Giles Fraser has written an excellent column about how fear of conflict distorts church politics. He is focusing on the Church of England, but the lessons are transferable.
The difference between the politics of the church and the real world of party politics is that in the church people are nice to each other in public and nasty to each other in private, whereas in real politics it’s often the other way round. But the church is so dysfunctional that it prefers the rhetoric of unity to its reality. Thus those debating female bishops in General Synod fell over backwards to couch their speeches in terms of generosity. But outside observers saw something very different – a snake pit of seething animosities. And outside observers were basically right.
For the failure of the C of E’s big tent experiment is parallel to the failure of New Labour’s big tent experiment with which it had so much in common. Chantal Mouffe rightly argues that the third way was a mistaken attempt to bypass the inherently conflictual nature of the political. Bland, suffocating unanimity cannot replace the reality of political differences. In theology as in politics, conflict is real. The important thing is not that we mustn’t fight. That is inevitable. It’s rather that we mustn’t draw blood when doing so.