Church in confusion

The Church is confused again!  The ongoing debate on human sexuality and the recent uproar regarding the Bishop of Grantham, Nicholas Chamberlain, has highlighted ethical, doctrinal and biblical puzzlement in church circles. In the recent past this type of revelation had led to quick, ill thought-out responses. A confused and polarised mentality which has herded people into compartmentalised spaces where there is little room for manoeuvre. The evangelical response means this… the liberal response might mean that… the catholic response is mystically elsewhere! I wonder if we can offer a more mature and empathetic response to this current debate?

The Bishop of Grantham, Nicholas Chamberlain, who lies at the heart of the internecine controversy
The Bishop of Grantham, Nicholas Chamberlain, who lies at the heart of the present internecine controversy

Confusion means bewilderment, the inability to think clearly. It is closely associated to a clinical diagnosis whereby the patient becomes disturbed or even delirious. This does not sound like a healthy state of mind. The Church corporate is in great need of care and healing when it undergoes periods of such confusion. I wonder if we could take up this analogy and, like a good physician, build a place of rest, retreat and recovery which promotes health and healing? Could we work towards removing the stones from these hard altars of judgment and metaphorically build a church which enables healing, transparency and hope?

Today’s Grantham episode is certainly not the first controversy of the Christian era regarding matters of human sexuality, and it won’t be the last. But the Christian Church in this country has to be careful not to become a symbol of dispute and internecine strife. My gut (which I believe to be closely related to the movement of the Spirit of God) says that there is another road, a different path to tread, the way of the cross. This is but one example of the cyclical nature of the life of faith in our nation. I wonder where we are today in the series of life’s, deaths and resurrections? Are we beginning an ending or ending a beginning? G. K. Chesterton had a similar thought:

“Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave.”

Perhaps we need to go back to the source of wisdom and knowledge? The weekday lectionary for Morning Prayer has just completed the life of Solomon. It has been invigorating listening again to his life’s story and how he was marked by God’s wisdom – the very gift that he asked God for, not wealth, kingdoms and power, but wisdom. I like to imagine that when I am engaged in contemplative prayer, I am able to turn a valve somewhere, somehow, which enables a deep flow of God’s wisdom into my soul (or gut). So this is a source of wisdom that is not of this world, it is not of the academy, it is not of the Church, even. It is of God. It is very quietly distilled but filled with passion, mercy and peace. It does not judge. It does not allow for judgmentalism, for I am not God. It simply enables me to rest in the authority of my Father. This is the wisdom that tears down the walls of prejudice and hatred, that gives courage to sit uncomfortably (but openly) to the confusions of life. God knows the way out of the grave, perhaps we should allow God to be God! This is the God who continues to bless and heal, including our confused church.

Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.