On the Rejection of Disdain

Centrists / General Convention / Religion

Bishop Peter Selby spoke earlier this year in the 2006 Gore Lecture at Westminster Abbey. In his lecture he takes on the present climate of “disdain” that he sees at the core of much of the trouble in the Church at the moment. He points out that treating another person with disdain inside the Church is the equivalent of saying to a person “I have no need of you.”

He moves on to a discussion of the role of patience as a primary way of stopping this movement. Here are the key paragraphs in his lecture, especially with regard to the Anglican Communion:

My engagement with the structural issues surrounding two recent and painful episodes in which I have been involved has also turned my mind to the structures of autonomy and communion which have of late been dominant questions in the life of the Anglican Communion and in an ongoing way in our ecumenical relationships also. The Windsor Report reflects in a profound way about what happens when structures of autonomy are seen not just as the legal basis of our operations as provinces but as defining theological relationships – where they declare in all sorts of circum­stances ‘I have no need of you’. The call to ‘autonomy in communion’ is, like the other matters of which I have been speaking, a structural issue, one that cannot be tackled without the spiritual trans­form­ation of which St Paul also speaks, but a structural transformation nonetheless.

What is critical, however, is an accurate discernment of the kind of structural-cum-spiritual transformation that is required for the redemption of structures of disdain. Failure to diagnose accurately the nature of the problem will inevitably produce inappropriate solutions. We are dealing with disdain, and the remedy we seek is a remedy precisely for that. If we are to avoid replicating structures of disdain, then the character of such structures have to be accurately discerned.

At the heart of most structures of disdain is the suggestion that we need clarity and coherence in decision-making so that decisions can be taken with firmness and above all with the necessary speed. Among the pressures to eliminate alternative sources of power and further requirements of consultation is the sense that there needs to be a point of reference to which decisions can be put with the assurance of an authoritative response.

Without doubt that pressure operates increasingly in the society at large. Pressures to circumvent, abbreviate or even eliminate processes that lengthen the time it takes to reach decisions are everywhere to be seen. Government dislikes delay – unless it is itself in charge of the delay. Interference with the delaying or reviewing powers of the judiciary, or of the second chamber of Parliament is a constant feature of government at the present time. From urgency come structures of disdain.

Bishop Selby has done a superb job of laying out some of the complicated interconnections at play in the Communion and in society at the moment. No matter what place you come down on the political and ecclesiological spectrum, since we are being asked to make historic decisions, it would make a great deal of sense to do so slowly and cautiously.

You can find the full text of the lecture (with footnotes) here:
Structures of Disdain – and how they might be redeedmed.

(Thanks TitusOneNine for pointing me to this lecture.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...