Sunday, August 5, 2018

Making decisions: deciding how to make Christian decisions

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?


Unknown said...

Thank you, Peter, for taking an interest in this serious problem at a time when it is at once urgent and yet hard to consider dispassionately and wisely.

Surely it is most faithful to start from what we undetstand the Body to be from scripture and then see what sort of governance in the present aeon best fits what God had shown us. I think we have a haphazard series of pte-ecumenical C18-19 fixes that will not pass the theological scrutiny that we routinely give other areas of our common life.

After decades of occasional involvement in Federal politics here, I am hardly unsympathetic to your enthusiasm for democratic practices. But raw convictions about democracy uncooked by STR will not do in a global polity, and are not directly relevant to the Body anyway. Do you see, somewhere in the Communion, a capricious autocrat against which a majority must rise up in revolt? Your arguments for majority rule make sense for our George Washingtons, where there still are any, but offer nothing that I can see to our William Temples.

Because even a broken clock is on time twice a day, confidence in the result of your synod does not warrant confidence in a system that even TEC's TFSM has begun to amend.* I likewise believe that TEC's majoritarians rightly ordained women. But also that God will judge those majoritarian TEC bishops who deposed even the meekest dissidents from holy orders.

Majoritarianism, as a workaday scheme for distributing worldly power quickly, has no ethic of its own for either the Christ-like treatment of those who lose its power struggles or the wise and proper response to actual disobedience. In recent decades, the Anglican controversies about "provision" for losers-- with even Rome making provision because Anglicans could not do it for themselves-- has revealed a huge blind spot in the Victoriam vision of most Anglican churches around the world.

Can we give majority rule any credit for settling disputes that majority rule has caused in the first place? Somewhat like yourself, I have disagreed with SSB but, given that, tend to think well of the CCs and ill of GAFCON schism. I am answered on and off line by comments that no bullheaded majority that insists on polarising a church can be trusted to coexist in a genuine community. That still does not warrant schism, but it does reframe their condition as a kind of exile.

* In its new ptactice of inter-synodical consultation. BTW, who answered TFSM for ACANZP and what did s/he say?


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bowman
I am not ignoring your critique of majoritarianism (as initially rendered in the thread in the previous post) but I am left by your critique without a strong sense of how the body of Christ discerns the mind of Christ its head (which, I agree, is the key theological question re Christian decision-making).

What I outlined above was, in my view, a non-simple majoritarianism.

First, it is a process of making decisions in which regard is given for slowing down reflection so no hasty decisions are made - time for prayer and study, for theological commissions to inform the synod, for parish meetings to influence the minds of representatives. (I accept that synods have not followed this "slowing down" of major decisions as a general rule ... I am arguing that this general rule, working off your critique, should hold sway.

Secondly, in the vision of Selwyn, our three house approach (relatively novel, I understand, for its time) was an advance on an English approach in which variously bishops had a lot of say and parliament had the final say. In Selwyn's vision the power of the bishops is checked and their wise discernment from a position of oversight also checks the (say) radical nouveau theologies of the clergy or the revolutionary enthusiasms of the laity. Together, the body of Christ through its episcope, presbyters/deacons and "ordinary" members must find its collective understanding of the body of Christ. (An additional layer of checks and balances now exists in our General Synod with the ability of Tikanga (Maori, Polynesia, Pakeha) to exert a veto, i.e. to press on the whole body the importance of listening to what the Spirit is saying through the cultural perspectives present in our church.)

Thirdly, on critical doctrinal/liturgical matters, we have a "twice round" process, by which we also need (i) GS decision; (ii) a majority of local synods; (iii) a confirmatory GS decision. (This does mix (1) and (2) above!)

Fourthly, I suggest that here in ACANZP, our GS 2018 decision showed majoritarianism acknowledging the minority view INSOFAR as that view was willing to be expressed within the one body: liberal and conservative views were welcomed and supported in the same tent. BUT: those who are leaving are expressing a theological belief in which no such compromise is possible: the church must be pure and adhere to one view and only one view. Which leads to ...

A final question to you/your approach: how would your approach work with two theological outlooks, one in which some kind of appreciation exists for the Anglican church being a broad church and one in which no appreciation for the Anglican church being a broad church exists. How does your approach resolve that difference ... because the only non-schismatic resolution I can see is that the "narrow" view always prevails (providing the "broad" view is unwilling to ever embark on schism)/

(I do not know the answer to your last question).

Unknown said...

Peter, three quick phone (sorry about typos) replies suggest thenselves.

First, the disenchantment of majoritarian practice is only part of the wider conversation about faithful governance. I do see merit in the centuries-old consensus practices of Benedictines and Quakers, but some answers to your questions about better practice are not simple rule-swaps but reframings from other parts of the wider conversation.


Unknown said...

Second, Peter, the most majoritarian thing about the ACANZP debate on That Topic has been the unswerving determination to distribute power to some kind of SSM. Apart from majoritarian prejudices, it is hard to respect a debate that is, not open problem-solving without preconditions, but closed railroading of a single fissiparous proposal. What in standard boring Anglican theology required your synod to choose between its fashionable 3% minority and its unfashionable 10% minority? A church more deeply united in Christ would have balked at the sheer absurdity of God's sign of unifying love in that place deciding which to drive out.


