I went to one of the Gifford Lectures yesterday, given by Diarmaid McCulloch on ‘The silences of fear and shame’. If you’ve missed them so far, you can see videos of them posted on the site. What McCulloch was talking about was the way in which certain believers have had to remain hidden and silent, and also the ability of believers to cover up bits of the past by being silent about it.
The name he used for the first groups is ‘Nicodemites’, after Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to Jesus by night rather than openly (John 3:1-2). The ‘Family of Love’ was an educated, pacifist group dedicated to gentle tenderness, who existed quietly even in the C16th royal court by outward conformity to the Church (and, he even hinted, by some royal sympathy). McCulloch also saw the gay Anglo-Catholic clergy of the C19 – 20th in these terms, finally shaken out of concealment by the 1960s revolution.
The other side of silence he explored was the cover-ups made of shameful episodes, such as USPG’s one-time involvement in the slave trade. And he pointed out that opposition to slavery came originally not from Bible-based Evangelicals, but from Quakers who put the compulsion of the Spirit above a sacred text which condoned slavery.
So what is it to be: the silence of fear, ‘anything for a quiet life’, a survival strategy waiting for better times? Or breaking the silence, exposing shame but risking hurt? McCulloch was speculating what would happen to global Christianity when Christians in China eventually find a public voice safely …