Building trust in a broken Church

by
01 March 2007

AT THE END of his presidential address to the General Synod on Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury defended the “complicated business of building trust” as experienced at the Primates’ Meeting last week — “however much we may yearn for deck-clearing, ground-breaking clarities”. Synod members would know, he suspected, “that even obscure and time-consuming labours may yet be part of the Kingdom’s demands”.

It is certainly true that the building of trust where it has broken down is a slow business, with few encouragements along the way. One of the most difficult aspects, both to forge and to maintain, is the growth of mutual honesty. If one side suspects the other of attending merely to gather ammunition, as has been the case in the present row about homosexuality, there is little hope of the openness that necessarily must form the foundation of trust. In an adversarial situation, the tendency is to seem more convinced of one’s cause than one is. Only when doubts can emerge, perhaps through an agreement to go back to first principles, is there any possibility of accommodation.

“Accommodation” is another of the words that Anglican Mainstream would probably eschew, along with “consensus” and “majority”. It is a view that sits oddly in a Church where 476 Synod members have spent the week debating then voting on matters of theology, ethics, and politics. Biblical history teaches — even emphasises — that majorities can be wrong. This is certainly a view shared by supporters of gay and lesbian priests and bishops, as they face the prospect of block voting at the Lambeth Conference and elsewhere. But implicit in a belief that the Church is the body of Christ is an appreciation of all its members in the discernment, and then the fulfilment, of the will of God.

What is loveliest about the advocates of any cause is the passion with which they want to herald in the Kingdom of God. There is a sound argument that says the Church is in its present state not because of the partisans, but because of the lukewarm rump in the middle, those who want a quiet life that avoids confrontation. Dr Williams painted a brutal picture of the mean time, with its endless discussion and dissection, its tolerance of bigotry and doubtful teaching. It is no wonder that many in the Church wish to lead Christ’s people into the promised land of holiness, or purity, or justice, or tolerance (disagreement about the destination is, of course, part of the problem).

Trust does not necessarily involve agreement. The members of Christ’s body have been created different. What they need to do is acknowledge that those with opposing views are none the less attempting to be true to the gospel. This happens best away from the attention of the bloggers and emailers. For trustworthiness to grow, it needs a little obscurity, and a little time.

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