Pilling and facilitated conversations (again)
On Wednesday morning Archbishop Justin addressed the assembly. What he said was eagerly awaited, especially given recent pronouncements on ”˜homophobia’ in Africa, the enthusiastic endorsement of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori’s honorary Oxford degree, and the revelations about funding from TEC. His speech, only 15 minutes long, was published on his website immediately. While it has been interpreted in some quarters as giving the go-ahead for gay blessings, this was not what he said. His message was about overcoming fear with love; showing a watching world that Christians can disagree while remaining in fellowship, and that this process of gracious conversation is itself part of preaching the Gospel.
This theme was continued in the final session of Synod, a presentation on the Pilling Report and facilitated conversations, followed by questions and answers, but no debate. Sir Joseph Pilling and Bishop Stephen Croft summarized what we already knew, in the carefully phrased non-controversial language that we shall increasingly hear over the coming months. Questions from the floor were invariably met with assurances that the design and implementation of the listening process would ensure that all views were heard.
Comments and conclusions
We know that Justin Welby has made this new version of Indaba a central feature of his archepiscopacy. There are several problems though, not least theological difficulties. It may be possible to get people who profoundly disagree with each other to be nice and respectful (it happens at Synod, and regularly in Deaneries up and down the land). But the ideological and philosophical differences remain unresolved and will continue to be so as long as the fiction persists that contradictory views on primary issues are equally valid and both welcome in the same church. To put so much energy and money into getting people to repeat the same arguments and tell the same stories in refereed, set piece engagements appears to be making superficial reconciliation within the church a primary means of facilitating mission. However it is not preparing the ground for Gospel preaching, but a flight from it, because of the admitted confusion about the content of the Gospel. It is being portrayed as a model of peaceful and courageous negotiation, but how will it be seen? Yet more navel gazing, or worse ”“ a dishonest form of manipulation?