Why God’s Grace is always more loving than our attempts at mercy – another reminder

Thursday 27th July 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act which decriminalised homosexual behaviour. To mark the anniversary, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York released a statement.[1]

In the Statement, they made the following key points

  1. They and the majority of Anglican primates were in favour of decriminalisation
  2. It is right that the Church condemns sin and evil (they give the example of abuse against the poor and marginalised.
  3. That the church is too often seen in terms of what it is for rather than what it is against.
  4. That we all have our burdens to bear and sin is an especially heavy burden.  Jesus offers his yoke which is light.

Reading the statement, I am struck once again by the desire to be seen as loving and tolerant resulting in something that ends up woolly, muddled and unclear.

The Archbishops are right to state that the church should condemn sin but note that they go on to list “sin” that is already recognised and condemned as such by society. We aren’t really doing anything much when we say what people already think.  This leaves the question “Do the Archbishops think that homosexual sex is a sin or not?” We are back with the Tim Farron dilemma again aren’t we. Reading between the lines, readers may well suspect that the Archbishops do see homosexual acts as sin but it looks like they are afraid to say it.

Now, as was noted during the Farron controversy:

  1. It is legitimate to distinguish between same-sex attraction and homosexual activity or between orientation and behaviour.
  2. It is also possible to distinguish between sin and criminality and to think that something is wrong whilst insisting that it is not the job of the police and courts to enforce conformity.
  3. It is possible to believe that homosexual relationships are sinful whilst standing against homophobic bullying.

The Archbishops’ statement fails to make any of those points clearly.  Instead what they end up saying is:

“One of the things he said has been much on our minds recently: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

There is no human being to whom this does not apply. Every single one of us needs to lay our burdens on Jesus. For every single one of us, the burden that is most onerous, most difficult to bear, is the burden of what the Bible calls our sin, our failure to live as we ought, our continued falling short of the mark. It is the universal characteristic of being human that we are sinners.

Sin is not a characteristic of a particular group of people Sin is the same for all of us. And the challenge to take onto ourselves the obligation to be yoked with Christ, to bear the load he gives us, is the same for all of us.”

Now that is obviously intended to be loving, merciful and welcoming. “Come to Christ for rest.” However, their muddled wooliness has left us with something very confusing. Am I being asked to bring my sin to Christ as a burden that he will take on? On the one hand this is hinted at but on the other the statement implies that I must then share somehow in carrying that burden with him and that somehow he will ease that burden.

When Jesus says in Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

He is not talking about helping us to carry our sin. He is talking about his teaching (his law if you like) which contrasts sharply with the cruel and heavy burden of legalism that the Pharisees offered.

When it comes to sin, Jesus does not invite us to give him a burden that he shares with us under the same yoke. Rather:

But he was pierced for our rebellion,     crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole.     He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.     We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him     the sins of us all.[2]

I suspect that the Archbishops actually believe this and would want to say this but in their fear of political correctness have ended up saying something muddled that confuses the message.

Once again we are reminded that Jesus and the Bible do not soften the message about sin not to condemn or to crush but because dealing directly and truthfully with sin means that the remedy can also be clearly offered.

Once again we are reminded that God’s grace is always more loving than our attempts at mercy.

[1] http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5883/joint-statement-by-the-archbishop-of-canterbury-and-the-archbishop-of-york

[2] Isaiah 53:5-6