"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world" (John 1:9).
This verse was not part of the Gospel reading yesterday (which was John 1:6-8, 19-28) but it was a verse I mentioned in my sermon.
Having spent three days last week in hearings of the Royal Commission on Abuse which were focused on Anglican complainants and how we had provided (or failed to provide) redress,* I felt strongly that yesterday's sermon could not by-pass the reality that while our readings invited us to speak joyfully and constructively about God's intention in Christ for the world, some people have experienced the church as a negligent and uncaring institution or suffered perverse, predatory abuse by its officers.
How can the church be an agent of the good news that the true light has come into the world when in its history there have been corners and crevices filled with deep darkness?
Yesterday I offered three reflections in response to the disparity between our claim to offer Christ's light to the world and the reality of darkness within. With some further development here in this post, I offer these reflections to you.
1. In the sweep of human history, the true light of Christ is still finding the darkness within human society, including within the church. The Royal Commission is an agent of that light, exposing that which is either not yet right or not yet put to rights. As darkness is replaced by light we need to maintain the light (e.g. by continuing commitment to boundaries training, to safguarding practices).
2. We can only be a church shining the light of Christ out to the world if we have that light shining also on us because we know we need help with our dark tendencies.
3. We should remind ourselves of the doctrine of sin: ALL (including ourselves) are sinners in need of God; Christ died to save ALL. None of us is beyond need for the redemptive work of Christ. Sin is pervasive in this life, and none of us should ever be complacent about our propensity to do wrong.
*Stories reported in NZ media here, here, here, here, here and here.
Dear Bishop Peter, I commiserate with your sadness at the reality of darkness within the Church, when we should be 'Bearers of The Light of Christ'.
However as your 3rd paragraph of reflection shows, we are also sinners! I think that somethimes we in the Church are so afraid of this reality that we seek to keep our faults and failings under wraps - for fear of offending our fellow Christians (who, incidentally, might be doing the same in their lives). Hypocrisy about our potentially sinful nature can be corrosive!
The sad reality is that there are also people in the Church whose lives have been blighted because of something beyond their control- but which the Church (because of inherited prejudice) still consider to be sinful. These people have had to live with a continuing fear of exposure for something that is beyond their control (LGBTQ+, for instance) and for which they have been made to feel guilty by the Church. This is the 'other' side of 'safeguarding' that has been neglected by the Church but needs to be brought into the open.
Gender and Sexuality have to be openly asckniowledged as part of our common fundamental human nature. Protesting this fact can be harmful - to children and adults alike. Our Church deserves a better education on these matters.
"O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel"
"The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world."
"How can the church be an agent of the good news that the true light has come into the world when in its history there have been corners and crevices filled with deep darkness?"
An elegant answer, especially formative for the original Quakers and the Civil Rights Movement here, is that part of the good news is that the true Light "enlightens everyone" (St John i 9). The gospel itself discredits the othering, aversion, and moralizing of happy warriors, and instead warrants Jesus's command to love one's enemies and see his face in those in need.
Differences of opinion are inevitable, but his disciples promote truth by finding deeper unity in a better way of being human and inviting others to discover that unity and way in themselves. 1960s civil rights protesters, for example, cultivated racial equality among themselves and invited the white majority to search their souls and join them. It worked.
But even if it had failed as politics, this act of the Body would not have been "a corner and crevice filled with deep darkness." Rather, it would have been a compassionate witness to future generations of communities that could not yet overcome their racial inequality.
In contrast, all the moments that now seem dark to us began with a local inability to recognise that the true Light also enlightens some who have been othered or objectified. In the apostolic writings, we do not find proclamation without recognition.
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