To some, John the Baptist’s language can seem intemperate, but many have used the “brood of vipers” phrase with a certain glee.
Precursor to Christ, the last prophet, bridge from old to new, John stands as an imposing figure, visually as well one can imagine, but his were necessary truths.
In these times, with the conflicting messaging of the modern world, the Church’s role is difficult in walking the line of the now-radical truths of Christian living of which love and compassion are also part.
That the current global happenings are tumultuous may be an understatement. Private single-sex schools across the UK are considering changing policies to allow transgender children, who have not had gender reassignment surgery, to attend.
In China detention of Uighur Muslims—an estimated one million so far—continues without world comment. There is a rise as well of right-wing conservatism, in Bolivia with the military-led coup by Jeanine Áñez Chávez; Jair Messias Bolsonaro in Brazil; Boris Johnson in the UK; and of course, the poster boy for radical conservatism, Donald Trump in the US.
Áñez had triumphantly entered Parliament holding the Bible aloft. Trump was clear in his anti-abortion stance during his campaign; indeed, it was one of the reasons why Christians chose to support him.
In a time where LGBTQ++ rights are growing, Bolsonaro had come out strongly against homosexuality. Under both Áñez and Bolsonaro, indigenous rights are under threat; under Bolsonaro and Trump, policies for the protection of the environment are being rolled back; under Trump and Johnson borders are being pulled up against migrants and refugees.
Televangelist Paula White declared the White House “holy ground” and “warned of consequences from God for those who don’t stand with the president”.
Within our global Church, there is a growing reactive conservatism with regard to Pope Francis, something that Archbishop Jason Gordon has spoken about on more than one occasion.
The Pope has been accused (by Catholics) of being Marxist in representing what is the Church’s position to the poor, and of being pagan in leading the Church in outreach to indigenous peoples. These accusations were most vociferous during the recent Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon region with the allowing of a statue in the procession, and bizarrely, in his planting of a tree. There is fear of where he is leading the Church.
Locally, there is still a strong reaction in Catholic use and wear of what is perceived as “non-Catholic”, even within a Catholic setting. Thus, deyas—pottery bowls—should not be used at a Mass around Divali; nor Indian-wear be worn around the same time.
Archbishop Gordon, when asked this question during an Ask the Archbishop live expresses the radical truth that point a way forward, in the muddle of maintaining Christian identity: the interior recognition of the truth of Christ, and Christ’s truths even while participating in cultural activities.
John the Baptist calls for a radical look at how we have been living out our faith, whether in the pomposity and ostensible self-righteousness of a ‘good Christian’, or with a genuine understanding of the selflessness that Christ was. In this second week of Advent, as we prepare for Christ’s coming, let us heed John’s call to repentance for the ways in which we have lost the spirit of the law.