On Monday (20th January 2014) I came up to Ripon College, Cuddesdon to hear Christopher Landau speak on “Who cares what the church is saying? Christian disagreement and the credibility of public theology.” Christopher is a former student of the college and is presently a curate at St Luke’s, West Kilburn. This interesting lecture was part of the OxCEPT series and gave me pause to reflect further. The following is based on some of the points and ideas that Christopher put forward
Sometimes it’s hard being a Christian. Not because of my beliefs or the way we are called to live our lives (although I so often fall short in many ways). Not because it can feel that what I understand as basic common standards of respect for self and others appear to be being been gradually eroded in our society. Not because I expect anyone to listen to me and instantly recognise that I have all the answers – I don’t!
What is really hard is the ‘face’ of Christianity that the general public gets to see nowadays
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another
If, as a voice in the public domain, we are to be more and more portrayed as nonsensical, irrelevant fools, then maybe we need to consider not only what is being said, but how it is being said. How many times do we cringe when the press pick up the views of individuals with ‘extreme’ theologies and opinions; when they misquote or home in on the more sensational expressions of people’s religion, ignoring the mundane yet essential work carried out by millions of Christians each day in the name of their faith? Yet our own worst enemies may just be ourselves.
I think I should make it clear from the start that we should always be prepared to speak out loudly and clearly against injustices; that we have a duty to expose falsehoods and to stand firm on undeniable principles, but the tone and the way in which we do so needs to come from a deep-rooted love and regard for all those involved – to exercise ‘gracious restraint’ as advocated by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
Where better then, to start showing that respect and restraint, but among fellow Christians. I am sure we have all come across situations in our churches where the love of God seems to have been divorced from hearts and minds; being swept aside by petty arguments and disagreements; where it appears acceptable to snipe and carp against our brothers and sisters in Christ; to turn a deaf ear to anything that doesn’t resonate with our personal views. If this is what the outside world sees is happening, then why should they think we have anything relevant to say?
‘Gracious restraint’ should mean that we must not only be prepared to share our own views with each other, but that we should also be prepared to listen; though certainly not to remain silent so that we give the impression that we unquestionably concur, yet all the while dismissing the other as misguided. We need to find arenas where these conversations can take place; to provide room for mutual disagreement; for them to be undertaken using gentleness in speech and manner and to leave space for the Holy Spirit to guide us.
As Christopher pointed out, if we can achieve this at personal and parish levels then we can create a ‘trickle up’ effect and honestly speak as the body of Christ. Perhaps then our words and actions will become more relevant and our public theology more engaging and news-worthy. In this way we will also ensure that ‘love at the heart of faith is visible’