Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Baptism, Sin and the Mail

There has been a lot of fevered comment since the Mail on Sunday published an article (on its front page no less) that the Church of England had abandoned sin in its new baptismal liturgy.

There is much that is simply wrong and lacking in understanding on the part of the Mail and its rentaquotes.  For example:
  • Contra the headline ('Welby casts out "sin" from christenings') Justin Welby himself had little to do with it - the origins lie in a decision of the General Synod
  • The liturgies are experimental, and only being used so that they can be 'road-tested' and amended
  • Just because the word isn't used doesn't mean that we no longer believed in sin
  • There's nothing wrong with the language of EastEnders, and Common Worship isn't really the language of Shakespeare anyway
I could go on, but this is an article in the Mail - what would you expect?

But what it has done is provoke some really good and intelligent commentary from within the Church of England on the new liturgies.  I strongly recommend you read the blog posts from Bishop Pete Broadbent; Cranmer (even if he's sadly anonymous and unaccountable); and Miranda Threlfall-Holmes.  This is good quality debate, interesting and sharp.  If the Mail's article means that the draft liturgies get attention that is this theologically informed and well understood, then that can only be for the good.

The very best, and most interesting response was in a tweet from Stephen Cherry:

'Sin' is a word and a concept that is difficult to engage with today.  As an example, type the word 'sin' into the Mail's site search and of the first page of 20 results, 15 are in the phrase 'Sin City' (either the TV programme or Las Vegas itself).  Two more relate to sporting 'sin-bins'.  The remaining three are an American politician saying that homosexuality is a sin; a vicar saying 'sin is fun'; and Pope Francis proving that this is not just an Anglican issue and that he too gets accused of trying to abolish sin.

In a word this is all trivial.

And when sin is trivialised, the language itself becomes difficult to use.  There is a kind of voyeurism to condemning sex as sin, when it's really a means of talking about it more.  'Sin' has come to mean trivial and largely sexual misdemeanors.  That's not what the baptism liturgy means by 'turning away from sin.'

First and foremost, sin is a way of speaking about the way in which we are alienated from God, and hence from our deepest good and truest fulfillment.  Talking about sin is actually talking about liberation and freedom, not adding levels of censoriousness to our speech.  

Reducing the language of sin to sex and naughtiness actually restricts our freedom and our ability to live. We need to reclaim the language of sin, not by using it in every liturgy going, but to preserve us from the trivialization of sin that is in effect the trivialization of the good.

1 comment:

maffo said...

How about using language old "farts" in the back row or even those able to live in the East End, can understand.