Justin Welby has gotten his tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury off to a rollicking start with the appointment of “Director of Reconciliation,” whose job, it seems, will be to keep the bickering Anglican fragments talking to each other. The action, and its somewhat Orwellian title, has been greeted with a certain amount of mockery, but it is not surprising. This sort of thing is part of the inheritance of the Church of England, though not necessarily that of the Anglican offspring.
The Church of England was always viewed by the English Establishment as an instrument of national unity, and the various Actions of Uniformity made participation in the worship fo the Church of England necessary for full participation in the political and economic life of the nation. This was a prescription for hypocrisy, of course, and also for constant blurring of the borders of the Church’s teaching. In recent times, Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple – who is still greatly revered in Britain – made a specialty of what he called “synthesis,” the art of talking to make opposing sides come to some sort of agreement. We’d call that “reconciliation.” Michael Ramsey tells an anecdote somewhere about Temple coming out of a meeting, rubbing his hands with some degree of eager anticipation, saying, “Well, we have a lot of synthesizing to do.” Incessant palaver is just a part of the Church of England’s nature.
There are limits to this of course. Much of the current tension is between those who think that the God of Christianity is a self revealing God, who it is our job to listen to, understand, and perceive on His terms, and those who think that somehow we define God. As Tom Wright has sagely pointed out, the latter group is inevitably going to become enthralled by the old gods of our fallen nature, Sex, Greed, and Force, or, to give them their ancient names, Aphrodite, Hades, and Ares – and how insightful of the ancients to make Aphrodite and Ares lovers. The leadership of The Episcopal Church is almost entirely dominated by this decrepit trinity. The domination by Aphrodite is obvious, but it is also greedy for property, and will use the force of law to obtain it.
How Christians generally, Anglican Christians especially (from my point of view), conduct their witness and their lives in the modern (post modern, post post modern) culture is a vital question. Ministry and witness to those who have fallen away is also important, and conversation may be a part of that. I doubt that it can be done in the sort of formalized chat sessions envisioned here. The manifestations of disagreement may or may not be of great importance, but the underlying problems are not really susceptible to discussion.