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"O” for the love of Ozanne and her curate’s egg

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Honestly, I do try not to take the Church of England to task these days for the things that get preached from its pulpits and expounded as some form of “official” doctrine from its official “unofficial” spokesmen. The trouble is that, while the CofE is established, it does have a claim to be the voice of the Church even when what it preaches is deeply concerning. I will be clear: as a Christian, the CofE does NOT speak for me, nor does it speak for my Church. That it claims to do so by virtue of its establishment puts it into a rather ambiguous position. There are Christians in its membership, yet there are also atheists and heretics.
I find that I can’t even describe the CofE as a curate’s egg because of the ambiguity that the phrase possesses. The curate, in being polite to his bishop, says that his egg is “good in parts”. The humour arises because an egg cannot usually be good in parts: it is either rotten or perfectly edible. Yet, the phrase can be used to mean that the egg truly is good in parts. This ambiguity arises because one loses the context from the original cartoon (reproduced above) and is left with only the shell (ha ha) of the phrase “curate’s egg.”
We lose the meaning of the phrase because we lose the context or reinterpret it incorrectly.
These days for my own clarity of thought, I see the CofE as being an umbrella term or brand for groups of separate congregations. There is nothing Catholic about it apart from the word in the creeds and some pretence at apostolic succession. The CofE parish near me is a truly lovely place with some very committed and orthodox Christians who seem keen to get me back on board. If you cannot get on board with our little tiny mission here in Sheffield, then I do recommend it but I would not recommend becoming a member of the CofE. Accept the people, but not the brand!
 I am, however, a Catholic in the original sense of the word as first recorded by St Ignatius and expounded by St Vincent of Lerins. If I am being true to being Catholic, then I do need to commit myself to the Faith of the Church as given by Christ Himself. This means a commitment to seeking the Truth and helping others to find it. While I do try to foster bonhomie with this parish, I cannot join it because, to do so, I would disengage myself from my bishop who is a true Catholic, from my Church which seeks to be united in being Catholic, and join myself to a body which has no uniformity of belief beyond the parish level, where so many bishops and priests are obviously not Catholic and  where the very nominal head of the Church can’t make up his mind about, let alone preach on, what good Catholic Faith is.
Of course, the CofE doesn’t have a single mind on what “Catholic” means. It means more than just “universal”- it is literally holistic in its meaning. It cannot have the idea that everyone’s beliefs are equally acceptable. The Church is for everyone, but not everyone is for the Church. Like “Curate’s Egg,” “Catholic” is a term that is no longer used in its original sense. It means that we do not speak the same language.
Another word that is used to obfuscate the situation within the Church is “love” especially the translation of agape as “unconditional love.” This confusion is certainly expressed in the words of people like Jayne Ozanne, member of the CofE General Synod and “LGBT” activist. She says:

“I’ve been reflecting on why sincere Christians are doing this….and I can only believe it is because they see “the other” as someone who is outside of God’s love and care. Who represents a threat to the Gospel and is what God warns us to ‘guard against’ – they perceive this threat in real people rather than in spiritual powers.”

What she says is utterly agreeable here and a theme that I have preached on myself in the past. We do not battle human beings, but the evil spirits, powers and dominions that constantly assault Man whom God loves so much. Indeed, Ms Ozanne suggests that the healing of the conflict between progressive/liberal and conservative/traditional elements is that of seeking “love” by which she means agape. She asks which “side” God is on, and comes to the following conclusion:

“I for one believe the answer is plain and simple….which ‘side’ is the side of love? Or perhaps it’s easier to discern the opposite – which side is the view based on fear?
Unconditional love has no limits, no boundaries, no borders.
It loves all, embraces all, forgives all.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
It Just Loves…”