Peter Carrell said...

Disenchantment with majoritarian practice is all very well, Bowman, it is not perfect, but construction of an alternative (and for Anglican churches, Benedictine monasteries is not quite the same thing) ... that is what I am not seeing.

Our debate: well, let's also note that one of those minorities had nothing to bring to the table re change for the other minority, it was all about either no change or forming an extra provincial diocese, except for those who proposed/supported the proposal we agreed to ... which thus was a serious attempt to not be fissiparous. (And, actually, in time, it might be that what we have chosen (in your terms) is proven to be 3% versus 2%!).

What in standard boring Anglican theology required us ... actually I think the requirement was the compelling argument from compassion and love! And I think our openness to this argument from across our church is that while we might put a figure of "3%" on the "minority" concerned, it is a much larger figure who are related to or best friends with or simply on congregational relationship with the "3%" [as I am sure you know - it will be the same in North America]. That is, our large majority reflects a widespread commitment to better respond to the 3%, along with a lack of commitment to an ultimately unpersuading argument that the gospel means there is a prohibitive rule against lifelong loving partnerships and even less commitment to an argument that our constitution makes any change on this matter illegal. And the proposal we agreed to - I keep saying - was intended to not force people to choose ... but people have chosen to make a choice and fissure has erupted. But it does not need to be this way.

So, I remain somewhat unconvinced that in this instance, majoritarian decision-making is disenchanting!

Father Ron Smith said...

On the subject of Pope Francis' determination to outlaw capital punishment. It should not be too surprising as it is perfectly in line with the Roman Catholic views on euthanasia and abortion.

However, the whole business of 'sanctity of life' seems to be treated differently in the variations of Scripture. If David hadn't killed Goliath, what might have happened to his people? It seems to me that context is quite important when it comes down to moral/legal argument.

Unknown said...

Third, your final question may have more satisfying and deeper answers, but one fair shallow one is this: majoritarianism itself created the problem.


Bryden Black said...

My brief tuppence worth: our deeper cultural propensities here in New Zealand simply opted for a pragmatic solution without adequate theological undergirding. The 2014 commission’s report is like Esau’s gruel. And then naturally the Working Group’s final report had to smuggle in a form of ecclesiology, in their case that of Kenneth Locke’s, who delightfully manifests our collective failures of process! Despite all that Peter correctly says above, we now deserve muddled fate ...

Unknown said...

Peter, I used *disenchantment* the other way--

The atomic theory has resulted in the *disenchantment* of matter, so that chemistry is studied rather than alchemy.

The limit theorems led to the *disenchantment* of the calculus, replacing older mystifications about the infinite and the infinitely small.

The *disenchantment* of majority rule was inevitable once empirical knowledge of group decision processes could account for it as well as other systems.


Unknown said...

Also, Peter, even a broken clock is right twice a day. Perhaps this seems unfair, but (as with stealing, election fraud, etc) certitude that the result was good is not certitude that the method was proper.

At this stage, the method seems to matter independently of the result as the losers decide how much they can trust the winners when ruled by that method.


Unknown said...

Ceteris paribus, persons and groups usually change their minds gradually. Any gathered consensus exhibits that incremental change without the distortion that results when a faction limits a group's consideration to just one favoured proposal. Consensus rule does not prevent adaptive changes of policy, but it does make revolutions less likely.


Father Ron Smith said...

With all due respect, Bowden, to your latest argument here; sometimes, society does need a revolution - in the interests of common human justice. This is precisely what happened with the teaching of Jesus. Of course, this did have an entirely expected outcome; Jesus was crucified - for our benefit, as it turns out. So far, the gentle revolution that is happening in ACANZP is without overt violence - except, perhaps, from those who object to the majority verdict on the Church's treatment of a formerly despised but signficant minority in our Church

Unknown said...

Father Ron, I do agree with Bryden very often, but we are distinct individuals. Thank you for your commments on this OP.


Unknown said...

Bryden, you are there and I am not.

(1) Is this what you are seeing?-

(a) A non-magisterial folk religion crystalised long ago.

(b) It is not now open to any fundamental rethinking or relearning.

(c) The churches that you see are more accountable to the folk religion than to theological persuasion of any kind.

(d) Occasionally, the folk theology turns out to have a novel application that is ballyhooed as progress.

(e) But the cultural symbiosis of folk religion and most churches is too deeply conservative for theological considerations to matter.

(f) Majoritarian processes give an appearance of openness whilst protecting the symbiosis as an end in itself.

(g) Theological integrity is possible only for churches that explicitly and enforceably acknowledge a higher allegiance than the symbiosis.

(h) That Topic is the cleavage between those who believe in the symbiosis as an authority unto itself and those for whom official acts of a church must have some warrant from some higher and more credible authority.

(2) Have you read anything in this thread that would make an M29 community more credible to you than a GAFCON-affiliated church?