We live in an increasingly perfectionistic world, in which media go after politicians and other public figures for every little weakness and inconsistency. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about grace (God’s unconditional love for us), then I think that this is one of the times in history when that gospel message is most sorely needed.
I frequent ‘Thinking Anglicans‘ from time to time. It’s a rather interesting name, in itself something of a judgement on people who take a different view : “We’re thinkers, those who disagree with us are not”. Statistically, it soon becomes patently obvious that the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ really like thinking about two subjects: same-sex marriage and the ordination of women as priests and bishops. The majority of their posts are related to these two subjects (they advertise themselves on Google as blogging ‘from a liberal Anglican perspective covering news, documents, and events that affect church people’, but apparently church people are mainly affected by these two subjects).
The thing I’ve noticed about ‘Thinking Anglicans’, though, is that many of the folks who comment there have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude toward the Christian faith of others. For many of them, homosexuality is their big issue, and that’s perfectly understandable to me, given the trauma that many have been put through. What bothers me, however, is the sort of attitude that says, “Well, I know you work for peace in the world and you give generously to support refugees and former child soldiers and all that, but all that means nothing because you still oppose marriage equality, so you’re actually a hypocrite and a fraud. It’s all or nothing, my friend!”
Of course, this attitude is not limited to ‘Thinking Anglicans’. Over the years, many of my pacifist friends have described themselves as ‘consistently pro-life’; in other words, they are opposed not only to abortion, but also to capital punishment and war. This description is, of course, aimed at right-wing Christians who get all bent out of shape about abortion but don’t seem to lose any sleep at all about the horrors of capital punishment and war (I would describe myself as consistently pro-life, actually). But of course, the phrase can easily become a judgement on those who don’t see the world as we do. Once again, they must be hypocrites and frauds.
Well, here’s the news, folks: the world is full of hypocrites and frauds. At no time in my life have I managed to achieve perfect consistency between my beliefs and my actions. Nor have I managed to perfectly align myself with someone else’s manifesto or ideology; I’ve always been able to see the weak point of any argument (especially my own), and I tend to be a maverick about what I accept and what I don’t accept. Which means that people are always going to see me as inconsistent.
But isn’t that the way we grow in Christ – one step at at time? In the eighteenth century lots of lovely Christians saw nothing inconsistent about being Christian and owning slaves. To this day, the vast majority of Christians see nothing inconsistent about being Christian and putting on the uniform of your country and killing Christians who have put on the uniform of their country just because the state tells you that they’re your enemies. And there are probably many other blind spots that we have.
We all, as Paul put it, ‘see through a glass darkly’. None of us sees the whole truth and the whole picture. I’m sure there are many things that I get wrong. But wouldn’t it be a better idea for me to rejoice when I find myself walking in step with people over some issues, rather than lambasting them for the times when we’re still out of step? Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with the gospel of grace? Wouldn’t it be loving others as Christ has loved us?
I think so. But then, I might be wrong about that too!