Monday, 31 August 2009

Corruption, Corruption ...


In his new book Guilt about the Past, Bernhard Schlink speaks a little about corruption. He is not referring to the bribery variety of corruption, but the corruption that occurs when we work within systems that are unjust, turning a blind eye here, asking for favours there, re-interpreting the rules, keeping the 'authorities' from seeing what is really going on. He gives the example of some of the German universities before Hitler gained complete power. As the bureaucracy around them took on the Nationalist Socialist ideology, so the university professors and lecturers tried to work within the new, unjust rules that discriminated against Jewish staff. And for a few years they were able to work within this new system, asking favours, turning a blind eye, in public agreeing while within the faculties ignoring directives. Working within a system as best they could. But then Hitler arrived at the pinnacle of his power and all that maneuvering counted for nothing. Everything that had been built up by the professors to try and protect the Jewish staff was swept away, and the Jewish staff with it. They discovered that despite their early successes in manipulating the rules, they were vulnerable to their strict application. And once strictly enforced, the professors couldn't claim the rules were unjust. After all, they had been working within the rules for years. By agreeing to work within the rules in the first place and not oppose them the professors were compromised, and eventually failed in their aim of protecting Jewish staff.

The recent attempts across the Anglican Communion (including here in Australia) to bring a monochromatic and legalistic interpretation to sexual mores feels a little like the corruption Schlink is talking about. We agree to work within the new legalisms, but we know these rules are unworkable. Who is going to exclude from parish council a man in a stable, sexual, live-in relationship of 45 years duration, a relationship that has produced grandchildren, on the grounds that he is sexually immoral or a bad example of Christian faithfulness because he is not formally married. So we fudge it, turn a blind eye. We keep it a secret. The bishops and synods are complicit in this corruption by agreeing to this kind of system in the first place. We can't make human communities look like the legalists think it should without damaging it irreparably and unjustly. We, in the middle of Anglicanism, who know that life is not as regimented as the legalists would have us believe, have allowed the conversation and the legislation of our church be hijacked by the right. And we only have ourselves to blame.

Jesus was against legalism not just because of 'salvation by works'. ("I have done my bit God, now it is your turn to do your bit and save me.") He was against it because it corrupts whole communities. There are those who think they are holy, those who enforce the holiness code, those who administer it either in a legalistic way or in an arbitrary way, those who try to work in it as best they can, and those victimised by it. Oh, and I forgot to mention those who sit on their hands.

"Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites ... " (See Mark 7)

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