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Hallo again to all.

The lines below are from a long-forgotten play*. They occur in a dialogue between Thomas (he of the doubts) and Saul (he of the pre-Damascus Road, still persecuting Christians).

Saul: <criticising Thomas's doubt as a disciple> It is easy to sneer at what you do not believe!

Thomas: Sneer is a harsh word. It is not so easy to be hot and cold at once, to be devoted and intelligent, to trust God and keep your mind dry. But we do what we can. Please God the Holy Ghost will always let people like me hover between the dogmatists and their victims. Faith is a great danger and a great temptation; one can be more wholly oneself in the name of faith than in the name of anything else.

Saul: Atheist! Prostitutes and atheists and drunkards — these are the disciples of Jesus.

Thomas: Say 'lovers and logicians and the common people', and it sounds quite different. The truth lies between the two … it is only a dead faith that is abusive.

Big bad angry animal 'It is only a dead faith that is abusive'. That sentence has been rattling round our heads all week, as we ponder the dyspeptic state of the Anglican Communion at present. There is much that would pass for abuse being lobbed back and forth between dioceses, provinces, primates and a few thousand other interested parties. Of course much is elegant abuse, without an expletive in sight. But there is much cold anger, much turbulent emotion, and much that is, we suspect, not radiant with the love of Our Lord in everything from email lists to talking heads.

None of this is, perhaps, surprising. It is human, and we live in a fallen world. But if we claim to be Christian, shouldn't our disagreements be, in some way, different in kind from the spirit animating the angry missives on Letters to the Editor pages? Shouldn't the world be able to discern a difference in the quality of our disputes from those of the secular world? We should like to think that it would be possible for the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA and the Primate of Nigeria one day to exchange a brotherly embrace. If they cannot — if any of us who deeply disagree on whatever matters cannot — what does that say about our faith? 'It is only a dead faith that is abusive'.

Striving to hold a higher standard for Christian disagreement doesn't mean 'making nice' — another name for hypocrisy — but it does mean that we are called to a deeper self-emptying love. A vaster fund of patience. A willingness to understand that when one person sees the followers of Jesus as 'prostitutes and atheists and drunkards', another sees those same followers as 'lovers and logicians and common people'.

There are serious issues on which people throughout the Anglican Communion disagree. We realise that they might be matters over which we may eventually divide, for we may reach the point where we conclude they are a clash of absolutes. But if it comes to that, would it not be better for the world to view the unhinging of the Communion as a spectacle of deep sorrow rather than bitter anger? 'It is only a dead faith that is abusive'.

It's a sobering thought, as we move inexorably towards Holy Week.

See you next week.

Cynthia's signature
Brian's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 13 March 2005

*Terror of Light, by Charles Williams. Our admiration of the Blessed Charles Williams is obvious; we hope our readers will excuse us for drawing from him frequently.

A thin blue line
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