Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Fall of Institutions

Oh, my heart went out to Matthew Parris. The Church has let him down, apparently. It should be dogmatically against Matthew Parris. Sorry, sorry. Against same-sex marriage. And instead, even the local representatives of the Catholic church have been more conciliatory than he expected. I think he's over-egged the Bible though. I'm pretty sure that it doesn't mention the Children of Israel dancing nudely round the golden calf in the desert. That's either a product of Matthew's imagination, or of some film he's seen, which he took to be Gospel. Well, Pentateuch, at any rate.

Maybe the Church is learning not to be an Institution anymore. The Institutions are in decline. Not just the Church. Most institutions. Political party membership is dreadfully low. The Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes are in freefall.

When an institution gets knocked back, it has to reconsider what its core beliefs are, and what are just accretions. The Labour Party will no doubt one again be going through 10 years of debating whether its core beliefs are the nationalisation of the coal mines, or trying to be a nicer party in a post-socialist world. Goodness knows what the result will be, but it won't be pretty. In the Church, as Christendom totters and falls - what matters? Is it the institution itself, is it pretty Church buildings, or is it the original core? Well, we've discovered time and again that it shouldn't be the institution itself. Not just the Churches but the BBC, the authorities that run care homes, the police and - shortly - the politicians have got to face that it's not the institution that needs protecting, it's the vulnerable. The Church of England could probably manage another 100 years persuading people that it's the buildings that are the important thing, but letting them all fall down will become increasingly attractive as people realise they're paying through the nose to just look at lumps of stone. And just being Church to take it out on people of other sexual orientations seems a bit of overkill. Simple bigotry can do that, without all the trouble of singing hymns and having Area Meetings.

You hope, when you come down to it, that as institutions fall we come down to the core. Why did the disciples suddenly burst out and become a Church, one sunny Pentecost morning? And the answer seems to be - because Jesus was alive, and alive in their hearts. That Jesus was welcoming, loving, prepared to deal with anyone. That he took the Old Testament law and boiled it down to two specifics - love  God, and love your neighbour.

So I know I'm being unfair. I know I'm being inconsiderate. I know I'm a right judgemental so-and-so in this. But I'm pleased that Ireland voted for same-sex marriage. I can't condemn it, just because Matthew Parris wants me to. It may be harsh, it may be putting too heavy a burden on Matthew Parris's back for him to carry. But I think he's fine as he is.


  1. Even to satisfy a reactionary gay atheist, I too can't pretend not to be pleased at the result of the referendum. i think it's great news.

  2. Sometimes we have to just let Mathew Paris flounder in his own wash, as his sinking ship moves towards the rocks of destruction, having missed the entrance to the harbour that is the Gospel and wandered somehow into Alice in Wonderland and finding out that he's the Tin Man.


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