Having spent twenty years in parochial ministry on an island where divisions have often run deep and where suspicion and even hatred still exists in pockets, there has had to be a whole lot of ad hoc thinking.
No-one ever taught us discernment in theological college days; no-one said let’s look at the Bible, let’s look at church teaching, let’s reason together and decide what is acceptable and what is unacceptable to us in our efforts to follow Jesus.
Perhaps there was never sufficient unity amongst us for anyone to attempt such a risky enterprise; perhaps it would have driven wedges between us; perhaps there was fear at what might come out. I remember a guy who went on to join the British army boasting that the only time that he had been inside a Catholic Church was with an automatic rifle when the military patrol of which he was part were looking for someone. Was that attitude acceptable? Would Jesus have boasted about carrying a gun into someone’s place of worship?
I’ve developed my own rules. Persuaded that Jesus wants us to have life in all its fullness, I now decide whether things affirm the life that Jesus offers or deny it. Sectarianism by its very nature is a denial of the fullness of life; it says that some people’s expressions of faith are illegitimate; it denies equality of status to whole groups of people.
Bigots, whatever their tradition, are life deniers in my ad hoc scheme of things. Affirmation demands tolerance, an acceptance that the other person has rights and deserves to be heard.
Having spent the evening in the company of a saintly group of religious sisters, I come away with a sense that being truly a life affirmer demands a whole lifetime of practice – I still have a long way to go.