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‘Good disagreement’ among Anglicans

23 October 2015


From Carol Palfrey

Sir, — “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

If the Anglican Church is to follow the path of “good disagreement”, maybe these words from John Wesley might prove a useful starting-point.

The Unitarians, who celebrate the diversity of views held by their membership, have appropriated “We need not think alike to love alike” as one of their “flagship” quotations. (The fact that they have misattributed the words to one of their great heroes, Frances David, is beside the point.)

The Unitarians are, of course, at an advantage when it comes to holding a diversity of opinions within one faith community: they have no doctrines, creeds, or liturgies, and no “right” way of believing or disbelieving. Their faith is founded on shared principles and values, and the leadings of the individual conscience, guided by reason.

The Anglican Communion, on the other hand, as Dr Atherstone and Dr Goddard’s article (Comment, 16 October) points out, cannot embrace every opinion when “fundamental aspects of the gospel” are at stake without leading to doctrinal and moral pluralism that would change the very nature of Anglicanism.

My question is: what are the doctrines and teachings of the Christian faith, as interpreted by the Anglican Church, which are so fundamental that anyone failing to subscribe to them can no longer be considered a member of the tradition? And, more important, who decides on what those fundamentals might be?

The Archbishop’s acceptance that he will never get everyone to agree is a sensible starting-point for the gracious disagreement he wishes to foster. Too much time and effort has been spent in acrimonious dialogue. But, before any progress can be made, surely it is important to establish those aspects of the faith, however few they may be, on which there is no room for disagreement.

Solar Via
Norwich NR12 0QU


From the Revd Alan Crawley

Sir, — In their article “If we can’t make up, can we still kiss?” Dr Atherstone and Dr Goddard wrote: “Some of our opinions may be plainly wrong and in need of correction.” I wholeheartedly agree with them.

There are many more areas of disagreement within the Church than those that are “plainly wrong”. Surely the distinguishing mark of Anglicanism is to hold different views until, through dialogue, a consensus is achieved. What better definition of “good disagreement”?

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