Saturday, May 21, 2005

Tolerance of Intolerance

So many issues arise in the Anglican church at the moment concerning inclusion and exclusion, acceptability and unacceptability, tolerance an intolerance. Whether it’s an issue of human sexuality or the consecration of women priests as bishops the wider church seems focussed on issues that divide.

I have to admit that, as one who believes with a passion in Jesus’ own model of acceptance of all people with love, I find the issues that divide the church difficult. I consider myself a tolerant person and have difficulty understanding those who cannot find that tolerance in their hearts. I advocate the standpoint of the organisation Inclusive Church:

We affirm that the Church's mission, in obedience to Holy Scripture, is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every generation.

We acknowledge that this is Good News for people regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation.

We believe that, in order to strengthen the Gospel's proclamation of justice to the world, and for the greater glory of God, the Church's own common life must be justly ordered.

To that end, we call on our Church to live out the promise of the Gospel; to celebrate the diverse gifts of all members of the body of Christ; and in the ordering of our common life to open the ministries of deacon, priest and bishop to those so called to serve by God, regardless of their sex, race or sexual orientation.

However, recently I was challenged about how far my tolerance stretches. I’m clear that I tolerate those who are often not tolerated and yet my tolerance does not always extend to the intolerant themselves. For example, I find it difficult to accept those who themselves cannot accept the ministry of women in the priesthood. Yet if I am to be truly tolerant I should be able to respect their deep-held, prayer based opinion even though it differs from my own.

"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous." Matthew 5:43-48 43

Last week I heard the Very Revd Jeffrey John speaking about Jesus’ ministry of miraculous healing. Jesus went to the margins of society and crossed them. He did not simply cure the physical symptoms of the people he met. His ministry was far more radical. Jesus went out to those who were unacceptable to society and brought the excluded back into acceptability.

The Levitical laws; the ancient rules of the Jewish Temple, declared that some people were not acceptable in the worshipping community; those who were not entirely physically whole or fit, those who seemed to be possessed by demons, women with bleeding. The Samaritans were considered less than perfect because of their ancestors. There were also laws which said a person was unclean if they touched a dead body. Jesus turned all these rules upside down as surely as he turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple. He cured the blind, the lame, the woman with internal bleeding. He touched lepers, including a Samaritan, and cured them. He raised Lazarus and Jairus’s daughter from the dead.

Jesus’ Gospel is one of love of all. Yet is it easier somehow to love the poor, the suffering, the excluded than to love the wealthy, the oppressor, the excluder? Perhaps we find it harder to show the Gospel of love to those whom we see to be falling short of it. Yet Jesus did not preach to people who were already fulfilling his teaching. His message to them was a challenge to do what he asked of them. He did not wait for them to be right before he spoke to them.

“The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus answered, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance." Luke 5.30-32

God’s call for each of us is to live a life of example to others. To know our own failings and acknowledge them, and to show our love for both the tolerated and the intolerated, the tolerant and the intolerant not only by our words but by our actions:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13. 34-35

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