Non-violent church?

Jim Naughton

I know that, in blogland, 10 days ago is ancient history - which is by way of apology for not picking up on this earlier - nonetheless I commend this article in the Guardian to you:

The archbishop's hands are tied, not ours

Naughton's comments follow the revelation of the Archbishop's personal views on homosexuality (correspondence here).
Were I the archbishop, though, I would have to acknowledge that the nature of my dispute with liberal Anglicans — particularly those in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada — must now be understood in a new light. We do not differ over essential matters such as the nature of Jesus or the mechanics of salvation. We do not differ over sexual ethics, or the interpretation of Scripture. Rather, we differ over the proper response to a belief we hold in common.

What is most objectionable about Williams' recent machinations are his efforts to construct a Communion in which only one response is permissible. He has sacrificed his opportunity to act on his convictions because he believes that his office demands it. One may disagree with that choice, but one can respect it. What one cannot respect, and must not accept, are his efforts to impose a similar sacrifice on those who believe that their offices — as pastors, as friends, as Christians — demand a different conclusion.
Under Williams's leadership, an elitist view of history is acquiring the force of doctrine. ...
In an earlier post I described Williams' stance as 'honourable'. I stand by that as a designation of Williams' personal decision about himself in his role. Jim Naughton points to the organizational consequences of his decision.

Williams' stance would seem to build dissonance, perhaps dishonesty, into the nature of the episcopacy. Williams models a manner of being bishop in which the formal, agreed and documented doctrine must drown out personal disagreement any, logically, any refinement, elaboration or inflection of the doctrine which appears to move outside the terms of the original formulation. The Office of Bishop must contain and limit the mind of the person. Williams then acts on his own presuppositions (not, incidentally, a formal, agreed and documented doctrine of episcopacy) and seeks to export his manner of being bishop, and its implications, to the church as a whole.

It is an attempt to force people into self-inflicted violence.

I do not wish to argue a bishop may teach anything they like on the grounds that it is their right as an individual to ignore the structures of the organization of which they are part. I wish to argue for the right, perhaps the duty, of bishops to to be able to express publicly their views and reflections as faithfully exploring contested issues.

The price of this is that, from time to time, some bishop will seem completely off beam not just in the sense that I deeply disagree with them but that almost no-one agrees with them. But I would much rather welcome and accommodate eccentric and embarrassing bishops than I would wish to accept the alternative: the customary barrage of criticism, personal attack and attempts to silence bishops who go even a little off message. (The media delight in such things, and may choose to stir it up, but they have no need to create it - Christians are all too commonly primed and ready to rush to condemn.)

The price of requiring episcopal conformity is a dishonest and fearful church which fosters heresy-hunters. It builds that internal and external violence into the pattern of relationships in the church. The belligerent will stand at arms, ready to fight to impose their interpretation of doctrine on the rest at the slightest occasion.

Away from the battle front, clergy will follow the episcopal lead not just out of the desire for preferment but mostly because bishops set the tone for clerical behaviour, the unspoken code of what can and cannot be said. The laity will continue to keep quiet or continue to leave.

Can we not create and sustain a church in which diversity is a positive value, divergent spiritual journeys are recognised and encouraged, in which all members may be honest and open and know that they will be met by love and not violence. Can we not have a church led by people who are willing to take risks, who encourage people to think for themselves and to contribute such thinking to the enrichment of the whole?

Yes, in case you were wondering, we can. But it's not easy and, if it were me, I wouldn't start from here.

(This article was a response to news that a priest 'banned a 13-year-old boy with autism from services, saying his behavior was disruptive to others.' It shows what's possible.)

1 comment:

  1. You know, to some extent Gregory Venables was right in his comment, that there is a dispute and division in the Anglican Communion that somewhat is reflected in what is going on in Rowan WIlliams's own mind. That Rowan Williams takes some of his centralist views, and builds those in public, but damps down his views that contradict the basis of the centralisation, does build in his mental division into the structures.

    It is not like it is his fault! It is rather this: that Anglicanism inherits all sorts of fixed beliefs and liturgical expressions, and has people expressing others, that many a reasonably intelligent person simply does not believe any more. If they say they do, and mouth such beliefs, they often don't in practice.

    People really did used to pray for it to rain. Are we to have elaborate theological arguments about God acting in bringing in the rain - like they do still for the evolution of animals and indeed this human species? Richard Dawkins asks Rowan Williams a few simple questions and Rowan Williams instantly sounds like a bumbling idiot - which he certainly isn't. He just could not square the circle.

    In other words it is built in to Anglicanism to have a deep conflict of ideas and understandings.

    There are ways out of it, but even most liberals find them frightening.

    Interesting that the same discussion is there at Fulcrum in terms of an imaginary TV programme of Richard Dawkins, Tom Wright and, er, me, and other candidates too.