Monday, 22 October 2012

What passes for debate


Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; 
Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"
"True Humility" by George du Maurier, originally published in Punch, 1895

Our Archbishop rightly reminded us how our pioneer first bishop
Augustus Short, was keen to keep before us
the need for vigorous struggle ( a couple of wider reflections here)
In particular though often we think of him as a typical Victorian conservative
but he was also a pioneer colonial bishop
keen to move the colonial church beyond the limits of the established
C of E
He, like others alongside, saw that non English dioceses needed
to be able to make effective decisions without referring everything back to Canterbury or Westminster.
Bishops clergy and laity had to develop a way of talking effectively to each other and to expedite this efficiently and effective...and they saw a Synod (basically a meeting of representatives of  the whole organisation)
as the means of doing this
The Church would not just be an arm of government
it would be Bishop clergy and people working together.
So the Synod is a crown of churches, and indeed the Australian churches played no small part in helping a worldwide Anglican Communion to develop something which did not really exist in the State church in the old country
Our Adelaide Synod met over the last weekend. It was a real curate's egg...parts of it were indeed excellent. But quite a lot of it was tedious and boring, angst-ridden, or just offensive.
One things that is of particular concern to me was the debates that we were trying to have about some aspects of human sexuality.
The particular concern I have is that we seemed to spend more time discussing whether or not we were going to discuss the matter than we did discussing the matter.
I think this is an unhelpful ploy, that has been used at other times.I noticed for example in Stuart Piggin's essay about how the ordination of women debate was controlled in the Diocese of Sydney (outlined in the recently released Preachers, Prophets and Heretics a history and reflection on 20 years of ordained women's ministry in the Anglican Church of Australia ) he suggests (see for example pp 190-195) that shutting down debate and discussion  was precisely the strategy the ultra conservatives used to prevent anything happening.
There was a certain sense of irony that "Preachers Prophets and Heretics" was formally launched  at this Synod when on more than one occasion the debate on issues to do with listening to particular pro-gay Christian voices.
We spent more time discussing whether we should discuss the motion than we did in considering what the particular voices might contribute, or indeed what other (perhaps opposing) voices  it might also be useful to hear.
Shame on us for then also deciding (however narrowly) that we would not even have the discussion.
I can't, and don't, believe that shutting our eyes and pretending a problem is too hard for us to discuss is a healthy and honest way to proceed. I suspect Holy Augustus would agree!

Despite my lauding of Synod as a noble idea, it is also a treacherous place.
Maybe this is true of everywhere!.

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