The readings on which these sermons are based can be found at
s180e04 Lockleys 27/6/04 Sunday 13
"If however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another". Galatians 5 15.
I was interested to read the column by Angela Goode in the "Advertiser" on Saturday 5th of June p 28, quite a bit with which I can thoroughly agree. She talks about "a red gum tree" --- which "doesn't judge, preach or act with nauseating self-righteousness, unlike the fundamentalist zealots frequently attracted to church congregations." Later she concludes her article by stating: "And a lot more emphasis by church leaders on following the Ten Commandments would not go astray."
Unfortunately the offence of child molestation is not included in the Ten Commandments, and the fifth of the Ten Commandments: "honour your father and mother" has often been used against victims of child molestation to suggest that they should keep silent. There is no "age of consent" at all in the Bible. Would that life were so simple!
It is often asserted that the Church's hands are tied when it comes to child molestation because of the "seal of the confessional". Either child molestation is a sin or it isn't; there are only two possibilities. If it isn't a sin, as some child molesters would purport, then they would not come to confession or consider it appropriate to "repent" for such an action. No absolution is involved. But if it is a sin, and I really think that the secrecy that surrounds such activities reveals that the perpetrators themselves really know that this is the case, one can't be absolved for something one knows is wrong and intends to do in the future, or for something which one knows is wrong and doesn't intend to stop doing. It is a non-sense to come to a priest to ask for forgiveness for the act of murder before one had committed it! So for me it is impossible to absolve someone who fully intends to continue to molest children.
I therefore have great difficulty with anyone coming to the Holy Communion while they are continuing to molest children. If I were to find out that someone was coming to the Holy Communion while continuing to molest children, I would have no option or difficulty reporting that fact to the authorities and warning the person concerned that they are risking incurring eternal damnation by continuing. I am sorry if I offend Angela Goode; I admit to trying to "modify --- behaviour with bribes or threats of heaven or hell":-)! Not that I for a moment think that this is happening here at St Richard's now!
I confess I'm tired of the word paedophilia. These people are not paedophiles; they are child molesters. In the Greek language "paed" refers to children, and "philia" refers to love. So God is a paedophile; God loves children, appropriately, not self-indulgently. To call someone who molests children a paedophile is for me a denigration of all children and the love which God pours out on us all; especially evident on the Cross.
It is worthwhile quoting the Book of Common Prayer occasionally, and the Preface to the service of Holy Communion that reads:
"And if any of those be an open and notorious evil liver, or have done any wrong to his neighbours by word or deed, so that the congregation be thereby offended; the Curate, having knowledge thereof, shall call him and advertise him, that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord's Table, until he have openly declared himself to have truly repented and amended his former naughty life, that the congregation may thereby be satisfied, which before were offended; and that he have recompensed the parties, to whom he hath done wrong; or at least declare himself to be in full purpose so to do, as soon as he conveniently may.
"The same order shall the Curate use with those betwixt whom he perceiveth malice and hatred to reign; not suffering them to be partakers of the Lord's Table, until he know them to be reconciled. And if one of the parties so at variance be content to forgive from the bottom of his heart all that the other hath trespassed against him, and to make amends for that he himself hath offended; and the other party will not be persuaded to a godly unity, but remain still in his frowardness and malice: the Minister in that case ought to admit the penitent person to the Holy Communion, and not him that is obstinate. Provided that every Minister so repelling --- shall be obliged to give an account of the same to the Ordinary within fourteen days after at the farthest."
And despite these words, it is not appropriate for the perpetrator of such inappropriate behaviour to expect the victim to forgive them their continuing abuse.
It is significant to me that the primary point of these rubricks is our relationship one with another. Repentance is our preparedness to "rejoice with me"; with the others coming to the Lord's Table, and the importance that this not be disturbed, rather than specific sins.
