Saturday, 11 February 2012

The problem of getting along!

It has been one of those weeks in which I have barely had time to draw breath. Blogging has gone out of the window, although I have to admit it was rather a relief to have an excuse not comment while  Synod moved another slow and torturous step closer to consecrating women bishops with still the possibility of further setbacks and conflicts to come. I do now believe that we will get to a position where women can be bishops with only a code of practice as provision for those opposed - a provision which already represents a considerable concession on the part of women in the Church and which, it should be noted, is not available in other provinces around the Anglican Communion. In July 2011, I was privileged to attend a talk by Bishop Victoria Matthew of Christchurch in which she described the way that it has been possible to work graciously with those opposed to women's ministry despite the lack of even a code of practice. The talk was hosted by WATCH but it would have be of great benefit in allaying the anxieties of groups such as Reform and Forward in Faith, although sadly I do not think it was generally attended by many who are opposed to the current legislation under discussion in Synod.
While Synod conducted its business with all the speed of a glacier in slow motion, the increasing divide between church and state became more evident with the ruling that Bideford Council had acted unlawfully in including prayers on its formal agenda. This ruling has been described as creating delight and dismay in equal measures. Well, I felt neither delight nor dismay,  rather a mixture of thoughts and feelings. After reading the details of the ruling, I did conclude that a sensible and appropriate decision had been made. It is not the case that "prayer has been ruled unlawful", simply that prayer should not be included on the formal agenda of a Council meeting which individuals are summoned to attend. Councils are free to have a gathering  for prayers, to which councillors are cordially invited, prior to the start of a formal meeting. It seems to me this is right and proper - the freedom of religious belief does not include the freedom to impose those beliefs upon others.
At the same time, I felt that this was a case which should never have gone to law. We are seeing a worrying number of cases (over issues such as the wearing of crosses, the displaying of a palm cross on a dashboard etc) ending up in court rather than being resolved through good sense and decency. It is true that sometimes we do have to dig our heels in over a point of principle, but that point should not be reached before we have first thought long and hard about our motives and whether there is any way in which we might compromise. In many cases I suspect that the lack of ability to compromise is on both sides and I wonder how far people just become locked in an ideological battle - which undoubtedly they see as a legitimate "point of principle"?
I was not surprised to read that the issue of prayer before council meetings has caused conflict elsewhere. When Portsmouth Council allowed a Muslim imam to say a prayer (which seems to me only fair if there are to be Christian prayers), one Christian councillor walked out of the meeting, later saying 'I do not believe we are praying to the same god'. In Shropshire another councillor called someone "disgusting" for wearing headphones during prayers in which he did not wish to participate.
My final verdict is that there is no end of the ways that we can manage to treat each other with contempt and fight to the death over our differences of belief and identity and there is nothing like the issues that exist around religious belief to bring those less than admirable instincts to the fore. It reinforced the point that law is needed only because we are so very fallible and unable to exercise innate decency to each other. A recourse to law almost always speaks of our failure,  in that light a win is not really a victory.
Delight? Dismay? We've been here before and we'll be here again.

1 comment:

  1. A beautifully reasoned and reasonable post Sue.
    In this, as in all other contentious matters, the ability to be accepting of differences is key.

    In the post I wrote earlier today I emphasised the need to give way - not on the essence of what we believe - but on the dogmatic pursuit of our own 'rightness'.

    When I sought social contact after John's death I was advised I should join a 'widows' group'.
    The assumption was that this large disparate group of women who had 'lost' their husbands, would obviously have everything in common.
    Nothing could be further from the truth, but a willingness to listen to others' views goes half-way to commonality of purpose.
    Like you, I believe that women will inevitably be "permitted" to become bishops in the fullness of time. The length of that time is another matter entirely.

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