Good disagreement? This isn’t it

Jan 25, 2023 by

by Christopher Landau, Psephizo:

It is a deep, sad irony. The Archbishop of Canterbury is an accomplished peacemaker, with reconciliation as a key priority in his ministry, and yet he is now presiding over some of the deepest disquiet and disunity seen in the church in two decades.

Across the theological spectrum, the bishops’ pastoral letter and accompanying ‘Prayers of Love and Faith’ are causing substantial unease, and I believe this stems from a profound corporate episcopal misreading of how Christians are to face their disagreements faithfully and fruitfully.

Ecclesiastical fudge?

I understand why pictures of fudge have been clogging my social media. The church is apparently being encouraged to exchange the notion of being led into singular truth, along the narrow way, for an uncertain future including a pick-and-mix selection of “prayers that bear a nuanced variety of understandings” (to quote the official document).

During more than a decade when I have been researching and writing on theology and disagreement, alongside other ministry, it has become abundantly clear to me that, at best, the role of disagreement in ecclesial life is routinely misunderstood; at worst, it becomes weaponised. This is about how disagreements are faced (the affective question); how the church learns to assess the factors within a particular disagreement; and how disagreement is seen as a fruitful process of revelation, rather than a holding pattern or destination in itself. I will explore these in turn.

Progress on how Christians treat each other in the midst of disagreement is arguably one of the gains made in the LLF process. Whatever the criticisms, and there have been many, churches have undoubtedly been challenged to admit the limitations of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy; potentially abusive theologies or practices have been brought into the light; and a deep sense of the intrinsic value of all members of the Body of Christ has been affirmed.

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