Friday, August 15, 2008

Building cohesion among evangelicals

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, Anglican evangelicals have some things in common with evangelicals in the Church of England, Church of Australia etc, and some things differently. One of the things in common is a range of views from "ultra conservative" to "open" to "liberal" evangelical; another is those for and against women's ordination. One of the things which is different is that we do not have an organisation for each part of the spectrum (as seems to be the case in England). So right now as we talk about being Anglican and evangelical in the large context of Communion troubles, as we talk about local matters such as theological education and ministry training, and as we weigh up the impact of the installation of Bishop Victoria Matthews in one of our larger dioceses (she will become the Bishop of Christchurch on Saturday 30th August) which happens to be a diocese in which some have openly stated reservations about the ordination of women, we are having a conversation which is less about how group X might relate to groups Y and Z (cf. some conversations on the Fulcrum site) and more about how 'we' might relate to each other across our differences.

Our challenge is to find unity in our diversity, and to build cohesion across our differences. Here I want to reflect on some aspects of this challenge. (That is an intentionally modest statement - if I could meet the challenge in its entirety I imagine I would have Benedict and Rowan and co lining up at my door!!).

Its not rocket science. Cohesion must build on common ground (we call ourselves 'evangelicals', there must be something we hold in common). It requires comprehensive communication (email and internet postings are brilliant for opening up communication but limited in quality of communication because lacking the means to adequately convey feelings, so some face-to-face meetings are required ... and that is costly in time and energy and travel expenses). 'Comprehensive' communication includes 'deep' communication - probing and elucidating presuppositions: Wittgenstein (I am told) once said there were no problems in philosophy, just unclear presuppositions!

Then these conversations need salting with grace. In my experience of evangelicalism we have a default mode of 'suspicion'. Formed and honed by years of wrestling with encroaching liberalism in the Anglican church, we find it hard to relate to fellow evangelicals in a different mode. Out of suspicion flows defensiveness or aggression which lends itself to strategies of isolation or differentiation. There is another mode of reception of other voices in conversation. Its called 'appreciative inquiry' and it works by looking first for what we can appreciate in others. I think this is more in tune with grace than our typical hermeneutic of suspicion! (Disclaimer: this paragraph cumulatively reflects decades of involvement in evangelical conversations - it is not aimed at any individual (other than myself) or any particular group(ing)).

Then there is the question of 'me'! The Lord knows that I am as much at fault in contributing to evangelical difficulties as anyone. Can I ... can you ... can each of us engage in a different manner than hitherto?

Then there is the small matter of cohesive evangelicals engaging in a cohesive manner with fellow Anglicans ...

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