An Untidy Church: Archbishop of Canterbury on Division and Disagreement

The chief legislative body of the Church of England is currently in session. It’s been an eventful week with the fast-tracking of legislation for women bishops approved by a wide margin.

They are also debating the Pilling Report on human sexuality which called for “facilitated conversations” to help Christians with different perspectives on human sexuality to understand the positions of others. The report also advocates “that clergy, with the agreement of their Church Council, should be able to offer appropriate services to mark a faithful same sex relationship.”

This week, the Episcopal Church celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the consecration of Barbara Harris, a stark reminder that although we are partnered with the Church of England through the Anglican Communion, we very different in many ways.

There are also similarities, of course. The conversations we’ve been having about LGBT inclusion at Grace are not all that different from those proposed by the Pilling Report. And like the Church of England, there are still deep divisions within our denomination. Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby addressed General Synod yesterday, urging the Church of England, the worldwide Anglican Communion, congregations, and individual Christians to find ways to live faithfully with disagreement. His words are passionate, powerful, and challenging:

So, for example, if we are to live out a commitment to the flourishing of every tradition of the church there is going to have to be a massive cultural change that accepts that people with whom I differ deeply are also deeply loved by Christ and therefore must be deeply loved by me and love means seeking their flourishing.  We cannot make any sense of Philippians chapter 2 and the hymn to the Servant unless we adopt that approach.  The gift that Christ gives us, of loving us to the end, to the ultimate degree is meaningless unless that love is both given and received, and then passed on. …
Yet what lies on that journey? Well, it is certainly an untidy church.  It has incoherence, inconsistency between dioceses and between different places.  It’s not a church that says we do this and we don’t do that.  It’s a church that says we do this and we do that and actually quite a lot of us don’t like that but we are still going to do it because of love.  It’s a church that speaks to the world and says that consistency and coherence is not the ultimate virtue, that is found in holy  grace. …

Let’s bring this down to some basics.  We have agreed that we will ordain women as Bishops.  At the same time we have agreed that while doing that we want all parts of the church to flourish.  If we are to challenge fear we have to find a cultural change in the life of the church, in the way our groups and parties work, sufficient to build love and trust.  That will mean different ways of working at every level of the church in practice in the way our meetings are structured, presented and lived out and in every form of appointment. It will, dare I say, mean a lot of careful training and development in our working methods, because the challenge for all institutions today, and us above all, is not merely the making of policy but how we then make things happen.

We have received a report with disagreement in it on sexuality, through the group led by Sir Joseph Pilling.  There is great fear among some, here and round the world,  that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word. And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today.

We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and obedience to the call of God and enables us to fulfil our purposes.  This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward matters deeply, as does where we arrive. …

Read (or watch) it here:

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