Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Withdrawing Comment

A fray in recent hours over at Mark Harris' blog has stirred up some deeply emotional and caustic responses. I posted two, and then deleted them with a bit of shame, especially following Mark's admonition.

The whole episode was provoked by the posting of a graphic video assembled by the Church of England priest Peter Ould -- I'll let you find it yourself, if you must, as I simply have not the stomach to link it here -- drawing on a BBC dramatization of the burning at the stake of Bishops Ridley and Latimer on October 16th, 1555. The message was that their sacrifice should inspire similar witness from our all "true" bishops in the upcoming and widely-publicized meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the September 30th Primates-declared deadline that now looms large.

I managed to sit through Mel Gibson's painfully gory The Passion of the Christ a few years ago, yet I could not watch this video in its entirety. But that's just me. Then, I don't live in a part of the world where violence is an everyday occurrence, and I have the luxury of choosing to keep it at a safe distance. I honestly question if Peter Ould has had to witness violent physical death for the sake of the Gospel (or for any reason) up close and personal -- and if he had, would he be playing so loose with a Hollywood-style voyeuristic medium to make a point? Like many in the media-saturated West, most of us can decide to keep that stuff on the television or the movie screen while sitting comfortably in an armchair, the remote nestled warmly in our hand. Or we can decide to use such depictions for our own causes without reference to any consequences.

Too many of our Anglican sisters and brothers have no such choice.

All that said, the implications of the video and its accompanying commentary (some I found equally as disturbing) were clear. Like Ridley and Latimer we have Christ and you do not. If you want to be "real men" (alluding to Latimer's last words) then you must agree with us.

We all should steel ourselves: It's this type of caustic rhetoric that is likely to reach a deafening climax as the House of Bishops prepare for their meeting and September 30th draws rapt attention around the Anglican Communion and blogosphere.

In this way, the video appears to me a cheap shot intended only to provoke a primitive emotional response and rally the ecclesiastical troops for a showdown. It lends nothing to reasoned, prayerful discussions of the matters at hand, let alone any efforts at reconciliation. It does nothing to promote the God-given dignity of anyone, even its proponents. Nor does it seem to me likely to convert bishops to any cause. In fact, it may have precisely the opposite effect.

Finally, the very real threat of spiritual and physical violence resulting from schism seems insufficient for some reason. Apparently the specter of broken communities, severed friendships, empty stomachs and disease-riddled lives where aid can no longer reach -- all of this is no longer sufficient to forestall division, brook the true courage of charity, or even the simple, precious gift of humble civility. The dramatization of a particularly nasty 16th-century burning at the stake now seems more compelling and trumps what is yet real and painful in the present hour.

I sadly wonder why?

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