Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Suicidal Church

From chapter 9 of The Suicidal Church – can the Anglican church be saved? by Caroline Miley, published Pluto Press 2002. 380 pp.

When the Diocese of Melbourne launched a campaign of posters and bumper stickers with a tasteful design and low-key message to celebrate the millennium as a Christian event, most Anglicans refused to put the stickers on their cars. Reasons offered for not doing so included ‘I wouldn’t want people to throw rocks through the window’ and ’I wouldn’t be able to make rude gestures at people in the traffic.’ These are truly bizarre excuses – and excuses is what they are. In what sense can the people who gave them be regarded as Christians? Why are they at church?

There are many of these ‘crypto-Christians.’ Why they feel the necessity to keep their faith a secret is as puzzling as it is depressing. Christians are no longer persecuted, in this country at least. When they were persecuted, and where they are still, many refuse to deny their faith, even though it brought and still brings severe punishments. In Australia today, to admit to being a Christian may bring some slight disapprobation, some tasteless jokes, but that is all. It may conceivably bring some respect. Anglicans, however, are very prone to denying their faith.

It is not a question of advertising one’s holiness, like the Pharisees with their ‘broad phylacteries.’ It is merely not concealing the fact that you are a Christian and that you attend church. These things should be and can be spoken of normally in the course of conversation. Ongoing and widespread failure to do so is the reason the church and the faith seem invisible in a country where some 70% of the population of 20 million describe themselves as Christians. A great many of them are in hiding.

The question comes back ultimately to how seriously people take their religion. At baptism, and when baptismal vows are renewed, Christians promise to ‘not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified.’ It is nowhere specified exactly what this consists of, but admitting freely that you are a Christian would seem to be the bottom line. Too many Anglicans, it seems, are ashamed of Christ.
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