Recently, in the post below the one below this, a very challenging (in the best sense of that word re theology sharpening theology) set of comments has raised questions about (variously) synodical powers, consensus, categories of decisions in the life of the church.
One important challenge has been whether "majority rule" is sufficient for decisions we make or should we aim higher, for consensus?
Naturally the higher aim of consensus rule is laudable but is it realistic? Very intriguingly, with a background discussion here being whether our GS 2018 did the right thing or not re SSB, for which clearly a unanimous decision did not occur (though 85:15(ish) is darn good), it is notable that four congregational votes in local parishes for the congregations to leave did not achieve 100% either. On some arguments advanced in the comments of the previous post, folk should be staying put. [This is an observation re the nature of the argument and its applications - not a proposition for debate in comments below - do not comment on these local matters directly.]
Further, responding to some examples in the thread below that some majorities in history have been majorities for oppression, we could also observe that some consensi have been unanimous votes for evil to occur. Neither the Klu Klux Klan nor the Soviet Communist Party under Stalin had minority votes in favour of "enemies" being let off execution.
But also important below has been the challenge of whether there are some matters the church should decide in one way and other matters in which it might decide in another way.
Recently, in 2017, our local diocesan synod decided to support the reinstatement of our permanent cathedral. The vote, as I recall, was 55:45%. I have heard no one since argue that it should have been unanimous. As far as I know, it has not turned out to have schismatic consequences. Might we take this example as evidence that in the life of the church, some matters are agreeably about majorities. Is there a majority for the proposition that such matters are generally nuts/bolts and bricks/mortar votes?
By contrast, our GS 2018 decision re SSB, involved matters of truth (what might be believed within this church? what might be blessed in God's name?). It is over matters of truth that people are voting to leave the church. There have been schismatic consequences to the decision. All this is ironic as the intent of the GS decision was that people's convictions about the truth of the matter would be respected and safeguarded by this decision! But should we have waited until we had a consensus?
A difficulty with "waiting" on such matters is that meanwhile real people's lives are affected. When some believed that the decision to ordain women should be held off until no further disagreement existed, there were women called of God to be ordained who were unable to be ordained. On another matter, capital punishment (see below), it very obviously affects lives whether we do or do not execute criminals.
Which makes me wonder, in response to a line in comments in the post below (in my words), on matters of truth, we should wait for an agreed discernment by the church (where "agreed" might be consensus, or reception of a teaching body's deliberation, or even of a papal declaration), whether we might consider two kinds of truth.
One kind could be creedal statements (which do affect us re salvation but don't affect us over who may be ordained, whom we marry, whether we will be hung at dawn or not): by all means, let's wait for the discernment of the church according to agreed process.
Another kind could be ethical statements: by all means let's not rush, consider all arguments, go away and think about it a bit more, pray even more, but, in the end, recognising that dawn is coming up fast, make a decision, if necessary by a majority.
What do you think?
The Pope has kind of thrown a cat among the pigeons pecking at this matter with his recent announcement about capital punishment being inadmissible and the Catechism changing accordingly.
Initially I thought that this was an example (i) of Catholic development of doctrine, (ii) of the Pope exercising power to make a decision in respect of a discernment of the consensus of the faithful. But these articles (National Review, Cranmer (actually Carl Jacobs, a sometime commenter here at ADU), First Things) have put me right on that score!
None dare call it "development" (more like "reversal"). Nor is it a discernment of the consensus of the faithful (because there is not a consensus of the past faithful and not of all present faithful in favour of this decision). Worse, it potentially opens the floodgates on other reversals and undermines the security of many matters of doctrine and ethics (although I think Rod Dreher is OTT here).
I realise, reading some articles here, that I myself am in disagreement with the Pope on this matter. Sorry Adolf and Josef, but I don't think capital punishment is inadmissible in your (and like) cases. But in my disagreement I am in agreement with the Catechism as it was the day before the Pope's announcement.
So, how should we decide matters of importance as Christians?
I think there is something to be said for synods! For gathering representatives of the faithful together and nutting out issues and then voting (in the Spirit!). I would be pretty surprised if Francis could swing his latest move through a global synod of the Catholic faithful. Synods may not be good at discerning (so arguments in the post below) but are they worse than ... popes ... bishops (note the mess the CofE is in re safeguarding at the moment) ... theological commissions ...
Churchillian readers will have spotted my mutation in the sentence above on his great point on democracy - "democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…"
I wonder if the problem with synods is not the form of such government (with the checks and balances of bishops/clergy/laity) but the content of it, that is, with the formation of the members of the synods of the Anglican Communion?