“.. in so far as we able to do so we have an obligation to protect people from error. That is to say, when there are people who know the truth, but may potentially be tempted to depart from it we must do our best to prevent this happening. This is a particularly important part of the vocation of church leaders. That is what St Paul was getting at when he told the Ephesian elders at Miletus
”˜Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.’ (Acts 20:28)
Caring for the flock means seeking to prevent the sheep being led astray.
In the light of all this I suggest that Archbishop Welby and the House of Bishops should expunge the term ”˜good disagreement’ from their vocabulary. They should talk instead about the importance of the Church of England being a truthful community, a community which aims at agreement in the truth and in which those with leadership roles take seriously their responsibility to encourage this search for truth and, as far as possible, to protect the faithful from error.”
[Dr Martin Davie has lectured at Oakhill Theological College and been Theological Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity of the Church of England and Theological Consultant to the House of Bishops and authored or contributed to a number of books and was the chief drafter for the two Church of England reports ‘Some Issues in Human Sexuality’ and ‘Women bishops in the Church of England’]
In the new edition of his biography of Archbishop Justin Welby, Andrew Atherstone draws the following contrast between the approaches of Archbishop Welby and his predecessor:
Rowan Williams spent most of his archepiscopate seeking areas of core theological agreement around which Anglicans could coalesce, most notably in the failed Anglican Covenant. Welby’s project is different: not the pursuit of theological agreement but learning to live with theological disagreement.
In this quotation Atherstone has put his finger on the heart of Archbishop Welby’s approach to the challenges facing the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion. Rather than trying to get everyone to agree on issues such as women bishops or same-sex relationships the Archbishop is concerned instead with getting people to disagree well with each other, what he has called ”˜good disagreement.’
The phrase ”˜good disagreement’ is one that the Archbishop has used on several occasions and it has also been used by the Church of England’s House of Bishops, most recently in a statement about the facilitated conversations on issues of human sexuality that are due to take place across the Church of England in the next couple of years. This statement said that one of the objectives of these conversations is ”˜to clarify the implications of what it means for the Church of England to live with what the Archbishop of Canterbury has called ”˜good disagreement’ on these issues.’
Unfortunately, neither the Archbishop of Canterbury, nor the House of Bishops, nor anyone else, has produced a clear definition of what is meant by ”˜good disagreement’ and no understanding of the term has ever been agreed by the Church of England. This is a problem because you cannot begin to think about whether good disagreement is a sensible idea unless and until you know what this term means. In this blog post I want to suggest that whole idea of ”˜good disagreement’ is radically misconceived and that what we should be talking about instead is how to handle disagreement, which is in itself necessarily a bad thing, in the best way possible as part of our calling as Christians to be a community of truth….