I have never in my life so far, or even once since becoming a Christian, advocated, believed in or approved of anything that looks like the authoritarian practice of ‘shunning’ or disfellowshipping, as it is practiced in various Christian traditions. It’s not an Anglican practice, and my understanding of it is very much in the context of it being practiced abusively by those who have more power, over those who have less. I have witnessed it toxic effects up close, and I do not believe it is healthy practice.
And then I saw that more than 50 Christian pastors had publicly given their support to Roy Moore.
Christians have never been the most cohesive group of people. Even in the very earliest days of the church, Apostle’s quarrelled amongst themselves, and barely had Jesus ascended from Bethany before the church started writing women out of its formation, leadership and history. Arguably, you cannot trace the evolution of Christian tradition without acknowledging the fundamental role that it’s many splits played, not only in its differing theologies, but in the way that it sees itself, and how it portrays itself to ‘the World’.
Many of those splits could be considered a moral necessity, yet we must also remember the fullness of context: for example whilst Martin Luther was anti-semite, a legacy that the Protestant church has yet to truly and properly acknowledge, Bonhoeffer’s split with the German Lutheran church helped grow a legacy of theology as resistance, as well as liberation.
Neither is the Anglican and Anglo-Catholic wing of the church without considerable failing – the role the Anglican Church played the treatment of Native peoples at the hands of her missionaries, for example, rightly remains an issue of contention with Indigenous people today .
But the Church is not without a model for corporate repentance, for there are moments in history when the body of Christ must reflect on its corporate sins and repent – as the Church of England did 10 years ago, when reflected on how it backed the slave trade, something which it acknowledged and apologised for. Dr Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, said this:
“The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant ‘them’.”
The corporate Church across all of its traditions, however, is yet to truly repent for its systemic failure to address its sexual sins: long before those 50 pastors decided to support a man whose personal morality is at the very (very) least questionable, the Catholic Church and Protestants both have come under scrutiny with regard to the abuse of children by its priests and pastors. So the response from some wings of the Church to the accusations against Roy Moore, whilst immensely disheartening, was sadly unsurprising. Only a day or so before the open letter of support was published by the Alabama Pastors, Franklin Graham Jnr, had tweeted his own support for Roy Moore.
Those 50 pastors represent a small-ish but hardcore group of Christians who assume that a powerful, influential man is more likely to be the victim in the situation than a child; who are so in thrall to a phoney gospel that they will leave the widow and the orphan, and the violated child, out in the cold. It does not matter that I am from a different Christian tradition – it matters only that the body of Christ “..exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors..” – and, indeed, our peers.
Children, in this instance young girls, were used and abused yet these 50 pastors hear those cries and they react first with paranoia, and suspicion. If we will know them by their fruits, and their fruits are as rank, as bitter and as spiritless as this – what place exactly do they have in the Body of Christ? If abusers are welcome at the table but victims are not, when is it time to cut out the eye that causes us to stumble? Had we already gone past that point when the Church gave slave traders a theology to justify their trade?
I don’t have answers: I do have anger, and hurt and frustration both as a victim, a woman, a survivor and a Christian.Was Jesus not explicit enough when he warned us not to make these little ones stumble? Was he not severe enough we he said it would be better to drown, than to cause such stumbling to a child?
Or will centuries have to pass before we take responsibility, before we humble ourselves again before God, before we say sorry and repent, before the victims receive the justice, and the peace, to which we were called to live out in the first place? And is it time to gouge out the eye, if it means we will see more clearly?