I enjoyed reading ‘the Andrews’ (Atherstone and Goddard) in the Church Times and, agree with much, perhaps even all, of what they write.
I appreciate their sense of realism:
‘Disagreement is an indelible fact of life.’
It is from this straightforward statement that they are able to draw the question:
‘Can it be transformed for good?’
Andrew and Andrew are also correct when thy point out that ‘good disagreement’ is a slippery term. For some it is not just slippery, it is also vacuous a bit like ‘virtuous sin.’
I am in the ‘camp’ that regards good disagreement as a real and distinct possibility, but not at this stage a probability. For good disagreement to become a probability flexibility and creativity will be required along with an acceptance that most of those with strong views, liberals and conservatives alike, are probably going to have to give a little. (Liberals – on this issue – are probably going to have to accept that opening up Holy Matrimony to same-sex couples is unlikely, and conservatives -on this issue – are going to have to accept that liturgies will be offered to solemnize committed, faithful and monogamous same-sex relationships. In my opinion).
The Andrews article focuses on the ethics of dialogue. They rightly insist that the nature of debate in the coming synod must be far more gracious than that which characterized the previous synod. But, realistically, when the stakes for so many are so high this will be difficult. And, so I think the argument that ‘we need a different approach to good disagreement; a middle way between those who reject it outright and those who embrace it unthinkingly,’ is spot on.
As a member of the clergy in the Oxford Diocese I appreciated the way the authors employed the statement from ‘our’ Bishop’s staff team that every view on the issue be honoured and respected ‘bearing witness to different aspects of the truth which lies in Christ alone,’ to illustrate grace in dialogue.
But, here is the problem: I don’t know (perhaps a bit like the term Good Disagreement) what this means in reality. It fails to answer two open questions. ‘How’ will every view be honoured? And, ‘who’ decides whether a view is honoured or otherwise? These are perhaps the two critical questions in the whole debate about ‘good disagreement.’
And, this is where the Andrews thought piece (and the sub-title to the article makes it clear that it is a thought piece) doesn’t quite, to my mind, go far enough.
Ultimately where the Church lives with ‘good disagreement’ (and I would strongly argue that the Church has for centuries lived with good disagreement on a large range of issues), it is able to do so because it offers a range of practices and styles that facilitate differences in interpretation.
Good disagreement in the Church of England is seldom about ideas, instead it is concerned with praxis. The terms given for the range of practices about which we disagree, mostly well, include rites, liturgies and even sacraments.
Rites, liturgies and sacraments are the epistemology of the Church, they are ‘doctrine in action.’ It is through rites, liturgies and sacraments that divergent theological perspectives are ‘honoured and respected as bearing witness to different aspects of the truth which is in Christ alone.’
Resolving the question of ‘how will very view be honoured’ (and to be clear ‘we’ don’t mean every view – we are only talking about monogamous, faithful same-sex relationships) is therefore straightforward. It can only be resolved liturgically.
Until liturgies are in place the view of the ‘inclusives,’ or ‘progressives’ can be listened to, listened to with respect and grace, but it cannot be honoured.
Liturgies, rites and, sacraments are the proof statements of what range of perceived ‘truths’ the Church is prepared to accommodate and, honour. The Church has no other formal epistemology.
So ‘who’ decides? Well clearly synod will make some non binding and provisional decisions over the next five years. But ‘who’ decides should be a question that is delegated to the lowest effective level. The local congregation and minister in other words; subsidiarity.
I hope every view can be honoured. But honouring every view is not something that can ever be resolved in the synodical equivalent of smoke-filled rooms, or even in a bishop’s staff-meeting. Good disagreement is ultimately not about views and arguments, it is about different interpretations of what is taking place in a liturgical context.
Good disagreement therefore necessitates the widening of the range of liturgies without insisting that these liturgies are used by any individual minister.
In the absence of rites and liturgies all talk about ‘honouring’ and ‘disagreeing well,’ is both meaningless and ‘fundamentally flawed.’