Comments: July General Synod - online papers

Reflecting on the 'Grace and Dialogue' booklet...

"If disagreement is inevitable then we have to learn to do it better."

Yes, disagreement is inevitable. The Church has clear internal disagreement, and views that can be conscientiously held, that contradict each other. The issue is: since this disagreement exists and isn't going away, how can we handle the situation better, because at present we are handling it very badly and the Church suffers as a result.

"Dialogue is consciously developed in a way that helps us to respect each other, and to remember what we hold in common and what we share in community despite our differences."

This is the case for 'unity in diversity', isn't it? We cannot respect one another if we trample over each other's consciences, or try to impose uniformity on one another. But if we operate a principle of respect, then grace may operate instead of antagonism, and we can get on with everything else it means to be 'in Christ' and in communion with Christ.

"There is little incentive to remember our common humanity when we are trying to 'win'. The process of debate encourages people to do all they can to win by demonstrating that they are 'right'."

This is really important: the possibility that God's concern in this is not primarily 'who is right' but 'who can open up to grace and love'.

"In the Christian context, however, we are not just concerned about winning arguments. We also have to build the Church, the body of Christ, and we cannot do this by using methods that are liable to damage the relationships that define us."

Imposing uniformity with threatened sanctions definitely damages relationships. If we want to build the Church, we need to build upon what unites us, not on what divides us.

The booklet states an advantage of dialogue is that it:
"Builds genuine concern for others, acknowledges feelings and relationships, empathises with and supports others."

This is essential for all sides, and is the key to recognising and respecting a diversity of consciences. 'Unity in diversity' right down to local level can build the Church on love and conscientious faith.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Friday, 17 June 2016 at 12:16pm BST

The Shared Conversations booklet is a very useful resource. In contemplating it, however, I am uneasy as not once does it mention truth. This is where I've found speaking and listening processes hard in the past: the recognition that the search for truth, especially God's truth, means an agreement to disagree is in fact an end to dialogue and a loss of fellowship.

Posted by Peter S at Friday, 17 June 2016 at 4:01pm BST

"This is really important: the possibility that God's concern in this is not primarily 'who is right' but 'who can open up to grace and love'."

That's your view. But what if God's concern is to see us fight for what we believe to be right, no matter how unpopular that makes us? As Peter S suggests, it should be about striving for the truth, not seeking some compromise. If the Church accepts some priests who will marry same sex couples and some who don't, all we have done is change from the church being possibly wrong to some priests definitely being wrong, even if there is no agreement which half of the priests that is. It is hard to see that as progress for the Church (even if it is for some individuals).

Posted by Kate at Friday, 17 June 2016 at 7:02pm BST

The design of the Grace and Dialogue booklet is hideous. This is not a trivial point: in a week in which there has been a lot of coverage of Transport for London's investment in restoring and renewing Johnston's iconic font so that its beauty can work in the 21st century, the slipshod choice of a font better suited to a badly typeset leaflet describing the history of a minor provincial church is very telling. In this, as so much else, there is a lack of love. There is random use and misuse of dashes of various length, and inattention to proper use of quotation marks, showing that whoever wrote and edited it simply didn't care enough to bother doing an even minimally competent job.

The prose, too, is grim: a cheap assortment of nostrums more suited to advice for Guide leaders on how to deal with fractious 12 year olds. The result is the assumption that all you need to do in order to stop one group from wanting to kill another group is to make the discourse more "civilised", so that they merely wish death to the others in measured language. It's a hideous document, its cheap presentation and sloppy writing of a piece with its lazy thinking and cynical purpose.

Posted by Interested Observer at Friday, 17 June 2016 at 9:33pm BST

Interested Observer, that's the least of it. Both archbishops are manifestly against same sex marriage and have a vested interest in slow dialogue which cannot change anything, and an even greater vested interest in avoiding debate which might challenge the status quo. They might not see it but it looks like a significant conflict of interest and, as an observer, having read the Grace and Dialogue booklet for me the shared conversation process now lacks any credibility.

I am not suggesting the two archbishops are deliberately slowing things down. It is enough that they are failing to demonstrate any imperative in making changes quickly to fully support LGBT people. They seem incapable of appreciating the harm their position is causing and the need for quick change.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 18 June 2016 at 5:47am BST

Interested Observer: I agree entirely about the presentation of the document, and I found the simple prose irritating and patronizing. It struck me as a very different style and tone from the documents sent out for the Regional SCs.