While this is a quaint reflection of times when the priest was the policeman and judge in the local community, which times have long since past, the fact remains that there is a distinct possibility that both perpetrator and victim may well wish to receive the Holy Communion from the one altar. Most of the rest of society is private and anonymous. I can fully appreciate police wanting the Church to not warn those against whom allegations may be made. However this puts the church in a quite untenable situation.
These matters are properly dealt with by the police, and not the church. I should also note that it is the minister and the local congregation who are the primary custodians of congregational discipline, not the Bishop, who only has oversight of the process.
These words as well as the words of my text tell us that our relationships within the community of faith are important. It is not that we have to live in one another's pockets. We are allowed to disagree with other people, but we do need to come to the Altar rail rejoicing that others are there with us; rather than lamenting the fact that we have to share God's blessings with others.
For me this is the reason we describe ourselves as a "communion". Our relationships one with another are important. For me the real problem with child molestation is not the power imbalance (though that is a significant contributor to the abhorrence); for me the problem is that the "love" is actually a pretence. People who molest children are actually only out to get their own kicks. Mind you, before I or anyone else, points the finger at such behaviour, we do well to examine our own motivation for "loving" others to see if we too are not loving others for how we can benefit.
The works of the flesh are obvious to me. Treating others, children as much as anyone else, people who hold a differing faith or of no faith, people who have a different lifestyle to ourselves, and treating these as less than human, is a work of the flesh. The attitude that these others don't deserve meaningful employment, a roof over their heads, a warm bed, and food and drink on the table for themselves and for those they love, is a work of the flesh.
For me the one thing that marks the Church from the community is precisely this "coming together" regardless of who we are or what we believe; in an attempt to be a community rather than a collection of separate individuals. It is not easy, and often we have been content to define our existence as against others. Real community doesn't define itself against others.
One of the things that is seen as important is that we set aside some time for young people. I have no doubt that you've had youth services in the past. I would want to say that our "normal" service should be attractive to our younger people. They should have as much a part to play as the older ones. The Sudanese worship is a model for us here. On Easter Day they had young people dancing during their service; and it wasn't "Swan Lake" either. It reminded me of the energy I saw at the Moby concert I attended. As soon as we push our young people to the fringes of our worship, we thereby are creating precisely the situation that people who molest children want; a place where they can exercise their "authority" out of the public gaze.
I began this sermon with the text from Galatians about the possibility that we might "devour one another". If we consider others of no worth other than how we might benefit from them, as child molesters view their victims, then make no mistake about it, we are devouring others just as surely as those who molest children do. If we regard this space; this physical environment or this sacred hour; as here primarily for my own benefit that on no one else's account should be disturbed, we are considering others of lesser worth to ourselves and devouring them.
When I had some military experience, the worst nightmare for a private was to be ordered to do something different from two others of differing but higher rank than the private. Who to obey? and it probably came down to the one from whom the resultant punishment was perhaps less. Let me suggest a scenario where parents tell their child to attend worship and a church activity where the child knows they are going to be put in a position where their personal integrity is going to be compromised. Like dutiful children they have learned to "respect their adults". Who are they going to disobey; the youth leader acting inappropriately, their parents, or God who tells them to "respect those in authority"? The odds are stacked in the favour of the person wanting to molest the child.
In the last month we (in the Anglican Diocese of Adelaide) have been appalled by the accusations of entirely inappropriate behaviour by some church leaders. I do not want to point the finger at those making the accusations to suggest that they are doing something that is not long overdue. I do not want to point the finger at the church authorities who it is alleged failed to act appropriately when hearing of these allegations. I do not want to point the finger at the beaurocratic and / or legal structures that inhibited any appropriate dealing with the allegations. I do not even want to point the finger at "us" and Synod's or our corporate or personal responsibility. I want to make the point that the Bible and / or our faith doesn't give easy answers. We are called to think, to reason, and to not devour one another.
Three times the risen Lord spoke to the founder of the church, St Peter. "Feed my sheep", the Lord continued to reiterate. This seems to me to be the opposite of "devouring" :-).
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