Empires come and empires go; nothing lasts for ever, not even the greatest among us. All things pass. And today marks the end of the present British Government, now in it’s death throes. It has been enlightening to watch the news coverage of the fall of the Government over the last few days. This eventual fall did not really come as a surprise to anyone – the signs were there all the way along. But along with the fall came several important lessons.
All of this came about as the result of the narcissism of one politician – one man who was determined to rule, but with neither the desire nor the ability to actually govern; it was all an exercise in ego and self-aggrandisement. But it was not possible without both the knowledge and the active co-operation of others around him. Throughout the life of the Government, the phrase repeated most often has been this – “one rule for them; another for the rest”. And that ethos is what led directly to this present moment.
For those in power, it must be carefully borne in mind – and never forgotten – that with power comes responsibility; and above all else, the responsibility to live by the same rules set for everyone else. A leader must never ask others to do what they are not prepared to do themselves; and a leader must always be the first to live by those same rules. In other words, they must lead from the front, right alongside those whom they are seeking to lead. To do otherwise will always rightfully expose them to a charge of hypocrisy – of saying one thing, while doing another. And this will, inevitably, lead ultimately to the fall of any empire.
Today, the British Government is an example of such a fall.
But this is not the only institution which has forgotten this lesson.
The very same maxim can be applied equally well to the Church – and the end result will be just as devastating if the lesson is not learned, and learned well.
For more than thirty years, the poisons of sexual abuse and the abuse of power have infected the Church, exacerbated by the on-going scandal – scandal in the true sense of the word – of the cover-ups of these twin evils. All of this continues to this day in many places throughout the world, from the United Kingdom to South America; from North America to any number of other places. The Church continues to protect it’s own reputation and fiscal interests, placing these far above the justice deserved by the victims of such evil; rather than loving and supporting those so terribly affected, the response from the Church continues to be one of silence – ómerta, as it is known – and of making vicious attempts to denigrate those who speak out, to destroy their credibility and to trash their reputations. The Church does not respond with the compassion of Christ, but with carefully constructed lawyers letters, with non-disclosure agreements and with financial pay-offs without admissions of liability.
For a long time now, we have seen the fruits of this approach – the loss of faith in those affected, those who love them, and many others who watch with horror as the story becomes ever clearer; the vast loss of people from the life of the Church, who can no longer accept what they are seeing and hearing; and a Church with so little moral authority and integrity left, that on matters which require a clear and Christian response, the Church is not able to offer one with any credibility.
Now, this is not to say that people have necessarily stopped believing in God; but it is to say that they have a very real problem with the institutional Church, one which so often leaves them with no option in conscience other than to dissociate themselves from that Church. And so the pews are emptying dramatically and with ever greater alacrity. A recent anecdotal comment noted that in a parish of some 1600 people, there were 32 at Sunday Mass a few weeks ago.
But there is one other facet to all this – and it is many Christians themselves.
It is those for whom the faith equates to a sense of Christian nationalism, with faith dictated by politics rather than the reverse, and the Gospel replaced by an ideology, of whichever persuasion; or for whom the entire morality of the Church is reduced to one or two ‘pre-eminent’ moral questions (invariably sexual in nature), as though social justice and many other aspects of authentic morality never existed; and it is those for whom their own outrageous and sanctimonious self-righteousness does not draw souls to Christ, but makes them run from Him.
These are very dark and dangerous days for the Church. The face of the Church is changing – but what it is to become, how it will look, is yet to be revealed.
I pray that the Church – and every single one of us who call ourselves Christian – will stop still and take a good look at ourselves and at the institution and ask ourselves those questions which require to be asked in the deepest honesty, to be answered in equally deep humility, and to be followed immediately by making whatever changes need to be made, regardless of the cost to the individual and to the institution.
God is love; it all comes down to that at the end. We are tasked with loving God and loving neighbour. And if we are not prepared to do both of these, then we have no business calling ourselves ‘Christian’, for the very word will condemn us.