It’s the week of prayer for Christian unity, and I think in church this Sunday we might expect to hear sermons urging us to bury our differences and unite as one family in Christ.
I have a problem with burying our differences.
It’s something I’ve now been urged to do several times in my life. When someone has done me an injustice, then later wants to pick up the relationship and proceed as if nothing had happened, let a friendship begin or resume, I’ve been encouraged (by the irenic spirit who travels through life at my side) to forget the past and embrace the nascent signs of positivity. But I won’t. I won’t build the walls of the house on top of a dodgy and inherently fragile – even fractured – foundation. We get the foundation right first, them we build, is my approach.
I have had the opportunity to work as a free-church minister alongside Church of England clergy, so have stood in a position to perceive their insistence on securing and maintaining a position of advantage – even monopoly and supremacy. I have observed as the Church of England secured and defended (in prisons, hospitals, hospices, colleges etc) paid chaplaincy posts, insisting that these pass on through a C of E dynasty. The free-church ministers could participate in the chaplaincy teams, yes – as volunteers. Chaplaincies often pay better rates than parish ministry.
Where I live, it was once the custom that when someone died and had no especial church affiliation, but their next of kin requested a Christian funeral, the selection of officiant was left to the funeral director chosen by the family. In the early noughties, the C of E woke up to the reality that here was an area of monopoly they had neglected. So they – with no consultation except among themselves – informed the crematorium staff, and the various funeral directors in the neighbourhood, that in future there would be a rota of C of E clergy attached to the crematorium. In case of someone dying with no particular religious affiliation, it would now be the duty of the crematorium or funeral director to select and officiant from the rota of C of E clergy. This, in my view, is more than inappropriate – it is profoundly unjust.
I have the same problem about burying our differences as I have about digging in the weeds when preparing a vegetable patch. If you dig them out – take the trouble to root out all the weeds, your veggies grow in a clean patch. If you dig them in, you get veggies but also a forest of weeds all watered and fed by the care you give the patch as a whole.
So I am not in favour of burying our differences. To do so always tips the balance in favour of the greedy and unjust. It’s like a parent who intervenes in an argument between to children, when one has taken the other’s sweets or toys, and is interested only in that there is a fight, not why there is a fight.
I am always, without exception, willing to try and understand the point of view of people who have something against me, and I am always willing to settle our differences. But I will not bury them. They might not be dead.