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Archbishop of Armagh’s reflections on division

Archbishop of Armagh’s reflections on division

At its General Synod which is underway, the Church of Ireland will vote on a motion to approve the Anglican Covenant.

In his presidential address today to General Synod, The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Alan Harper, reflected on the divisions in the Church of Ireland:

It is passion that has been lacking in successive meetings of General Synods for many years. Many of our debates seem bloodless and to lack sustained engagement. The range and depth of the theological dialogue has sometimes seemed limited.

Part of this may be a result of the fact that the culture of Anglicanism militates towards measured debate, tolerance in embracing a breadth of theological perspectives, and, consequently, a reserved and polite demeanour easily interpreted as indifferentism. Another part of the reason may be fear: fear of engendering or revealing splits within the Church. We know that in Ireland we have divisions enough to cope with and we don?t want unnecessarily to strain further the bonds of affection. Thus we have been content to accommodate disagreement by avoiding careful, deep discussion.

It is essential to differentiate between engendering division and revealing division. No one, except those who are deliberately mischievous, wishes to engender division. Yet difference in sentiment and opinion is part of the human condition, and exploring differences provides opportunity for understanding, if not necessarily sharing, alternative views.

Such was the motivation behind the work of the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland in publishing their Pastoral Letter on human sexuality in September 2003. That statement reflected the range of views represented among the bishops at that time. It also indicated that diversity need not be a source of irreconcilable division. It allowed for respectful listening to one another and defined a long term objective of achieving an informed “consensus fidelium.”

In this respect the statement underscored the principle that, in circumstances of substantial disagreement, change in an established position is inappropriate. The strength of that principle is that prophetic witness, responsibly expressed, is enabled but scrutinized in order to discern whether “it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” Its weakness is that it tends to preclude the Gamaliel Principle which is that latitude should be permitted because, if a particular change or movement is not of God it will wither away, if it is of God it will prosper, and woe to the one who sets his face against what God is doing.

Motion 6 (Anglican Covenant) is scheduled for Friday afternoon. The Motion reads,

Seeing that the Anglican Covenant is consonant with the doctrines and formularies of the Church of Ireland, the General Synod hereby subscribes the Covenant.

The report of the Standing Committee in support of the motion is here.

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