Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The $64 million dollar question

Following my post last week, readers probably wouldn't think twice about firmly placing me in the 'Liberal Anglican' camp, and indeed that's the way I have often defined my religious leanings. But Ruth Gledhill's article in Tuesday's Times has given me food for thought...

The article states that groups of liberal anglicans are planning some kind of takeover of General Synod at the quinquennial elections next year, in order to the steer the church into some kind of bright new liberal future...hmmm....

The statement from the groups is worth a read, and rather than focusing on liberal dominance at General Synod, it speaks of seeking to forge links between local churches that that are like minded. But for me it raises that enduring Christian problem ... the question of unity between people of radically different perspectives (and I'm certain it's not exclusively an Anglican issue).

So, here comes the $64 million dollar question - how do we - as a people of different theologies, beliefs and concerns - live, worship learn and grow together? Can we?

And a supplementary question for the bonus prize...

If we prize unity as highly as we seem to be claiming in the hallowed CofE, why does no one really seem to know what Anglican unity might look like?

Answers on a postcard please...

These are really difficult questions for me, especially in light of last week's Blackburn Cathedral story. It is painful to me that there are members of the Church who do not share my joy over the recognition of women's ministry (among other theological, scriptural and moral issues). I feel that I have a duty to actively seek out common ground with such people, even though I may sometimes find their views personally offensive, and I would hope they feel some duty to seek common ground with me. And it strikes me that the motivation for such pursuits must never primarily be so that I can 'win them over' to my perspective or vice versa.

Croatian theologian Mirsolav Volf has some very important things to say about identity and engagement with the 'other' that I feel are relevant here, but rather than try to do him justice I shall simply recommend his excellent book Exclusion & Embrace. One of his key points is that in engaging with the 'other', the move to shape them in your own likeness (rather than in the shared pursuit of learning from one another) is essentially an act of violence. It violates the integrity of the human person. How can I constructively communicate with those with whom I disagree in that kind of context?

Another question on this imaginary dialogue... how (for example) might I recognise their pain over the ordination of women, whilst remaining true to my own interpretation of the gospel? How can we balance our own integrity on key issues against the call to recognise, affirm and rejoice in others?

Many, many questions...

I might claim to value unity, but more often than not I feel that it would be great if everyone agreed with me... no arguments, no discussions, just perfect harmony.... or perhaps not. My theology says 'yes' to unity, but so often my heart says 'no'.

It is abundantly clear that in the formulation of Church law, policy and practice we will never be able to please everyone. In fact, in a sense it's not about pleasing anyone at all - it is about pursuing holiness and scriptural integrity whilst also seeking to honour our corporate identity as the body of Christ.

And it's not just Rowan Williams' job to hold the Anglican church together. We all have responsibilities in whatever capacity we hold - worshipper, priest, dissenting voice.

This will certainly be playing on my mind in the coming weeks...


1 comment:

Iain Stephenson said...


Good article. Very thought provoking.

We have been talking about unity a lot in our town. We have seven churches of different flavours, and it is clear we are never going to be united in our theology.

The only basis for unity is in relationships. And as you say, ultimately in our relationship with God.

But, it is a sad fact of life that many people value rightness (by that i mean they agree with me) over relationship. So we choose only to relate to people who agree with us.

We are all the poorer for that.