Good disagreement

Good disagreement
The key to a good disagreement is when "no one is made to feel their position is of no value." Image: Igor Kisselev/Shutterstock

(This article first appeared in the September 2017 issue of the Anglican Journal.)

Occasionally in my travels throughout our beloved church, people will ask where we are in our consideration of amending the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages. In all honesty, I have to say that for the time being, all is rather quiet. I do remind them, however, that next year all the provincial synods will meet, and this matter is likely 
to be on the agenda for each one. I am reasonably sure that the intensity and pace of conversation is likely to pick up then, as we head into General Synod in 2019.

My own read is that many in our church are coming to accept and declare that we will never agree on this matter. There will always be those who favour same-sex marriage and those who oppose it, each from the ground of their own wrestling with the Scriptures and the long-held teaching of
the church on the nature of marriage. The challenge is, how do we live with such deep-seated differences of conviction?

At the heart of this challenge are two things—the acknowledging of our fears and the embracing of good disagreement.

Of the fear, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby addressed his own church at a General Synod in 2014, saying, “There is great fear among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of Scripture, to apostasy, not to use too strong a word. And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us to the rejection of LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] people, to irrelevance in a changing society, to behaviour that may seem akin to racism. Both those fears are alive and well in this room today.”

Of the nature of good disagreement, 
the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, David Ison, wrote in 2015: “There is no expectation of achieving any consensus—in either direction—in the foreseeable future. But there is a task to be done of encouraging those within the church who are at odds on this issue to express their concerns in a safe environment, listen carefully to those with whom they disagree profoundly, find something of Christ in each other and consider together what the practical consequence of disagreement might be. From New Testament times the church of Christ has had to face disagreement. Fashioning our life as a church includes finding ways to ‘disagree Christianly’.”

I believe that in our church there is both a commitment and a capacity to do just that—to disagree in a manner that does not demean one another, but honours our calling in Christ. In good disagreement, no one is made to feel their position is of no value. No one feels belittled, walked over or pushed out. In good disagreement, there is, in truth, a continuing place for everyone in our church.


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Fred Hiltz
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.

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  1. Yes, Fred, there has been a quietness around change to the marriage canon to include same-gender people in the Anglican Church of Canada lately.
    Do you think it is because so many of the LGBTQ+ have left the church?
    Do you wonder if, when many celebrated the change to Canada’s law that made same-gender marriage legal, people stayed in the church and received “blessings” in a few Anglican parishes, that they would settle down…continuing to tithe, serve and support the ACC?
    Do you feel the exhaustion deep in your bones about this matter and wish that it would just go away…not wanting to face another Synod where the “good disagreement” is even on the agenda?
    Remember me, Fred?
    I left the church when I came out.
    I came back when I fell in love with an ACC priest. We were civilly married and “blessed”.
    I am a Spiritual Director who offers safe and welcoming space to all – including those who have left the church because of this canon debate.
    I struggle with my label(s). Am I a Christian? Am I an Anglican? How can I sit in a pew listening to the very words of scripture that others interpret to exclude me? And, daily, I wonder why I should. Fred, do you wonder to?

  2. You can not sacrifice truth on the alter of unity. Christianity is not a club by which we decide standards and mores by majority vote. God sets the standards ,God has clearly declared His standards and mores in His word and we as follower of Him are to conform to the standards He has set,”Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” We are called to be Holy not to follow the standards set by the world.As Augustine is attributed to have said “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love.. There can be no compromise on truth.

  3. Re: Archbishop Hiltz, “good dis agreement” certainly has a place in the hierarchy of values; but it tends to be a value especially lauded within the church as institution. It can be in tension with the value of justice for individuals within the institution. An over emphasis on good agreement may result in a false moral equivalency between church as doer of justice and church as oppressor. The notion of “good disagreement” must always be tested against questions about who has power or privilege or entrenched interests in a given conversation.

    Fred often refers to our “beloved church” –a phrase with a kind of Johannine ring. Love for one’s community of faith is appropriate; but it is also important to see the tension between a “beloved” church community and the church as a source of strife. One discerns that tension even in the Johannine literature.

    What we are learning in Canada is that true peace within the household of God requires truth telling. The church is experienced as beloved at some levels; but it has been/is experienced, both without and within, as antisemitic, misogynist, racist, homophobic, and class conscious. The ongoing task of reformation of the church requires that we face its past and present injustices candidly, that we not accept unjust practices and oppressive rhetoric as simply two differing opinions on equal footing.

    • “tension between a “beloved” church community and the church as a source of strife” The church will always cause the world strife for the world ,by and large , does not like what the church has to say “If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world,..” We are not so much called to “reform” but to “conform” not to the mores or standards of this world but the standards of God. We are to conform to the standards of the god we follow, either the God of the bible or the god of this world. There can be no unity At the rate we are going we have the prospect of reforming God out of the church and we end up with the condition that was found in the church of Laodicea ,where Christ was on the outside knocking to get in.


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