The relentless news of scandals and failures in the Church is breaking my heart. It can feel really hopeless - and then it becomes easy to slide into despair.
I could easily write a column lamenting the fact that this institution we’re all part of is in desperate trouble. It would be legitimate to express grief over this, and I encourage you to allow your emotions room to breathe, and for you to process as you need to. The psalmists certainly did this.
But my task today is different. Despite singing ‘Hallelujah anyway’ approximately four times a week, one line from the song still hits home with every rendition: “I think I’d rather strike a match than curse the dark.”
Inspired by that lyric, I want to share with you three reasons why I still have hope.
Firstly, dry bones are the prerequisite for revival. Resurrection always starts with a kind of death. I think that’s where we are now. An old model, which protected predatory leaders and stigmatised and silenced victims, is dying. The death throes aren’t pretty to watch, but I believe they’re making way for a new era in the Church. An era of accountability, and the hope of a safer and more trustworthy institution.
Secondly, I’m seeing a renewed hunger for honesty and transparency. All the lies and cover-ups have rightly sickened us, and there’s a growing desire for something real and raw. The pursuit of authenticity is always a cause for hope: it’s the environment where the Spirit of truth likes to move.
Thirdly, we are beginning to see that we can’t base our faith on charismatic celebrity leaders. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have high expectations of their conduct, or that our world shouldn’t be rocked when their sins and crimes are uncovered. It is true, however, that we have sometimes made idols of leaders. Only Jesus is strong enough to bear the full weight of our faith – and recent times have been a hard lesson in what happens when we put someone else on his throne. I take hope in the fact that we seem to be putting less stock in famous Christians, and refocusing on Christ himself (who, might I add, remains scandal-free).
In John 16:33, Jesus told us: “In this world you will have trouble” and we’re experiencing the reality of that right now. But he doesn’t end the sentence there: “But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
My prayer is that you will find a way to fully acknowledge the trouble, and yet fully take heart; to curse the darkness and yet still strike a match.