However, the 'play nicely, children' emotional intelligence points do need to be made and I'm sure plenty of us could benefit from them. I include myself in that!

Posted by Helen King at Saturday, 18 June 2016 at 10:42am BST

"However, the 'play nicely, children' emotional intelligence points do need to be made and I'm sure plenty of us could benefit from them."

But isn't there an enormous danger that will mean that the real hurt, distress and fear that LGBT people feel will be muted in its expression?

I've recently been the victim of an homophobic crime. The call handlers when I speak with them believe I am an obvious victim of crime and will now escalate it to a senior officer but the attitude I got from the constables attending was that LGBT people need to expect being treated like that - even though the doctor says I will need quite a lot of medical treatment. The point is that I think the rawness of our experience needs to be expressed. One of the roles of the church is to act as a moral compass for society. For LGBT people, that isn't properly happening and that means society can therefore be inclined to see it as self-inflicted if we suffer abuse.

So I worry that Grace and Dialogue book represents that you-only-have-yourselves-to-blame attitude and is really saying please don't be noisy about your hurt because we would like to sweep it under the carpet and get back to important things.

I doubt I am alone in my scepticism.

Posted by Kate at Saturday, 18 June 2016 at 3:58pm BST

Kate, I am so angry that you've been the victim of homophobic crime and that the police you dealt with were so lacking in sympathy. Everyone in the church and beyond needs to know that being LGBT+ can still mean being treated appallingly in many aspects of life and indeed can make people vulnerable to abuse and violence. The way some in the church have been acting like the atrocity in Orlando was 'terrorism' rather than an attack on the LGBT+ community shows that they don't want to name this for what it is.

I have lots of reservations about the GS Shared Conversations process. And I wonder if there will be many people who are willing to share stories of abuse and violence with others when they fear their response. But in my opinion it's necessary to tell it like it is. In that booklet, there's point '6. Explain your experiences and how they have affected you - but don't take out your anger, anxiety or guilt on other people. Equally, support others when they are trying to say something they find difficult – even if you disagree with them.' I take that to mean that, if you were at the GS SC, you would be able to explain what has happened to you, in outline or in detail depending on how you felt. And I hope all in your group would listen, and learn from you.

Posted by Helen King at Saturday, 18 June 2016 at 7:58pm BST


I wish you had written that booklet. You have a good way with words.

Posted by Kate at Sunday, 19 June 2016 at 12:07am BST

Kate, this inability of societies to deal with prejudices like homophobia is a blight on all our lives. Sorry we don't do better.

I was interested in your earlier comment about truth. I suspect the reason the leaflet made no mention of it is because the word has lost its connection, at least in most church thinking, with any essential meaning. Talk of truth has become too ambiguous to usefully communicate.

The most useful meaning for truth I've found is "an accurate description of reality", where reality means "how things are". How things are always has a context. It may be subjective - how something is to us personally; or objective - how it would be to anyone in the same situation; or ultimate - we can never be sure but may reasonably want to speculate about if it would be consistent with objective reality.

From this point of view, the truth is that the Church should never be split over prejudice about sexuality. The problem is the confusion that has become embedded in Christian theology over what is subjective truth and what is ultimate truth. The Church has historically taken on board some people's subjective truth, that culturally came to look like objective truth, and has institutionally come to be used as if it were ultimate truth.

A Church that is genuinely committed to truth will have to find a way to unwind this trail of errors. Unfortunately, it runs through pretty much all areas of Church thinking.

Posted by David Marshall at Sunday, 19 June 2016 at 5:07pm BST

David, what an insightful comment. And maybe that's why CofE has got so bogged down in things like the ordination of women and same sex marriage: decisions have become about somehow reconciling competing subjectivity - and shared conversations don't just typify that, they actively promote subjectivity as a virtue - rather than attempting to find an objective truth.

Posted by Kate at Monday, 20 June 2016 at 4:24am BST

David - thanks for your comments on truth. In my post I was referring to truth as "how things are meant to be" or perhaps better "what we believe God intends for us".

Posted by Peter S at Monday, 20 June 2016 at 4:34am BST

The link to GS2030X leads to GS2031X. It is also wrong the Synod site, but can be reached from the zip file.

Posted by John U.K. at Tuesday, 21 June 2016 at 12:26pm BST

The link to GS 2030x has now been corrected on the Synod site, and above.

Posted by Peter Owen at Sunday, 3 July 2016 at 11:02pm BST
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