The Guardian columnist Theo Hobson has a dilemma: is God calling him to enter the Episcopalian Priesthood? Since I do not know Theo and neither am I God I am not willing to unequivocally weigh in on the issue. That said however, Hobson’s reasons for setting out the reasons why he feels he may be drawn to this potentially significant course of action gives me significant pause for thought.
Hobson explains his reasons thus: “I want liberal Christian culture to be strong, engaging, innovative – and less defined by identity politics. If this really matters to me, and if I’m not doing much else with my life (I’m not), then why don’t I become more actively involved? Now that I have shaken off my extended adolescent aversion to organised religion and found a form of church I can affirm, what’s stopping me? Writing – cheering and booing from the sidelines – isn’t enough; there is no such role as “Christian critic”, analogous to art critic or political commentator. This tradition has to be justified, from within, all the time.”
My problem with Hobson’s characterisation is that the choice is a binary one: either one is shouting from the sidelines or is where the action is, which, apparently, requires wearing a silly collar. In fact, the very metaphor of Hobson’s current situation being outside of where the action is betrays a fundamental inversion of the Protestant doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers (Roman Catholicism flirted with the idea at Vatican II but has quickly backtracked). Certainly the content of this doctrine differs. I am, for example, very sceptical of the necessity for a ‘professional minister’ but at a minimum the Priesthood of all Believers means the preaching of the Gospel is a task for the followers of Jesus Christ who are collectively with those believers who have gone before us the Church.
What this means for Hobson is simple: joining the Episcopal Priesthood should have absolutely no impact on his ability to ‘stop shouting from the sidelines’. In fact, the assumption that Hobson can only show the depth of his Christian faith by becoming a Priest, or Vicar, Pastor, or Minister, or whatever is a (no doubt unintentional) insult to the millions of followers of Jesus who in their day-to-day lives seek to be a witness to the Gospel in a broken world; for those millions the description that this is being done from the sidelines is an insult, not to mention theological nonsense.
Perhaps God is calling Theo to an ordained ministry and I will pray that he will know this is the case at this time, but please, Theo, don’t let any idea that by doing so you are showing yourself to be a more devout Christian play any part in that decision.