UNEASE with conflict is not unique to Christians, but is “compounded” by the belief that it should not exist within the Church, the founder of a new charity dedicated to reconciliation said this week.
The Revd Dr Alastair McKay, executive director of Reconciliation Initiatives, launched at Lambeth Palace on Wednesday, said that the charity would seek to “change the culture of how Anglican churches handle disagreements”, including “moving away from finger-pointing and blame to more constructive and fruitful ways of handling our differences”.
Within the Church, there was a sense that “if we are all good Christians, then we wouldn’t have conflict with one another,” he said on Monday. “And, of course, the reality is that just isn’t the case.” Conflict could also be “especially painful” within congregations, because they were “in many ways . . . like an extended family”.
Reconciliation Initiatives is planning to establish an Anglican Peacemaking Institute on every continent. Each one will host an intensive two-week summer school attended by up to 24 “mid-level leaders” nominated by bishops, who will spend time learning skills for “engaging better with disagreement and conflict”, both within the Church and beyond. They will then spend the next 18 months implementing a plan for their diocese, in dialogue with their bishop.
“I don’t think that unity is the be-all and end-all,” Dr McKay said on Monday. “At the same time, I think that there is the potential for us to find ways to live more respectfully with one another. When we do fundamentally disagree, that may not mean a major break or a schism in the Church, but may mean we have to find ways to live alongside one another. . . That only really comes about when we find a way to connect with the other with whom we disagree, to understand them, and recognise them as a human being.”
Sometimes, separation was “potentially a healthier and more constructive way forward”, he said — just as divorce was sometimes “the lesser of two evils”.
“Part of what we are looking to help people to do is say: ‘Let’s be honest about the reality of disagreement that we have; let’s not pretend that things are different to the way they are, but let’s be courageous.’”
Theological disputes within the Church were not necessarily intractable, he said. Many of the “major gatherings” of the Church in history had concerned discussions about interpretations of scripture. The debate over sexuality was an example of a “between-frame” conflict, he said: “The starting places that people have are so fundamentally different that it is very hard to find common ground.”
But he took hope from the time he spent facilitating the Shared Conversations on sexuality (News, 24 July 2015): “I was very struck that people had some really significant encounters . . . with people they would never normally have a conversation with, and got to know and respect people.”
There was a “huge opportunity” for the Church to help address the societal divisions expressed through Brexit, he suggested (News, 21 March). Peacemaking was “another practical expression of that incarnational ministry that really fits with the Anglican tradition”.
After working for 20 years at Building Bridges, a charity dedicated to conflict resolution, Dr McKay, now an NSM at All Saints’, Highgate, was inspired to establish Reconciliation Initiatives after attending the Summer Peacebuilding Institute at the Eastern Mennonite University, in Virginia. The charity is chaired by the Rt Revd Peter Price, a former Bishop of Bath & Wells, and the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, is its patron.
The first summer school will take place in England in partnership with Coventry Cathedral in July 2020, before the Lambeth Conference, followed by the inaugural Anglican Peacemaking Institute in Africa, in January 2021.