We must listen, they keep saying. We have to find the middle ground, they say – doubtless thinking that it is Anglican to do so, and forgetting that the forging of that via media (more complex as it was than mere moderation) came at great cost. We need to find a way to accommodate disagreement. We must disagree agreeably. That’s how to bring peace.
But, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth;” says Christ. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”
These are words that must profoundly discomfit all – from whatever side of Ireland’s recent debate – who are so quick to fetishize the family. Christ is profoundly disruptive of institutions – of human pragmatism’s settled accommodations. It’s why the institution strives so hard – and usually successfully – to contain him. The tabernacled host ceases to be sensible pastoral measure and becomes a powerful sign of a God contained, imprisoned by an institution that uses doctrine as law instead of sustenance. The bishop becomes alpha-wolf in shepherd’s clothing, their staff an abusive weapon instead of the support on which they lean in their search for the lost sheep. The pill may be sugared. Tea and biscuits may be offered. Many will fall for it, snuggling by the Aga as everyone agrees that unity in diversity is what matters – and it does, but not this diversity. For it’s a diversity that allows the abused to retain their second class status – to continue to eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table. “Bind us together, Lord” we sing. “Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you.” And we who follow one whose leaping from the tomb rent the veil lisp about cords that cannot be broken; and the Christ we are to each other comes with wet-wipes, not a sword.
But it’s a sword that “middle ground” needs. Comfort isn’t simply not enough: it’s the very last thing that should be offered in this situation. The middle ground needs to be castigated for its craven equivocation. The middle-grounders’ call to peace is siren. It’s the voice of settled institution: of secure stipends and promised pensions, of middle class ease in the face of the world’s harsh realities. Even as they whimper about “journeying with people” the consciences of the more intelligent among them know that ruck-sack and sandals were hung up long ago. The quality of mercy is not strained – it is an attribute to God himself. There can be no prevarication where justice is concerned. The Christ who comes with a sword no less angrily tells us “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
Synods and consultations and meetings have their place – but only if the paradox at the heart of an institution that grows out of Christ’s excoriation of ones such as ourselves is grappled with honestly by those who participate in them. Conscience’s itch must be placed at the heart of any discussion if the preservation of the institution is not to trump the service of Christ. Our false irenicism is our greatest temptation and peril. It may save our club for a while. But it will be the death of the church.