For the last couple of days, sections of the Anglican blogosphere have been agog with excitement over the apparent support by the Church of Nigeria for their government’s proposed legislation against homosexuality.
I admit to not yet having had time to digest either the legislation or the stance of that church.
Nevertheless, I am struck not only by the extent to which criticism is being directed at the Church of Nigeria (some of which qualifies as demonisation), but at Western Conservatives. “Where,” the questioning goes, “is your condemnation? Why are you silent?”
Now it may indeed be that condemnation is required. For all I know, it may already be happening, though not necessarily via blogs and ‘open letters’.
But I cannot help noticing, with regard to the spiritual dynamics of all this, the similarity with what happened in the case of the woman caught in adultery. When her accusers brought her to Jesus to ask what should be done with her we are told by the Evangelists, “They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.”
There was, of course, no doubt of the woman’s guilt. And it is worth reminding ourselves that if the Law of Moses has a Divine origin, then in God’s eyes adultery was then a capital offence, to be punished by the State.
But this was not about the guilt of the accused, and nor is reaction to the Nigerian situation simply about the Nigerians.
There is also a clear difference in that the question was put to Jesus — the Holy One in whom there was no sin. None of us can stand in that position (indeed, that is the point of what Jesus said in reply.)
But we must not forget that this was not a view shared by the accusers. In their eyes, Jesus was a charlatan, a spiritual usurper, a frustrating and dangerous opponent needing to be brought down.
And what did they feel in their hearts when one of their number first came up with the bright idea?
“Wait a minute! Don’t let’s stone her. Let’s take her to Jesus. He’s always condemning and accusing us. He’s got to agree to her being stoned. Let’s see him get out of this one!”
How different is this from the thoughts of those who have taken the Nigerian Church (brothers and sisters in Christ) to the Conservatives crying, “The gospel commands us to condemn such people — now what do you say?”
What do they hope to hear? A shared condemnation? Evasion? Silence?
Is it any wonder Jesus said to us, “Judge not, lest you be judged, condemn not, lest you stand condemned”?
Of course, as anyone will know who tries to put these words into practice, they are impossible for us. We must judge and we must condemn, because life is full of damnable things, and yet with every judgement we accuse ourselves.
But that is surely the point. We must know ourselves to be people under judgement, and keep this before us every time we see a fellow human being committing sin.
When Jesus said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” the lesson was not that adultery was suddenly allowable, nor that adulterers should no longer be condemned. Rather, it was that the accusers saw what Jesus saw in their hearts, and they were shamed by what they found.
As each day passes, we see the Anglican Church revealed not as a thing of beauty but an object of horror, suitable only for the world’s derision and God’s judgement — indeed, as a woman taken in adultery.
Revd John P Richardson
15 March 2009