with the death of the Son of God and because of this we cannot opt out of the human condition and human situation of each age. The old and seemingly bitter and unfair saying of the Old Testament about the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation is just an attempt to express that truth and it is a truth. What we do today affects future generations. The arms sales of yesterday will kill our children tomorrow.
What has been done cannot be undone and its effects will not go away if we just ignore them. We cannot make a fresh start and wipe the slate clean. Each of us has to make his response in the world. We have to follow for ourselves the tradition of action and interpretation. We have to share ina life lived, a deed done, a death undergone and that means struggle and suffering. We cannot avoid it by simplistic answers because there are none. Even Jesus himself found none despite the claims of the fundamentalist certainty wallahs and those who lobby me regularly about this, that or the other with Biblical claims. Because we are involved in action in the world we are involved in the structures of the world and in the affairs of humanity.
K New picture of God
THE Church started as little scattered groups with no clout in a hostile and undemocratic society. Then came the Emperor Constantine. I'm not sure he did give freedom to the Church to evangelise and spread as many historians claim. I think he enslaved the Church to the principalities and powers of the world.
In place of the suffering Christ we find the Christian emperor, rich and powerful, conqueror and judge. This was the new incarnation and the new picture of God. To stand in the Vatican is to stand once again in the Roman Empire with all its trappings, power and inimitable structure and authority. The Church took over where the Roman Empire left off. Not all popes and bishops have remembered the hair shirt under their pomp, and even if they have, it is the pomp which has been seen and which has spoken. I believe this means that we have always got to ask questions when the leaders of the world entangle the Christian faith and Christian Church with their policies. The examples of the past are deplorable. There are the unhappy effects of the collusion between commerce and Christianity in the evangelisation of much of the Third World from which the Church still suffers today. The Church in Zimbabwe has never recovered from when Ian Smith declared UDI in Rhodesia and insisted he was striking a blow for Christianity. Or when Margaret Thatcher appropriated the Prayer of St Francis of Assisi as a hymn to celebrate an election victory, making it as someone has said unusable for its original purpose. Even Tony Blair in his Common's speech on Tuesday resorted to Biblical and religious language, Iraq's time of liberation has come, sacrifice, crusade, never before seen on this earth and Bush's may God continue to bless America.
K Deepening the debate
W hat then has the Church to do? Its task is to deepen the debate, ask questions, investigate clichs, express penitence and to stand alongside those who are wrestling and suffering. As an example of this do we too easily assume that when our politicians tell us that we belong to the free world or that our freedom is threatened by an enemy power we mean the same thing? Freedom means different things if you're starving or there's a gun held to your head, or your child is being tortured in front of you.
The forthcoming weeks will not be easy. Human beings will have their hearts broken both literally and metaphorically. The Christian has to keep his head clear and his heart open, not least to those whom his political leaders persuade him to see as his enemies. Yes, and his hopes high! The resurrection hope under girds and upholds him. Not the pie in the sky hope of Marx, nor the complacent belief that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well but a trembling hope which knows that if we are to be risen with Christ we shall bear in our risen body the marks of the Lord Jesus at the first Easter.
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