Until the Harvest

Editorial by Anthony Woollard

from Signs of the Times, No. 31 - Oct 2008

I assume the Editor's chair under the shadow of the old Chinese curse. Interesting times indeed, with the General Synod debate on women bishops, followed hard by a spectacularly successful MCU Conference in preparation for Lambeth - and then by Lambeth itself.

Of course these themes dominate our pages. But I have chosen to begin with a much more fundamental issue: a dialogue between David Driscoll and Mary Taylor about the relationship between reason and emotion in faith and in the work of the MCU.

That issue was demonstrated in our Conference itself. A number of the presentations resembled sermons more than lectures, and that was supremely true of the moving witness of Bishop Gene Robinson. One participant commented to me that God had got much more of a look-in that at most MCU conferences! I think she meant that the deep things of faith were more apparent from some speakers than the objective intellectual analysis to which we are accustomed.

Is that a good thing or not? Some might say that it is precisely the current tendency in the Church to appeal to the heart, rather than to the head, which has allowed gut-reactions about women and gays to creep into the Church's life and be justified post hoc by various fundamentalist theologies. Jonathan Clatworthy, in his new book, Liberal Faith in a Divided Church , suggests that, when intellectual debate flies out of the window because of a misplaced fear that the tide of argument is running against an intelligent faith, fundamentalism will be admitted by the front door.

Yet is not David Driscoll right to remind us that faith is not just a matter of the head but something deeper? For dyed-in-the-wool sceptics like me, that does not come easily, and Gene Robinson's almost evangelical emphasis on the personal knowledge of God in Christ raises no end of philosophical issues. But even we sceptics have emotions, and have to learn to come to terms with them in the service of faith and life.

The rest of this issue engages more directly with current concerns. Adrian Thatcher offers his own take on the way in which Scripture has been used in recent debates. Tim Hind gives a lively account of the General Synod debates in July, and Jean Mayland a particularly critical account of the outcome as far as women bishops are concerned..

Finally, after an encouraging report of a regional MCU meeting in Hawarden, I have included a response to a point made in Jonathan's last editorial about evangelism.

Some, reading these diverse contributions, might come to the conclusion that the MCU is striving for an exclusive party line. Adrian and Jean will be read by some as "uncompromising". Even the debate about reason and emotion will be regarded by some as showing too much readiness to exclude those who disagree. And clearly one person took Jonathan's final editorial as an attack on evangelism - thus neatly illustrating his doubt whether we all speak the same language, or understand why the same terms and concepts can produce such widely differing reactions in fellow-believers, and perhaps even implying an indifference on MCU's part to some of those sensitivities.

Yet I am glad that I have been able to include such a range of comments, not least those on reason and emotion, because they show what we all know, that MCU is not monochrome. The issues, like those in our General Secretary's recent book, are far more fundamental (if one may dare use such a word) than arguments about sexuality. Likewise the fact that by no means all in the MCU would agree all that is written here is surely evidence of our health.

It is indeed hard to include those who would exclude you. Yet I look, not just at the Anglican Communion but at my own local congregation - admittedly a large one but extraordinarily diverse. It includes people who probably have quite a lot of sympathy with the Archbishops of Kenya and Nigeria on certain issues, and others for whom such views are anathema and a major hindrance to Christian witness. It includes those of "simple faith" and those whose faith is far from simple. It includes those for whom a certain aesthetic, particularly of church music, is central to their adherence and those for whom that is at best an irrelevance. It includes the fervent believer and the more-or-less agnostic. It includes the over-emotional and the over-intellectual. And yet, almost all of the time, it really does function as one body in Christ.

"Let both grow together until the harvest", we are enjoined. Not just "both", I would suggest, but all this infinite diversity. Some may grow in a different direction, of course, but many more may grow together in ways we cannot expect or pre-judge. Perhaps to some of us the semi-schism of GAFCON came as a bit of a relief, and the subsequent conservative-leaning fudge of Lambeth as a disappointment. But the harvest is not yet.

Anthony Woollard taught Theology at William Temple College before entering the Civil Service where he spent most of his career in the the Department of Education.