27 June 2014

+++Canturbery and Good Disagreement

Recently Archbishop Justin addressed the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in London. His Grace set out a number of points that have sparked discussion in the blogosphere.

The entire speech is worth reading, and I have linked to it below. This excerpt was of particular interest to me.
The struggle, the achievement, of holding together in good disagreement sets a pattern in which truth is not a club with which to strike others, but a light freely offered for a path of joy and flourishing.

"The poor are not served by a divided church obsessed with inward issues".

From: 'Loving the poor and standing for human dignity - Archbishop on the 21st century global church' including a quote by the archbisop of His Holiness Francis found here

I am reminded of ABp. Welby's predecessor, Dr. Williams speaking of "holy friendship" to a rather less hospitable assembly in Africa. It appears to me that both ideas are flawed in one way: they tend to flow in one direction. That is, among Christians in general, and Anglicans in particular, one party is willing to debate, while the other knows God's intended outcome.

The problem with this gentle progressive idea, holy friendship, and its operating modalities: good disagreement, and holy conversations, is that they are capable of morphing into enforced conformity. That is what happened when a reasonably decent, smart man like Dr. Williams fell into the Covenant trap. He so valued unity, and the idea of conversation (Indaba) that he sought a way to force everyone to the table. The Covenant was born.

Similarly, the sight of ABp. Welby who knows both where England is going, and where the church should go, making more and more repressive moves leads not to the love Paul proclaimed but to the legalism he decried. Instead attempting, vainly I fear, to practice, "good disagreement" he has started a process of witch hunt, and persecution for his legally ordained gay clergy reminiscent of the worst excesses of Senator McCarthy. This drive to legalism even includes that most despicable feature of the McCarthy period: the blacklist.

This is the corrupting influence of the single minded pursuit of unity over diversity. Yes, if those who are diverse engage in holy conversations, the Spirit can heal and grow the believers. But, if unity itself is a goal that stifles conversation, treats any outlier as a heretic, and blacklists priests, then the church has lost its vision. And as Scripture tells us, "without a vision, the people perish."

I think the world would be better if it practiced the Jewish idea of disagreement, in which a discussion of a portion of Torah is much more about process than conclusion. I saw a documentary some years ago that showed ultra-orthodox rabinic students arguing, in pairs, about such a verse. At one point, a pair simply stopped. One of the students had stumped the other who simply did not know where to go -- he had "won." As the camera, (and I) watched, he realized what had happened and why his opponent had stopped. He did not raise his hands in triumph nor let their discussion end. Instead he thought a moment, and told the other student, (paraphrase)You approach Torah from a Hillelian perspective. From that perspective your answer to my point should be ... (end paraphrase.) The other student nodded his thanks, made that point, and they continued to argue.

We can still learn from our Jewish ancestors-in-faith. The discussions in that classroom were intense, loud, but not hostile. Everyone there sought learning, honed debating skills, and challenge. The process, and the learning it brought, were important, not winning. Oh that we could learn that in Christianity, in The Episcopal Church, and in our parishes!

A church focused on itself deserves to fail. It is in mission, loving the people God makes carrying for the poor, the widowed, the oppressed, crying "justice!" to power, reconciling humans to each other, and the world with its creatures in these things, these expensive things, that the church merits success. Without the love that Jesus preached, we are as Paul said. "a clanging gong." Reconciling love is expensive in more than one way. It calls those with much to help those with little, demands our time as well as our pledge (yup!) and demands our attention be not on our position and betterment in the body politic, but rather that we seek the common good.

In short, reconciling love is the exact opposite of selfish, uncaring, and humorless greed. It is precisely what Ayn Rand, and her disciples (cf. Paul Ryan) do not believe in doing. So yes, there is a political dimension, and it too is expensive. One must vote, agitate, and perhaps even protest, seeking the common good.

Reconciling love leads us to forgiveness. Forgiveness too is expensive, and expansive. It is in forgiving that we show that reconciling love. Forgiveness does not require penitence, or confession. I think we often get that requirement wrong. In liturgical churches, the absolution follows the act of confession, be that in private, or in common prayer. But we are called to forgive period.

Reconciling love leads us to the jails and prisons, not to tell the criminals they are beyond consequence. Consequences are the business of courts. Rather we need to show them that God, and we His people, still love them, still yearn for their return to us seeking and finding life and beyond crime. We cannot advance that message selectively. We simply must announce that God, the creator of all things, loves us all, the rest being up to us.


Leonard said...

Thanks for this. Len

(is Archbishop Justin a Dr.?)

JimB said...

I thought he is. Maybe I should be safe and update the reference to "archbishop." That, alas, I am sure he is.

Glad you liked it otherwise. ;-)


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