In the 19th Century Victor Hugo described the conditions of the prisoner Jean Valjean who was de-humanised by the assignment of the number 24601. In the mid-21st Century, Nelson Mandela became prisoner number 46664. In George Orwell’s futuristic novel 1984, Winston Smith cries ” I am not a number!” Upon joining General Synod in the 21st century one is immediately allocated a number. There is no remission for good behaviour.
Despite that apparent anachronism, one of the striking things on entering the forum is a pleasing and genuine diversity. At early morning coffee on the first day Brother Ivo was warmly welcomed and assisted by a colleague with significant disability, an armed forces chaplain and a nun. In the chamber he sat behind the deaf representatives enjoying the expressiveness of the language of translation, especially the gesture for “angels” which we should surely all adopt whenever we use the word. Think descending fluttering hands- delightful.
The promulgation of Canon on Women Bishops was undertaken with dignity and the varied legislative agenda was well explained and frequently laced with bonhomie when a potentially dull subject needed enlivening.
Sincere conviction was never far beneath the surface. Discussing Clergy Discipline Guidance we heard heartfelt devotion to the integrity of the confessional, and no less determination to banish laxity from our safeguarding procedures.
Brother Ivo made an immediate maiden speech on this issue seeking to strengthen the guidance when Clergy think there “may” an exception to the usual rules on confidentiality.
Instead of stating that clergy “should” take the advice of Safeguarding Officers he proposed that they “must” take that advice. It does not of course require them to identify those under suspicion at that evaluation point, but where the safety of the vulnerable is concerned, Brother Ivo stressed ” This is no time for amateur hour”.
The need for disciplined prayer in clergy life was emphasised as was the sheer stress and volume of advice and regulation upon our clergy.
We are to be encouraged to go ” paperless” as the cost of our a Synod paperwork now exceeds £20,000 per session. As an apostle of systemic modernity, Brother Ivo was hoist with his own petard and has resolved to make the change. He has suggested that we need a fringe meeting at the next Synod with an on hand “techie” to help the less confident Synod members to download the materials and organise them for ready access. Many will worry about doing it themselves but an ounce of practice is worth any amount of exhortation.
The highlight of the first day was unquestionably the address by Archbishop Justin. If you have not read it, it is highly recommended.
To Brother Ivo, the key paragraph is the one in which he says
” the potential of the Communion under God is beyond anything we can imagine or think about. We need to hold on to that, there is a prize, the quest for which it is worth almost anything to achieve. The prize is visible unity in Christ despite functional diversity. It is a prize that is not only of infinite value, but also requires enormous sacrifice and struggle to achieve. Yet if we even get near it we can speak with authority to a world where over the last year we have seen more than ever an incapacity to deal with difference, and a desire to oversimplify the complex and diverse nature of human existence for no better reason than we cannot manage difference and dealing with The Other. Yet in Christ we are held together. In Christ the barriers are broken, peace is held out to us as a gift established, which needs living. In Christ there is hope of a life that provides hope of peace.”
The more he has considers these words, the more Brother Ivo is impressed with the boldness of that vision.
Is he not challenging us to review the very nature of Anglicanism?
For too long we have had doctrinal strivings, aimed at winning an inter-party struggle. Do we not need to step back from even attempting theological uniformity?
With the approval of women priests we created an enclave for our Anglo-Catholic friends. We shall soon be asked to ensure that other colleagues who hold to the “headship” principle shall have a guaranteed place in the House of Bishops. Having embarked upon that institutionalisation of difference, what possible reason can we advance for not reaching similar accommodations with other sections of the communion, not least those who wish to participate in gay “marriage”.
Brother Ivo opposed the redefinition of marriage: he is on record in that view. That debate was lost.
That law is now in place and many liberal clergy would wish to conduct such services in accordance with it. We know their views, they are open and plain in their support, even as we share the bread and the cup together. They will want no less acceptance and respect for that approach, than they were asked to accept on behalf of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals for their issues of conscience and interpretation.
Given a vitally necessary strong defence on behalf of those who can never accept participation in such services, will this not be part of the “functional diversity” to which Archbishop Justin alludes?
To those worried about too much diversity in our gender views it is worth reflecting for a moment on the once unimaginable diversity in theology with which we currently live.
We have within the Communion, those who regard the Bible as the literal word of God, but there are others who regard it as the “inspired” word of God. Some are strongly for the historicity the Virgin birth whilst others see only an expressive truth. The reverence of some for the Virgin or Icons is for others but one step removed from idolatry. The literal body and blood of Christ for one, is the “token of sacrifice” another. One man’s altar is another woman’s table. To some, prayers for the dead are efficacious, for others a pointless exercise. There will be other examples.
In short, we have all swallowed so many theological camels to preserve unity, that choking on the gender gnat should be almost easy. If we are finding it hard, we need to look again at Archbishop Justin’s vision.
Of course our disagreements are a cause for repentance. Yet is that continued, and even additional, division enough for us to call it a day? Is this the time for some of us to walk away?
The reality is that we have become a federation of belief- a “federation of failure” if you like – but still with enough shared love for God to make it worth our while not to throw in our hands. There is still much we agree upon.
On Tuesday we looked at Middle Eastern issues. In that context we hoped that the protagonists will somehow, with the Grace of God, come together. Notwithstanding the blood and rhetoric currently in evidence there, if we can still conceive of reconciliation between Middle Eastern Jew, Muslim, and Christian , we surely cannot regard division from those currently in communion with each other whilst plainly of different gender views, just because we are approaching a decision point on gay marriage?
There will be more to say on Tuesday’s business which saw debates on the Middle East, the Methodist Covenant and the “Bedroom Subsidy” as well as a fringe meeting on Gaza. These will be the subject of the next post.