On Gnats and Camels

Over at Thinking Anglicans there’s a flurry of posts about the two subjects apparently dearest to Anglican hearts: female bishops and gay marriage. Thirteen out of the last fifteen posts on TA have focussed on these two subjects. And it’s not only the number of posts that bears out this preoccupation; it’s the comments, too. It’s demonstrably obvious on Thinking Anglicans that posts on these two subjects attract dozens of comments, while posts on, say, the continuing numerical decline of the Church of England and how to reverse it routinely go unnoticed.

This is rather curious.

It’s clear to me that the Kingdom of God movement that Jesus started was a lay people’s movement. There is absolutely no evidence that Jesus had any interest in the subject of who would preside at the Eucharist, who would lead church services, or whether the church in the future would have full time paid ministers. It is true that he chose people to be his apostles (that word, by the way, means ‘sent ones’ – i.e. ‘missionaries’!), but the gospels are clear that he chose them to be with him, to go out and evangelize, to drive out demons and heal the sick. In other words, they were to be travelling evangelists, not church dignitaries – still less church dignitaries sitting at the highest levels of government.

The front line people in the work of furthering the Kingdom are not pastors, priests, or bishops. We’re just the support troops. The front line people are the ordinary Christians who go to work each day, not just to make a living, but to make a difference in the world for the cause of Christ. They are the Christian business people who choose to do business in such a way as to honour God and treat human beings as people made in God’s image. They are the Christian tradesmen who are known for their diligence and their honesty. They are the parents, teachers, waiters, accountants, flight attendants and baristas who see their work, their homes, and their communities as the places where they are called to serve God, love people, and bear witness to their faith in Christ. This is the front line of the Church’s mission.

So why all the argument about whether or not women can be bishops (in the Church of England, I hasten to add; here in Canada it’s a moot point)? Jesus apparently had no interest in the subject!

And then there’s the gay marriage issue. It’s true, as those on the traditional side of the debate often point out, that Jesus endorsed the view of marriage expressed in Genesis 2: “A man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”. But the particular deviation from this norm which seemed to trouble him the most – indeed, the context for his endorsement of the Genesis definition (see Matthew 19:1-9 and parallels) – was not gay marriage, but divorce and remarriage; it is mentioned several times in the gospels and was apparently something that Jesus felt quite strongly about. Curious, then, that much of Christianity seems to have made its peace with divorce and remarriage, while having such a bee in its bonnet about something Jesus apparently wasn’t too interested in.

Note: I’m not endorsing gay marriage here; I’m just noting how many Anglicans seem to love putting enormous amounts of time and energy into a debate that doesn’t appear to have been significant to Jesus. I realize that an argument from silence is not always a good one. Nevertheless, where are we on the subjects Jesus was concerned about: non-violence and loving your enemies, or living simple lives uncluttered by many possessions, or being so truthful that no one would think to ask you to take an oath, or selling your possessions and giving to the poor, or avoiding anger and abusive language (now there’s a good one for the blogosphere!), or even going out into all the world and making new disciples for Jesus? Where’s our energy on these subjects? Where are the vigorous discussions on Thinking Anglicans and other Anglican websites about these issues, which were obviously important to Jesus?

How did Jesus put it in another context? “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel”?


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