by Paul Walker
One of the most precious Christian teachings is about
forgiveness. Psychologically it is very comforting to believe that God can
and does forgive us the things we�ve done wrong. What�s more, most of us
know we could live better lives in better ways than we do. Therefore to be
told that a holy God has forgiven us is deeply satisfying.
The problem, I suspect, is that we have tied God�s forgiveness
inextricably to repentance. In almost every act of worship I�ve attended I
have told God how wretched I am - in the hope that he will forgive me. At
one stage in my life, I fervently believed that Jesus underwent the agony
of crucifixion in order that God might punish him for the wrongs that I
had done. It was humbling.
But I have recently come to the conclusion that this attitude accounts
for bizarre double standards I have witnessed in the Church relating to
I don�t think I�m being overly censorious if I suggest that Christian
ministry seems to attract an above-average number of gay men and
paedophiles. This is surprising. What is more remarkable, however, is how
differently the two groups appear to be treated by Christian authorities.
One group seems to be protected while the other group is attacked.
The apparent scandal is not only that there are men of the cloth who
wish to have sex with children, but that such people exist in all
societies. The real scandal is the way that Church authorities have
often moved these men to new congregations, new posts or new places where
they are free continue their abuse of the young.
On the other hand, openly gay men are snubbed. Jeffery John, now a well
respected theologian could not become Bishop of Reading in the United
Kingdom because he had once been in a sexually active gay relationship.
Gene Robinson, a sexually active person in a permanent gay relationship in
New Hampshire, USA, has been consecrated as a bishop. Strong disapproval
of Robinson's consecration might split the worldwide Anglican Communion.
And the difference? Paedophiles repent, openly gay men do not.
I suspect that bishops who moved paedophile priests to new
congregations first spoke to these men. The latter no doubt wept with
shame, promising they would never behave that way again. The bishops who
had taught how God forgives penitents absolutely were perhaps moved with a
sense that even these men deserved a second chance.
People like Jeffery John and Gene Robinson on the other hand have said
that they have been living in committed, loving relationships. They have
publicly stated that they do not believe they have done anything wrong.
They have had nothing to repent for and so haven't asked for forgiveness.
Meanwhile the public looks on in horror. There is clearly something
deeply troubling about an organisation which condemns loving relationships
while at some level condoning abusive ones.
I believe that there are two things we must say about forgiveness.
First, it needs to be unconditional. I do not need another person to
beg me to forgive them. Quite the contrary. Forgiveness is more real when
it makes no such conditions. If that is true for me, then why not for God?
Second, forgiveness should not be na�ve. An offender may genuinely
repent, but should nevertheless be restrained for the protection of the
vulnerable. Likewise, however repentant a paedophile may feel, he or she
should never again be put in a position of authority over the young.