Pharisaism in realtime

On the question of Tony Blair's reception into the Church, there is a standard response which comes up from time to time in comboxes. A friend rang me today to talk about a sermon he had heard along the same lines.

Are we not being ungenerous with Tony Blair? Should we not respect his conscience? Are we not all sinners and didn't Jesus eat with tax collectors and prostitutes? Etc. The word "pharisee" is quite often bandied about in the context.

Jesus did indeed sharply criticise the scribes and pharisees of his day for their hypocrisy. He particularly focussed on their failure to act in practice in accord with what they said they believed. The pharisees said one thing and did another. The sinners, on the other hand, were honest about their lives. What they said and did were in accord. Zacchaeus, for example, publicly promised to make amends for the wrong that he had done in the past.

When a person is received into the Catholic Church, they say solemnly and publicly that they believe and profess all that the Catholic Church believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. Commentators have written on this story from both ends of the political spectrum, and from various shades of theological opinion. One thing that nobody seriously believes is that Blair has changed his mind on abortion, euthanasia by neglect, the destruction of human embryos, or gay marriage. Nor have they been given any reason to think that he has - either from Blair himself or from any official spokesman for the Church in England and Wales. For a "Church source" to say "Whatever he previously believed or did is a matter for individual conscience" is pharisaism in realtime.

Andrew Pierce in today's Telegraph has a refreshingly honest take on the matter. As "an adopted gay man", Pierce disagrees with what he characterises as the Church's "bigoted stance on homosexuality" and he says that along with Blair, he too was thrilled at the change in the law that allowed same-sex partnerships. However, his quite reasonable question is How can Tony Blair become a Roman Catholic? Don't hold your breath waiting for an honest answer.

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