And yet, Ms Ozanne seems to be missing something crucial. She would thoroughly agree with me, and I her, that we must always promote the same unconditional love for other human beings as we would want them to show us.
Does God love Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Fred West, Jimmy Saville, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley? And Judas? If God’s love is unconditional, then the answer must be in the affirmative.  Yet, there is a big question about how God’s justice can be done without them being confronted with the painful truth of their actions. What about those who, while acting morally and even seeking justice, reject God? What about Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens who cannot belong to the category of people we class as “evil” and yet refuse to be associated with God?
Hell is a Gospel reality and, if there are human beings in Hell, God still loves them for His love is unconditional. I cannot but accept the existence of Hell and that it is not empty, for Our Lord speaks clearly of Eternal Life and Eternal Death. God’s love is not a barrier to Hell – in that I am in agreement with Ms Ozanne: it is our “love” that might be a barrier to Heaven. If we are commanded to be as unconditional in our love for others as God is to us, then we are faced with some rather frightening prospects.
If we truly love someone like Harold Shipman, the doctor who murdered so many people under the guise of respectability, then does that mean accepting their propensity to murder? Clearly not: hate the sin but love the sinner is the only way we can go. We love the sinner by trying to claw them back from a life of self-destruction. The notion is very clear: our actions are not always acceptable and that there is something within our very selves that requires excision like a cancer. Sin is spiritual cancer, practically by definition.
That’s very clearly extreme example, but nonetheless pertinent. While very few of us are as able to commit vile acts as Harold Shipman or Jimmy Saville, we are each of us as equally broken as they. Each one of us is infected with the consequences of being free to choose whilst being morally weakened through the influence of the evil powers that swarm around us seeking to tear us away from God and consume our being in order to satiate their hunger insatiable.
The fact that we can sin and choose to sin is evidence that our love is very far from being unconditional and that we need Christ to perfect that love by His example, by His teaching, by His life, by His death, by His resurrection, by His Body and Blood. We might not be a mass murderer, but that does not mean that we are not in danger of Hellfire. Again, as Our Lord tells us plainly, our very intentions can convict us of abominable crimes that we need to repent in order for them not to infect our actions. We can live a “good” life but still end up in Hell for rejecting God for Who He is.
The unconditional love that God wants us to show cannot allow itself to be confined to temporal affairs. The love that seeks to build Heaven on Earth is missing the point. We have to love people by being deeply concerned for their last ends not just the circumstances of their earthly living. We do not earn our way into Heaven by making Earth Heavenly – that’s impossible and heretical as Pelagianism. Our unconditional love for our neighbour must be in begging God for those who are near to Hell. Our unconditional love for our neighbour must be pleading with those who reject God to see the light. Our unconditional love for our neighbour must be in sitting down to eat with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners but still not accepting their manner of living as being right or acceptable to God. Our unconditional love for God must be not in looking for Him to be on our side, but rather for us being on His side.
This does mean seeing all that is human as being deficient from God. A mathematician understands infinity using the reflection principle – something that I speak of in my latest submission to Fr Chadwick’s upcoming edition of the Blue Flower. In bearing God’s image, we are imperfect reflections of God’s being in every aspect of His being. In God, love is perfect; in us, it is not but there is a reflection of it there. The trouble is that, we say that we are being loving when we allow people to “be themselves” despite the fact that it is God who says who they are and neither us nor they. That’s understandable because we value human free will which is a reflection of God’s almost paradoxical freewill. But human beings are broken and they are broken in the very power that God gives us in the second chapter of Genesis when we name the animals and thus give some definition to what they are. When that is broken, then the very act of definition becomes twisted and distorted and used for sin, even to the extent of belittling our very selves.
In speaking up for “LGBT” rights, Ms Ozanne has missed what love is or has at least conflated and equivocated on the meaning of the term, because a human being is not defined by their sexuality nor by their gender. Sexuality, like any other aspect of our being, is distorted and pulled this way and that by temptations. In saying to God, “to love me, you must accept my sexuality” is imposing a condition on God – it is not an unconditional love of God. It would not be an expression of unconditional love by an “LGBT” activist for an opponent of “LGBT rights” (whatever they are). The same is true for gender which is a social construction seeking to subject the biological objective of sex with a more malleable concept which can be manipulated by law and convention. To say to God, “in order to love me, you must accept my denial of what You made me” is a condition on love for God. God loves the person despite the fact that they reduce themselves to being “LGBT” and demand rights concomitant with that reduction.
The implications of these “rights” are frightening and impose upon rather more basic rights. Consider the lesbian who finds out that her date is actually transgender and still bears male genitalia. To refuse the advances of the transgender would be a violation of transgender “rights” because the lesbian is refusing to regard her date as a woman. Yet, to accept those advances would be an act of violence against lesbian “rights” because lesbians do not have sex with those with male genitalia – that is what genitalia are for, isn’t it? There is no right to force anyone to have sex, and yet the hierarchy of rights – in this case “transgender” over consent – almost goes against it on the grounds of discrimination. Let us be absolutely clear: there is NO right for any individual to have sex. There is no right for anyone to have their sexual desires expressed or their sexual appetites indulged. Sex is not love. Erotic love is not unconditional love. Eros is not agape.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with people of the same sex living together in a committed and celibate lifestyle. We’ve been doing that for centuries: it’s called monasticism. It is a marriage of sorts in that it is built on promises, vows and commitments, but they are certainly not the same as those of the generative relationship that marriage is supposed to be and to which Our Lord Himself bears witness as being between a man and a woman to the extent that He makes it a sacrament. The fact that monasticism has been declining so rapidly in recent years could possibly be due to the apparent requirement that committed relationships must be sexually expressed. I appreciate that this is an unproven hunch on my part
To say that God does bless these same-sex marriages is based on arguments from silence. The biblical evidence is truly contrary to that argument. To say that God is like us in His unconditional acceptance of who we say we are is blatantly untrue and does not love Him because it does not accept His sovereignty which demands the submission of control of our lives and desires. His love is unconditional: His acceptance is not as the existence of Hell proves. To suffer from same sex-attraction is as much a weakness of the human condition as suffering from the tendency to want more money or to want what that woman has got over there. It is a weakness in the human condition to be suffered in the same way that we all suffer from the temptations that the Evil One sows in our lives. If people fall, then we must forgive with tenderness, kindness and generosity knowing that we need to be forgiven in our habitual failings. What we don’t do is pretend that there is no falling into sin, for then we are deceiving ourselves and blurring our fallible understanding of Who God is. Sin always separates us from God. I am a sinner and I hate my sins because they tear me from God and damage the Gospel that I try hard to proclaim. Thankfully, my sins are truly sins, and I don’t want them accepted but I rather want them removed, cut out, excised so that my love for God may be made perfect. He matters to me more than my acceptance of myself and my self-esteem.
If love is to be unconditional, then EVERYONE must make sure that accepting a sexual orientation or gender position does not become a condition on which love is to be based in the same way that the rich and the poor are to be loved regardless of wealth, that Jew and Palestinian are to be loved impartially, and that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are to be loved regardless of their politics.  I’m sure Ms Ozanne would agree with that. Wouldn’t she?

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