This week I’m reviving an old (and intermittent) feature of this blog, the Friday Theology post. I had intended to focus on a book I’m currently reading on Christian Ethics, by Oliver O’Donovan, and hopefully I’ll do that next week, but today will be a more topical post.
The incongruity of Donald Trump’s decision to have riot police clear a way to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, last week, has been lost on some Christians, but widely condemned by many others. In the latter groups Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, and now an academic at Magdalen College, Oxford.
In a short essay carried by the Episcopal News Service, Williams contrasts the “outpouring of God’s life”, our fellowship with the Trinity which is ours by baptism, with idolatry, “the reduction of God to the scale of my wants and my comfort. And it is horribly easy to take even the signs and witnesses of God’s truth and turn them into idols in this sense, into things that reinforce who I am or who we – as a nation, a class, a race – are”.
Williams’ comments on Trump have been widely quoted and can be found in the original article. As a theologian rather than a polemicist, however, Williams does no let us off the hook. He writes:
“All of us are in some way touched by idolatry because we all inherit a human condition in which we are in thrall to the fear that we are surrounded by enemies, that we are all either winners or losers, that we have to earn our security at the expense of our fellow humans. And this is the world of untruth from which we are rescued in the baptised life.
So our calling is … to remember that sensation of being unable to measure and contain what surrounds us, and to be reborn in the truth – not so that we can point fingers and judge but so that we can simply declare and show that idolatry in whatever form traps us in a world so much smaller and drier than the real world, the world held eternally in the life of the Father, the Word and the Spirit. ‘This is the true God, and eternal life.’