Bishop Nazir-Ali of Rochester is reported as repeating his reading of the Windsor Report, that those bishops who disagree with (and have acted in opposition to) the decisions of Lambeth 1998 should absent themselves from Lambeth 2008. Whether or not this is an accurate understanding of the Windsor Report’s recommendation that bishops in this category should refrain from “representative functions” in the Anglican Communion is a matter of separate debate on a number of grounds, from the “authority” of the Windsor Report itself to the question of whether Lambeth is a “representative” body or a conference of bishops.
My chief concern here is the extent to which Bishop Nazir-Ali’s reading makes sense in the context of a more important document, the Gospel, and in the more prosaic context of how people get along in dealing with disagreement in a day-to-day world of varying contexts, points of view, perspectives, and — yes — beliefs.
It seems to me that the Rochester Position assumes that the majority is always right; and by exiling those who disagree with or act in opposition to the majority, effectively puts an end to the dialogue which has not only been called for, but which represents the only real possibility for engagement and change, if either the majority or the minority is in error.
The ministry of prophet often consists primarily in being a round peg in a square hole — whether the pigeonhole of irrelevancy in which dissenting voices are often placed, or the literal cistern into which the unwanted Jeremiah is often deposited. Nazir-Ali of Rochester is taking the role of Amaziah of Bethel, who told Amos to keep away from the temple and the court, to take his unwanted prophecies and shove them. Amos, of course, humbly deferred the title, though he believed in the work and the words, and did his duty.
On that more prosaic level, banning the opposition from the assembly may buy peace, or the appearance of peace. But Jesus did not promise such peace, the peace which comes from attrition rather than the hard work of engagement with those with whom we most ardently disagree.
At the same time, I recognize that Rochester himself has stated he will not go to Lambeth, even though he represents what his colleagues continue to assert is the majority opinion. As his confrere of Abuja is fond of saying, “Can two walk together unless they agree?” This is, of course, more from Amos (3:3) — though unfortunately in the flawed KJV. For the real significance of the text isn’t about “agreement” over the content of belief, but as to the meeting itself, that is, “Can two walk together unless they meet first?” So the issue is, once again, the importance of meeting, not of withholding one’s presence from a meeting — and certainly not demanding that all agree before they can assemble to come to some agreement — and then walk together.
As to the Gospel, it is in how we relate to those with whom we disagree that we reveal our likeness to Christ, who came to us and was among us while we were yet sinners, who was in fact most commonly found meeting with the sinners as opposed to the righteous. The “mind of Christ” which we are called to have in and among ourselves was the mind that brought him to us empty of glory, in order to save. Christ himself did not delay his coming to us until we were suitably redeemed: the whole point of his coming among us, while we were at odds with God, was to bring us what we lacked — unity in him, and forgiveness. It is not the healthy that need a physician, nor is it the unanimous who require a meeting.
Tobias Haller BSG