We’re all basically nice people, aren’t we? Few of us are powerful, or important. We endure the edicts of the latter patiently. We help each other out as we can. Always we remember that what you hand out is what you may get back.
The struggles of John Chrysostom with his rivals in Constantinople in 400 AD strike us as petty. Personalities seem to be all, and Christian teaching nowhere. It’s very easy for us to look down on those involved, to sigh and wonder why people at that time were so selfish and greedy and vicious.
The answer is sin — which affects all of us. But most of us don’t have enough power to inflict harm on others, and indeed no wish to do so. It can be hard to imagine that others do.
We must always remember that there are people who will do whatever they can get away with. All criminality is based on this — and in a different way, much entrepreneurial activity! — and most people in politics do the same. We tend to think that no-one would behave like that. When we see it, we deplore it. Atheists often fling at us the misdeeds of the inquisition, or of powerful bishops persecuting heretics in antiquity, or methodists in 18th century England, and we feel embarassed because we just wouldn’t do these things.
Yesterday I saw an article at Anglican Mainstream, (more details at Virtue Online, notes here, here). All the reporting is unfortunately rather amateurish, so I have put together selected extracts, but the facts do not seem to be in dispute.
The saga began several years ago when the thriving congregation at the Good Shepherd decided to withdraw from the Episcopal Church because they no longer felt that those in control of the denomination shared the values for which it was founded and which they believed in. They aligned themselves instead with other churches that have felt the same as the Anglican Church in North America.
The church building was built by local people who paid for its upkeep, so the congregation considered that it belonged to them. The TEC officials then sued for possession, spending large sums on court fees. Several writers say that the basis of the case for expelling the congregation was that the church officials “claimed that those leaving were not able to uphold the desires of the church founders”. They won, and were able to seize the funds, property and fabric of the church.
That was January 2008. The priest and his young family were immediately evicted from the rectory, in the depths of winter. The soup kitchen was closed, and TEC officials removed signs indicating where a new one was.
The church itself stood padlocked and empty for more than a year. The congregation gathered at a redundant Catholic church nearby and doubled in size.
The church building was then put up for sale by the TEC diocese. The assessed value of the property was $384,400. The congregation offered to buy it for about $150,000, but were turned down.
On February 9, 2010, the premises were sold to Imam Muhammad Affify, doing business as the Islamic Awareness Center, for $50,000, a third of the offer from the congregation. The sale has a condition that the Moslems may not resell the property to the congregation.
It seems hardly necessary to comment much on this atrocious episode. To take by legal violence that for which you did not pay, not because you want or need it, but purely to inflict harm on others…?
So it was on Good Friday.