Tuesday, 17 February 2009

The CofE, the outside of the cup, and the making of rules

And the Lord said to him, "Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also?” (Luke 11:39-40)

I’ve been thinking over the decision of the Church of England’s General Synod last week to ban clergy from joining the BNP. (There is apparently no problem with ordinary church members doing so, then.) This decision has been much discussed, with Michael White in the Guardian calling it "gesture politics.” And so it is. It is designed to ensure that the CofE is seen to be respectable. (I was going to use the phrase ‘whiter than white’, but it might be misunderstood.) Racism is unacceptable, and not to be tolerated.

This is, of course, as it should be. Racism is wrong for Christians - though one suspects that there are other things that Jesus Christ would find equally intolerable that the Church of England is prepared to tolerate, or simply cannot agree on.

The thing that strikes me as odd is that it is possible to be racist without joining the BNP, and I suppose it is possible to be a member of the BNP without being racist. (Only the most judgmental of people would jump to the conclusion that just because someone is a member of the BNP, they must be racist.) In other words, the CofE undoubtedly sending a signal that
they find racist unacceptable (something that they have signalled pretty clearly for decades), but they are not actually doing anything that will remove racism from the hearts of people. Making this rule will not stop members of the clergy from being racist. It is not racism that has been banned, but one particular activity which is generally seen as a manifestation of racism.

And therein lies the link with the Pharisees that Jesus spoke to. In making this rule, the CofE is making sure that the outside of the cup is clean, without actually doing anything to clean the inside. It is about being seen to be respectable, i.e. righteous. And a desire to be seen as righteous appears to have been an important priority for the Pharisees, just as it is with the CofE. And one of the signs of that, was the enthusiasm of the Pharisees for making rules. Again, much like the CofE.

But then, in Britain today, we seem to have a great enthusiasm for making new rules, and finding new things to ban. General Synod simply reflects Parliament.

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