Conflict in Church

For clarity this post is not driven by events in this parish!

Within the church, large or small, from a denomination (or even between denominations) to the local parish there is often conflict.  Yet this often comes as a surprise because the image of the church can be a place that is all sweetness and light.

However, at General Synod there were threats not to attend and bad behaviour, and I have become aware of a parish where there are big differences of opinion – and that is often at the root of it; people hold beliefs strongly, and there is nothing wrong with that, but they hold them so strongly that they believe that people holding any other opinion must be wrong, and must be shown to be wrong.

Justin Welby has talked about the need for “good disagreement”, that is the ability to hold different opinions, and yet to still live in love and harmony with those holding those opposing views.

One of the reasons that there are so many protestant denominations is because each time there was a difference like this a split occurred – to the extent there is even a joke about it!

The Roman Catholics resolved this by determining that what is right would be determined by the Pope; the Church of England took a different approach.  We said that if you could, with integrity, say the prayers in the prayer book then that was enough.  The fact that you might interpret them in a different way didn’t (and doesn’t) matter.  When it comes to contentious issues the CofE takes the Gamaliel position (if it is of God it will survive, if not it won’t) and allows people to hold different beliefs and waits to see what happens.

This isn’t an easy approach, but it does mean that people can remain in the CofE holding very different beliefs.  It also means that sometimes these differences are expressed badly.

Let us all search for ways to hold “good disagreement”.

As Voltaire might have said if he had thought of it:

I disapprove of what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it.

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