The Church of Scotland has been at the receiving end of two contrasting but linked stories recently. The first happened while I was on holiday, the Daily Record providing the headline “Kirk bid to recruit sex beasts”. The story claimed, that by issuing guidance around the issue of welcoming convicted sex offenders, the church was setting out to actively recruit sex offenders into it’s church.
The key issue seemed to be that the guidance did not say you should tell everyone in you congregation that the new attendee was a sex offender. The papers wanted openness so we can protect our children from sex offenders. The story was quite alarmist, but the quotes from the politicians were perhaps more alarmist than the article. (Although the LIb Dems seemed reasonably sensible when in their quote.)
The second story regard the appointment of Rev. Scott Rennie to a church in Aberdeen. Although his election was voted for by 86 per cent of the church’s congregation, and then that decision was ratified by the Presbytery of Aberdeen by 60 votes to 24, a minority of the Presbytery have appealed his appointment to the churchs highest meeting, the general assembly.
The guy was open about his sexuality, about his life and the reaction is one of denouncement, vitriol and people talking nonsense. Forward Together already issuing one full apology to Rev. Rennie and his family on one issue.
The linkage in these cases is obvious and clear. Both involved sex and the attitudes of those within the church to do with sex. Both involve a perceived need for openness and the reactions to that openness. They also are linked by the press linking church and sex.
The link which the press portrait between church and sex is generally sensationalist. It appears that the only way that the press are comfortable talking about church and churches is either in a noble dignified way in the wake of disaster, or in a “Look at the dodgy Christians and their sex lives, they are all hypocrites anyway” way.
For me, the bigger question is around the former two issues.
There does seem to be a perceived problem with sex and the attitudes of those within the church to sex. Sex is a normal everyday activity. for some people sex can be everyday. Sex can be good. It can also be bad, (as illustrated in the Pulp song – do you remember the first time). Within “the church” there are people. Sexual beings of all kinds. Often this recognition of people having a sexual side and sexuality has been hidden. A reserved, pious, devout, purity stance has coloured sex as something dirty, something other, something somehow anti-God.
Within the current church i don’t see that issue. There seems to be a willingness to see sex as a normal activity and something to be enjoyed and indulged in. (perhaps a more permissive society is being reflected and have caused this attitude change. ) A new openness is there. This is a good thing and something to be welcomed.
The other issue is around openness and our reactions to it.
Openness brings with it power. Being open holds up your life for complete examination. It forces others to tell you what they think of you. Judgment follows. But the power of openness is that it forces self reflection and self protectionism. both in yourself and in those you are open with.
Openness is brilliant, dangerous, unbalancing, wonderful and damaging.
Openness, in the case of Rev Rennie, forces people to consider and reflect on what they thought they knew and believed. It forces everyone to become theologians, to work out what and why they believe what they do about God. That’s a good even great thing. it also causes people to self protect, by shouting, protesting and being hurtful. That’s a bad thing
Openness in the case of sex offenders is meant to be claer and bring knowledge to those who could be affected causes suspicion, nervousness, a change in acceptance levels. It causes panic. It creates a place where church is seen as dangerous and no longer safe.
The current debate is distracting for what christianity is and how it should be. even from how christians should live. It provokes a basic question to us all. what is church?
Church is a group of people of all different types, sizes and shapes.
Church is a place where people can come and be broken and desperate, and themselves within a community of others who are also broken and desperate. It is where people worship a perfect God, in whose shadow our frailties, rough edges, brokenness and pain are loved, accepted, forgiven, and we are accepted.
In both these issues what is displayed is mistrust, judgement, rejection, accusation, language which will cause offense.
And that is not what church is about.