Landscape from Young, NSW 2011

Minchin and Pell

As a fellow preacher I find something discomforting about Tim Minchin’s clever and witty songs. He smiles in the wrong places. I fall into this trap, too. It is easy to smile at the cleverness of my words rather than smile as an invitation and encouragement for you to enjoy the insight I have discovered. And too easy to entertain cheaply at the expense of the justice and truth I wish to champion.

The song about Cardinal Pell is flooding across social media this morning. Celebrities are joining the cause. We are building up indignation which is beginning to demand a scapegoat. It would be a brave man who, secure in his complete innocence, came back to Australia at this moment.

Understand that in my writing of this, I am no supporter of the cardinal. Before it began to be assumed by many that he is party to the undoubted obfuscation surrounding incidents sexual abuse, I have been outraged by his apparent attitudes on a number of issues. But there is something at stake here which goes beyond the man, and which will go beyond any conclusions drawn by the commission of enquiry. It affects the healing of individuals, and of our society.

Violence is not redemptive. Violence does not heal. It leads only to more violence. Currently, violence is being done to Pell. The song, and the responses to it, go beyond the much needed call to justice. We are being entertained. We are enjoying a tragedy. And in such a place we are betraying the victims, because once the Pell of the moment is done away with by the mob, the victims are always forgotten. How can we care for the victims if we have publicly created one? If we were truly concerned for the victims, we would, despite his unsympathetic public persona, have concern for Pell, as well.

This is not at all to excuse him. He has many questions to answer. But those of us who think that we would have behaved better, or that now, knowing better, we would be more forthcoming, betray our lack of self-awareness. Do we who protect our mortgage and personal luxuries by voting for the parties of the rich, and by assenting to the excoriation of the refugees who are one step further removed from us than the usual targets of the unemployed, and the sick, and the aged — do we think we would do better if we were enmeshed in the politics and power plays of the church?

We are not excused. We all fail. But choosing the scapegoat does not heal us. It merely takes the heat off our own failings until the next crisis, when we again wait nervously hoping that the one blamed will not be us. And it familiarises us and blinds us to the myth of redemptive violence.

How do we do justice without hatred? How do we call to account without projecting own failings?

In Luke 13, which barely escapes enjoying what it perceives to be the just deserts of others, there are redeeming words:

… it is impossible for a prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.  Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!  (Luke 13:33b-34)

In this, Jesus mourns the ones who will kill him as they have killed all the other prophets. In Luke, the city of Jerusalem stands a symbol for the whole culture and religion of Israel.

If Tim Minchin would write a song calling George Pell to come home, which he sang with tears in his eyes, I could love it— he is a preacher of better technique than I am ever likely to achieve. And if he had tears in his eyes, I could trust his song. It would still call Pell to face squarely the questions being asked, but its mourning would hold us all to account for the tragedies, small and large, to which we have been party. And it would encourage us to hope that justice would be done to us in our failings, rather than mere revenge.   Andrew.

Written for the Pilgrim Church Blog Feb 2016


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