In a recent interview with David Frost, Archbishop Rowan Williams observed:
I think, to find ways, as long as possible, of getting these two sides to make sense of themselves to each. The biggest problem is people don’t listen very much. That’s, you know, that’s human nature, and the Church is no exception. And so long as people are still trying to - so long as people are aware that they’ve enough in common to disagree, rather than just to tear it all up, so long as that’s true, it’s worth working at. Now the point may come where people say well we no longer have enough in common and we may reach that point - I don’t know. Meanwhile, my first priority is to try and keep the conversation going, to say do you understand why this matters.It seems to me that the Archbishop says two things here: one false, and one true — and they are related. The false part is the accusation that “people don’t listen.” I think people have in fact listened very carefully; and that after listening we still disagree. +Rowan is betraying his liberal optimism here: if only you will understand me, you will agree with me. But arguments are not always persuasive, and a failure to agree need not indicate a failure to understand. An old priest friend of mine once told me of a conversation with his senior warden, who finally said to him, in exasperation, “Father, you aren’t listening to what I’m saying!” The priest responded, “George, I hear you perfectly. But I disagree.”
Where the Archbishop is “spot on” is in the question of how we deal with the disagreement. This is where we can choose to act in a gospel fashion, or not. Do we have enough in common to hold the church together in spite of strong disagreement about the rightness of same-sex relationships, and, whether right or wrong, how important is this particular aspect of a person’s life in terms of ordained ministry? Can those who disapprove accept the full participation of those of whom they disapprove in the church — in all orders of ministry? — that is the question for the “reasserters.” The question for the “reappraisers” is not (or ought not to be) Will you stop doing this? but Can you live with this lack of full approval — is acceptance enough? In short, can we maintain our unity in spite of a difference of opinion: even if it means various impairments in the communion, and juggling of episcopal oversight to accomplish it?
Ultimately, we have no control over others accepting us, only over who we accept. The Gospel way, for me, is the way of acceptance, not of “being accepted” — in fact, Jesus promises rejection in the short run for those who follow him. And it seems this is precisely what we are seeing: churches that are welcoming and accepting are getting a tongue lashing for not being restrictive enough. And if we criticize those calling for restriction for being restrictive — they say we don't “accept” them!
What can we do in response? I say, keep preaching the Gospel! And remain open and welcoming even to those who disagree — that is crucial, I think. I can say, “I hear what you are saying, but I disagree with you; but you are welcome to worship with me — if you want to.”
Acceptance in this sense need not mean approval — on either side. Rather we should acknowledge that we are all to some extent in error, but “accept one another as Christ accepted us” — with all our imperfections, and not as a sign of approval, but as an act of salvation.
—Tobias S Haller BSG