Sunday, 12 June 2016

In The Wake of Orlando: Kenosis and Creation

I have an interesting relationship with my own ideas.

In my experience, ideas sit in the back of my consciousness, simmering away on low heat, without my feeling any great rush to get it on paper.

I always seem to instinctively know the moment to actually put it together into something that I want to share.

I’ve had an idea- actually two closely-related ideas- percolating away for about two weeks now, and it’s time to throw them out there.

The catalyst to actually formulate these into something resembling a coherent reflection has been the horrific attacks on the nightclub in Orlando that has seen at least 50 people killed. 

News is sketchy at this point, but all evidence is pointing to this being a homophobic hate crime.

But my original idea wasn’t about anti-LGBT violence, but came out of the most recent British Social Attitudes data that shows that “No religion” is now the largest single identification in England and Wales- nearly half the adult population.

That’s twice the population who self-identify as Anglican- the state church;

That’s four times those who identify as Catholic, and more than five times those who identify with non-Christian faiths.

This pattern is being broadly seen across Europe and also- though not to the same degree- in the US.

In response to this data, the 27 May issue of the UK’s Guardian newspaper had a fascinating editorial piece, ‘Disappearing Christianity: Suppose It’s Gone Forever?’ 

Without ever asserting that Christianity was in some way better or superior to other faiths or philosophies, the piece nonetheless held that Christianity has had a profound effect on the development of European civilization in general and British society and culture in particular- legally, politically, in education, and in public morality:

Such an enormous change is bound to have implications for the rest of us. A post-Christian Europe will of course have a morality but it won’t be Christian morality. It will likely be less universalist. The idea that people have some rights just because they are human, and entirely irrespective of merit, certainly isn’t derived from observation of the world. It arose out of Christianity, no matter how much Christians have in practice resisted it. Although human rights have become embedded in our institutions at the same time as religious observance has been in decline, they could become vulnerable in an entirely post-Christian environment where the collective memory slips from the old moorings inherited from Christian ethics.

This is a very delicate point to make. For all that European Christian civilization has given in terms of art, learning, philanthropy, and philosophy, it has also been violent, cruel, intolerant, and imperialist, and there are many who would be delighted to see its demise.

Regardless of my rejection of their remedy, I fully accept their right to be outraged.

Nevertheless, I think the piece is on to something. The point it makes, in my mind, is that, if Christianity disappears, we have no way of knowing what the effect of that will be on all of the social structures that Christian morality originally underpinned… or if what replaces that Christian moral underpinning will be able to maintain those social structures in the same way.

What I took away from the piece was this: the Christian Church- in all its diversity- needs to soberly and practically reflect on its historic faults, as well as its historic contributions, to the history of human civilization in a spirit of repentance and humility;

It needs to soberly reflect on this historic shift away from institutional Christianity, and what part its own doctrine, practice, attitudes, and actions might have contributed to this rejection;

And it needs to soberly reflect on the possible effect the disappearance of Christianity might play on human society in the future…

… and why that disappearance might be the Church’s own fault…

Without getting into any mushy evangelical treacle about how ‘the world needs the Church’, I do believe, as a Christian theologian, that Christian theological reflection has contributed much over the centuries- and has much to contribute- to human society, with a methodology and message that are unique and indispensable.

What is the Church to do?

I think a possible way forward might be in the Church emulating Christ’s ‘Kenosis’ (κένωσις)- Christ’s emptying of himself of his own will and being completely receptive to Divine will.

The Church- in its institutional incarnation- must empty itself, die to itself, completely and totally…

… and give itself to humanity in a new way at this specific moment in history.  

As Jesus died, the Church must die. It is, like Christ’s, its only chance of resurrection.

The most practical thing I can think of that the Church in its entirety must do- right now- is make its peace with human sexuality.

It must make a kenotic emptying of any and all of its qualms, prejudices, rejections, and half-hearted acceptances and embrace the reckless, raging, furious acceptance of humanity that God has shown to us in the person of Jesus.

The Church must do this, not because it is expedient, but because it is right;

Not to save itself, but hasten its death… and resurrection.

It must develop theological reflections around God the Creator, the creator of the full spectrum of human life, love, and being.

Let me be plain:

We now know that on the sixth day, God created gay people- 

every doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist, and anthropologist attests to this- 

and that which God created was created ‘good’.

Now that we know that- and we do know that- we now know that God’s creation is even more complex, dynamic, beautiful, and mysterious than we’d known previously.

This discovery- like every other aspect of creation we have discovered- should be embraced with joy and praise, not grudgingly accepted as a complication to be managed.

It must happen, and with LGBT people being mowed down in the street, it must happen now.

Creation demands it.

God demands it.

At this moment in human history- this moment in the whole history of God’s creation- there is no other salvation for Christ’s Church than for the Church to empty itself and embrace God the Creator…

And to embrace God’s creation made manifest in the lives of LGBT people.

There’s probably more, but right now, that’s all I can think of…

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