THE GREAT COMMISSION
DISCRIMINATION is a dirty word, isn’t it? Over the years we have come to accept that discrimination on grounds of skin colour has no place in the Christian scheme of things. Anglicans, in particular, came to terms with this some time ago. I often remind people that last Sunday there were about one million Anglicans in church in England. In Nigeria, there were about 19 million Anglicans in church. So when we get to heaven we will be outnumbered by Nigerians by about 19 to one. We just have the rest of our lives here on earth to get used to the idea.
Non-discrimination has, of course, gone much further. Discrimination on grounds of gender is frowned on. Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is being removed in the armed forces and elsewhere. The battle is still being fought against discrimination on grounds of age, with the Government only last month announcing plans for flexible retirement ages. Discrimination on grounds of religion is still a live issue in many parts of the world, but surely, as Christians, we have moved on and we welcome people of every race and every nationality to be built into the body of Christ, which is His Church.
However it was reassuring to discover from a report in The Church Times in January that old fashioned discrimination is still alive and well. The story was about the Archbishops’ Council appointing an honorary adviser on the Holocaust. It does make you wonder how many other honorary advisers they have and on what subjects they advise, but in this instance the lady concerned, Dr Margaret Brearley, expressed the extraordinary opinion to a Church Times reporter that mission to Jewish people is “absolutely and always inappropriate”.
Well, if the Archbishops’ Council is taking counsel from people with outlandish views like that, one shudders to think in what direction the Church of England may find itself heading. Let’s just reflect on some basic facts for a moment.
It may have escaped Dr Brearley’s notice that amongst other things, Jesus was a Jew. The crowds he taught were mainly Jewish and his disciples were Jews. Paul the apostle to the Gentiles, a zealous Pharisee before his conversion, longed that his fellow Jews might come to know the Saviour. Indeed in most places he went, he first set up shop in the local Synagogue and only moved on to market places or the Hall of Tyrannus, or Mars Hill when the Synagogue doors were closed to him.
Until the incorporation of Scripture into Church of England services became unfashionable, we were reminded Sunday by Sunday that Christ is both “a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of His people, Israel.”
Matthew’s last recorded words of Jesus are that he told his disciples to “go then to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples …” If my understanding of the English language is correct, all is an inclusive word that in this context does not provide scope for exceptions. Peter certainly seems to have understood his Lord in this way. To whom did he preach his sermon on the day of Pentecost?
Dr Brearley is entitled to her point of view; this is after all a free country. Her view could only be tenable if she assumes that Paul, Peter and Jesus were children of their age and did not have the benefit of modern theological insights. But given that this opinion is quite contrary to our Lord’s command, the clear teaching of the New Testament and the tradition of the Church, one wonders why the members of the Archbishops’ Council need advice from such a dubious source. If her opinions on this matter are so unbiblical (and not to put too fine a point on it, anti-Semitic), might her views on the Holocaust not equally be open to question?
Of course, that is not how the apparatchiks at Church House see things. Michael Ipgrave, the Interfaith Relations Adviser of the Board of Mission, argued that the views on mission expressed by Dr Brearley were a personal opinion. “Her advisory role does not include the wider areas of Christian mission and of Christian-Jewish relations.” (which presumably makes everything all right). He added that within the Church of England at least three different positions are held with integrity on this complex question (of mission to Jewish people).
The spin doctors at Church House fed this line down a number of channels; but how Anglicans can hold unbiblical and anti-Semitic views “with integrity” baffles me.
One of the eleven Anglican mission agencies is the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ). Michael Ipgrave must wonder why they bother – if their activities are “absolutely and always inappropriate.” But fortunately they are made of sterner stuff.
Some years ago one of the Archbishop’s minders bounced him into declining an invitation to become a patron of CMJ, despite similar invitations being accepted by a whole string of George’s predecessors. They survived that indignity – after all, we’re not in mission just for the gongs, are we?
So who is responsible for this unbelievably crass episode? As usual there will be no resignations, since there no longer appear to be any opinions, however outlandish, which are beyond the boundaries of Anglican inclusiveness. But who knows? Dr Brearley’s ill-considered comments may yet return to haunt her. Pray that they will be the best recruiting sergeant that the CMJ has had in years.
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.