The consecration of Jonathan Pryke, curate of a Jesmond Parish Church in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, by an independent church from South Africa, has set the cat among the pigeons over here in England
We are told, rightly, that the blueprint for the official establishment (sic) of an alternative Anglican way of being Church poses a serious threat to the institution of the Church of England. But does that matter?
If the Church of England or, for that matter, its ‘alternative’, is serious about bringing the good news to its own members, let alone the wider populace, it could do worse than inquire of scripture. In doing so, all would see that Jesus, were he to be directly consulted at this moment, would have little time for conservative evangelicals who plead victimhood and marginalisation as a (false) pretext for claiming the moral high ground. He might even go so far as to suggest that the present debacle is all really about power. He might add that in the case of already powerful and wealthy conservative evangelical strongholds, it is about not losing face.
Most of us liberals have experienced so much loss of face over the past few decades that we barely notice it. Jesus lost so much of the kind of ‘credibility’ that conservatives are keen to maintain that it took him to the Cross. It was the righteous people, the ‘establishment’, which took him there. So for the already powerful conservative evangelical cabal within the Church to claim that it is a victim of liberalism and thereby ‘marginalised’ while at the same time describing itself as ‘mainstream’ is nonsense.
Furthermore, Jesus himself was not ‘mainstream’. He never fitted in to any system, although the system both feared and envied him – the two passions being closely associated. They feared him because his very presence was a ‘crisis’, or ‘judgment’. It reminded them of their own fallibility in the face of pretence and hypocrisy, as well as of their hardness of heart. He needed to say very little. A few marks traced in the sand sufficed, on one particular occasion. They envied him because the people loved him. He had a different kind of power.
Perhaps what we are seeing in the context of the Credible Bishops document, which is aimed at legitimising schism, stems from a reactive build-up of fear. What is being revealed, without anyone having to say it in so many words, is power under threat. Power in the Church is addictive. In fact it is probably as addictive as any narcotic drug, which is perhaps why it is said to corrupt.
What we are seeing in the context of AMiA and its English look-alike is what we always see when power is in question in the life of the Church. We see untruthfulness. Conservative evangelicals are by no means marginalised. It is just that they have become used to the .. power which comes with having the political and financial means to maintain a very high profile in the Church. Recently, their right to occupy the moral high ground has been challenged. They are not victims of anything – except possibly their own authoritarianism.
Authoritarianism replaces true authority when it comes to maintaining a grip on power. In doing so it does immense damage to people’s faith in the Gospel. The good news of the Gospel is the idea that all, without exception, are equally embraced within the love of God as it is manifested in Jesus. In this respect, it is he who has ultimate authority.