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Conflict, not unanimity, is natural, conference told

01 March 2013

Gavin Drake reports from a conference on conflict within churches


The Canon Director of Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral, David Porter, who has just joined the Archbishop of Canterbury's personal staff in a part-time post, addresses the "Faith in Conflict" conference

The Canon Director of Reconciliation Ministry at Coventry Cathedral, David Porter, who has just joined the Archbishop of Canterbury's personal ...

THE Archbishop of Canterbury joined more than 220 delegates, including diocesan secretaries, bishops, other clerics, and members of a number of Churches, at a three-day conference, "Faith in Conflict", in Coventry Cathedral this week.

The organiser and host of the event, David Porter, who is Canon Director of Reconciliation Ministry at the cathedral, has just joined the Archbishop of Canterbury's personal staff in a part-time post, working to heal divisions in the Anglican Communion (News, 22 February). He said this week: "Conflict frightens us because it threatens us and goes to the heart of what we believe, who we are, and what we believe the gospel is. . .

"The gospel is something to be defended. Anything that is perceived to attack it, we immediately go into defensive mode, and that means we handle conflict badly, and become conflictual in the way that we promote the gospel rather than being people of reconciliation."

In a keynote address on Tuesday, the Revd Dr Sam Wells, Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London, and Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King's College, London, said: "There is no such thing as peace, if peace is taken to mean the absence of conflict. It is only a collection of which types of tensions, differences, and disputes we choose to regard as significant; and the degree to which they are harmonious, constructive, or suppressed.

"The cessation, resolution, or, more like, translation of one conflict simply creates time and space to become aware of others. When we regard conflict as a waste of time or energy, it is not because conflict itself is pointless; it is because we believe this conflict in question is distracting us from conflicts elsewhere that are more urgent, significant, rewarding, or otherwise worthy of our attention."

He said that Churches should learn to accept conflict as a consequence of creation, and suggested that "difference" was like a symphony: "Even though more than one instrument was likely to be playing at any one time - and by no means always playing the same notes - that is how symphonies work."

Speaking on Wednesday, the Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells, a consultant to the Anglican Communion's Continuing Indaba programme, said: "Conflict is normal. There is diversity from creation, and conflict from that diversity from the Fall.

"Conflict is normal. It is to be expected. Conflict-resilience needs to be our goal; not a never-never land of reasoned unanimity."

She said that Jeremiah, speaking to the exiles in Babylon, was the first to make the "completely unprecedented" suggestion that you love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you "in a volatile, uncertain world".

But she said that "something changed" when Jesus reiterated the command.

"What has changed is not that Christians are more disposed to love their enemies and pray for them assiduously. With few exceptions, we feel the same about our enemies as the Judaeans felt about the Babylonians. What has changed is that we can no longer say that seeking their shalom is absurd - a figment of an overheated prophetic imagination. Now that Jesus has spoken, we know that actively seeking shalom with our enemies is exactly what God expects from us."

Archbishop Welby was scheduled to address the conference yesterday in his first significant speech as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Chaplain appointment Archbishop Welby has appointed the Revd Dr Jo Bailey Wells as his new chaplain, Lambeth Palace announced on Thursday. A statement said that Dr Bailey Wells's "primary focus will be for the spiritual life at Lambeth Palace and for supporting the Archbishop's pastoral and liturgical ministry". Dr Bailey Wells was most recently the Director of the Anglican Episcopal House of Studies at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina. She is married to the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the Revd Dr Sam Wells.

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