Sunday 16 August 2020

Prejudice has no place in Christianity

The Rainbow flag fluttering on the Tower of the Manchester Cathedral today 
The Rainbow flag - Manchester Cathedral
The tenderness that prevails

The fact that I could even be religious at this time of my life is a product of divine tenderness and mercifulness that fills me with both awe and gratitude. This is because my personal experience with many strands of Christianity in the church, the customs and traditions that became rituals of strict observation replacing Scripture with the seeming helplessness of adherents whilst they were taken advantage of by those in authority creating personality cults is enough to be bruised for a lifetime.
Yet, within this morass of faith and spirituality, the conflicts of thought, truth, and humanity, I have found something that gives me a sense of belonging along with experiencing wonder in spirituality and belief. I have written many times about the fact that I have returned to my Church of England Anglican roots, it works exceedingly well for me.
Outsiders everyone
The readings in church today along with the sermon delivered by the Dean of Manchester was a ministry in diversity. The first part was in Apostle Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the first verse and part of the second, then the verses 29 to 32. This was one that jumped out at me that I did not appear to notice that well before.
The Message translation says it best for all the versions I have reviewed. I start with, “God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never cancelled, never rescinded.” Yes, I still speak in tongues and I got introduced to that in the Pentecostal phase of my Christian growth, I get much comfort and sustenance from doing so.
However, it is this that was amazing to me, “In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.” God has made us all the same, wanting and unqualified that we all can recognise His mercy. [Bible Gateway: Romans 11: 29 – 32 (MSG)]
The crumbs are enough
The gospel reading came from the book of Matthew 15:21-28, where a Syrophoenician Canaanite woman came to Jesus to ask for the healing of her daughter who was demon-possessed. At first, Jesus ignored her, but she was unrelenting. Jesus asserted He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but she approached more closely and worshipped Him.
At that point, Jesus said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” This is a statement I have never fully understood because it reads as both an insult and deep prejudice. Somewhere else Jesus had said, and I paraphrase, “Shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham who had been bound by Satan for 18 years be set free on the Sabbath?” Yet, here, it appeared he was not ready to help.
The woman however challenged his prejudice with a retort, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” As far as she was concerned, the crumbs falling off the table would feed the dogs, and the crumbs of a miracle she wanted for her daughter would be enough to heal her. [Bible Gateway: Matthew 15: 21 – 28 (NKJV)}
The great faith of outsiders
To which Jesus commended her great faith and at that instant, her daughter was healed. It is notable to realise that Jesus always marvelled about little faith amongst his disciples and his people, but commended great faith non-Jews, like the Roman centurion who just needed Jesus to speak the word to heal his servant, of the Canaanite woman who believed crumbs falling off the table to dogs would heal her daughter. [Bible Gateway: Matthew 8: 5 – 13 (NKJV)]
More pertinently, it was about addressing prejudice, discrimination, inequality, difference, racism and anything divisional factor that diminishes our humanity. Our Dean was born in South Africa, here, he would be identified as black, in South Africa, he would be distinguished as Coloured. He experienced Apartheid at the beginning of his ministry in Durban and saw the Christian charity of people who refused to have prejudice remove him from the parish to which he was posted.
An inclusive church
During the last week, he supervised the hoisting of the Rainbow flag on the tower of the church, it was his clear message of inclusiveness of the church at which he has been the Dean since 2006. I was quite moved by his message; I was close to tears. The New Testament, Gospel and Christian underpinnings of the readings, his sermon and philosophy were clear, the church will not exclude anyone.
There is a bigger message here, but I reflect on how I have been able to come to terms with my sexuality and spirituality. A difficult journey in many respects and very personal too. I remember telling my pastor in my Evangelical church about my struggle with homosexuality, he asked questions, sought understanding, never judged nor condemned me. He always saw me first as a person and asked how he could be of help.
Further on, he wanted to appoint me to a leadership position even as the head of the global movement cleared said that was not something he personally would do. The fact is, we would not all be hot-blooded heterosexuals on the unwavering trajectory to marriage and procreation.
Knowing ourselves to know others
I cannot answer the question why, but God has a mission for everyone. I, in myself, whilst engaged in the church in other activities declined the offers to lead because I felt inadequate by reason of my situation even as my pastor saw more in me than I saw in myself.
The Rainbow flag flying proudly on the tower of the Manchester Cathedral was significant in that someone did write to the Archbishop of Canterbury to complain and the response of Archbishop was what the Dean decides to do at his church and chapter is his business.
Down in Cape Town where we attend the St. George’s Cathedral which was once the seat of Archbishop Desmond Tutu from during the Apartheid era, Brian and I find a welcoming church, an inclusive community, diverse in persons and walks of life, yet acknowledging of the fact that prejudice of any kind would not feature in the community.
People who have known prejudice should not themselves be purveyors of prejudice when prejudice of any sort is challenged, a way is opened to the embrace of our extraordinary humanity. Then in the first reading, we see that “God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.
You’re left asking one question, how can you be merciless if you have once received mercy? That is the basis and crux of Christianity, it cannot be escaped, it needs to be faced up to.

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