The martyrdom complex – why liberals don’t say what they mean.

For obvious reasons I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the issue of gay marriage and the church, and really that’s just a starting point for any number of thoughts.

To a certain extent, the church feels as though it is going through relationship counselling, or marriage guidance. As in many situations, the presenting issue is not the issue which is necessarily the motivating one, even if it is urgent. The church is not at ease with itself – if it ever was.

Relationships generally fail when people don’t communicate, and whist I dare say that conservatives are equally guilty in different ways of not engaging with the liberal wing of the church, I think some of the fault has to go to “my side” as it were. Put simply, liberals often have a peculiar sort of martyrdom complex, and as a result we give out the impression that we don’t hold our views all that strongly.

Part of this is due to most “influential” folk in the liberal/high church end of the SEC being priests, placing a high value on the reconciliation ministry. Indeed I would say that reconciliation is the heart of priesthood – drawing people closer to one another and closer to God.

But often what comes with this overriding ethic is sometimes, self-glorifying notion of sacrifice. We are willing to sacrifice our views for the sake of Unity of Mother Church, for the Greater Good.

I think it’s a bad idea: mainly because it’s a means to an end, and as we can see, the end is never actually achieved. I think the liberal obsession with “compromise and accommodation” creates more division than unity.

Compromising ones beliefs often gives the impression that we are not passionate about them. I’ve known (some, not all) theologically more conservative friends who have felt that the liberal church is a will’o’the’wisp, changing views according to the seasons and the fashions, and their job is to ground the church in scripturally rooted teaching, to stop us betting blown off course. By our readiness to compromise and to accommodate, we feed that impression that we aren’t really that attached to our views.

We content ourselves with sacrifice – but the sacrifice isn’t actually ours. Most of the liberals I know are middle-class, normally straight people, of a certain age and class, generally straight. We’re not the ones whose lives are made worse by our lack of fervour for what we believe God is calling us to say and do.

But worst of all, is how this compromise affects those who differ from us. By trying to compromise and accommodate, we don’t actually talk about the core beliefs. Instead of discussing theology, we discuss process. When we seek compromise, not resolution, when we negotiate but not discuss, we have a very false image of what conservatives are actually saying. We haven’t listened to them well, so we paint shadows in our mind of the horrible things they might be (but aren’t) saying. We stop listening, because we don’t really need to. I think one of the great tragedies about the debates concerning sexuality is that we haven’t ever actually discussed the reasons for holding the beliefs that we do – other than the most shallow bit of bible bingo from both sides.

I don’t think this will get us anywhere. If we feel true passion for our beliefs, we need to find a way of sharing that in a way which enables mutual listening and dialogue. We need to trust our conservative colleagues and friends that they are able to listen to us, as we are able to listen to them. But if we are more afraid of conflict than we are of disobeying what God is telling us, no-one will listen. And quite right too.

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About frpip

Priest, Dad, A long way away. You can call me Father Father Father.
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