I am an Anglican priest, but most people do not know this. It’s not that I am ashamed to be a priest per se, but it is a fact that one’s identity as a Christian leader is far too easily misunderstood, including by oneself. In my country, the priesthood represents an identity that was in large part responsible for the tragedy that was the residential schools. People just like me—no doubt with noble aspirations and zeal for God’s kingdom—were responsible for countless acts of abuse and degradation, all arising from that all-too-Christian sin of smug and self-satisfied superiority.
I used to feel that it was cowardice or a misbegotten desire not to offend that caused this reticence. I also thought it was a sign that I had made a profound mistake when I took my vows. Both of these may well be true. But lately I have come to suspect that to follow Jesus at this time requires an abandonment of all secure identities, of all strategies that would seek to assume Jesus’ kingdom as my own. Following Jesus does not mean an erasure of identity, but it does require an eradication of those efforts that place their trust in human institutions and personal endeavour. It is also to call radically into question any mark of differentiation that would come between me and those I am called to encounter and (God willing) to serve.
My unwillingness to speak at this time as a member of the clergy or even as a Christian is also an effort to abjure those Christian habits that seek constantly to defend the church or its history and my place within it. Jesus said, “Those who want to save their life will lose it” (Matthew 16:25). The life we must lose includes the life we shore up to keep others at a distance and the life that we build in order to secure our uniqueness and superiority.
In the recent display of barbarism in Charlottesville, we witnessed clergy laying down all the habits of domination and superiority that have so characterized the Christian church. There were no placards or banners. There were no words—only silence. No cross lifted high like a torch—only ordinary people, arm-in-arm in their pointless and gentle witness that revealed the nothingness of weapons and of their bearers’ hatred.
I want to learn to disclose my identity like those clergy. Not through grand gestures or eloquent words. Not through a sign of Christian difference, but through the patient surrender of Christian life. I want to learn to live with only linked arms as my shield and silence as my strength.