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Welby Scheme: 'It's Not Necessarily About Sitting Down Arguing Over The Scriptures' -- David Porter

Welby Scheme: 'It's Not Necessarily About Sitting Down Arguing Over The Scriptures' -- David Porter
Justin Welby's Facilitated Conversation Scheme on sexual immorality in an interview in
September 2014

February 6, 2015

David Porter is Director of Reconciliation to the Archbishop of Canterbury
Malcolm Brown is Director of the Mission and Public Affairs Division in the Church of England

Documents from Church of Scotland's Decision to be used.
David Porter: "It's not necessarily about sitting down arguing over the Scriptures" [3 mins 30 secs in]


Interviewer: So I'm here with Malcolm Brown and David Porter and we're going to talk about the College of Bishops Meeting and what might happen at the College in the week ahead.

Malcolm, how have we got from the Pilling Report to what's going to be happening at the College of Bishops this week:

Malcolm Brown: Well as you know the Pilling Report actually recommended a process of conversations with facilitators as one of its key recommendations given the intractable nature within the church of some of the questions that it looked at. I think it is common knowledge that the Pilling Report was not, or the Pilling Group, wasn't unanimous - there was a minority report from one of the bishops, but I think the mood of the whole group, including the bishop who wrote the minority report, was that the experience of sitting down together, and it did actually take about two years for the Pilling Group to come to its report, that process had been extremely eye-opening for everybody who was involved.

I think whether it was the right way of doing this or not, the group was brought together as a bunch of bishops and advisers whose views were very much at odds with each other from the start. Now those didn't coalesce into an agreement or a consensus but what did happen was that each of them heard a lot from why each of them believed what they did. They began to take each other seriously as people journeying in faith, and even though that did not lead them onto the same journey, it led them into a degree of respect for each other they had never really plumbed before. So the recommendation to move to conversations, carefully designed, with facilitation, across the whole church in fact, is an attempt to say that the real fruit of the Pilling Report wasn't the attempt, doomed attempt perhaps, to come to agreement, it was the fact that we had learnt to respect each other in new ways, and to understand something of why people who disagreed profoundly, believed with such passion the things that they did.

Interviewer: David can you tell us something about the process that the Bishops are going to be engaged in over the next few days?

David Porter: Well quite simply it is what is says on the tin, it is a process of shared conversation. It is about creating space that they can feel a certain amount of confidence and because somebody's there holding the ring so that all voices will be heard, that people will be able to engage with each other in a respectful way, to come and to talk about the change that we see in the culture around us in relation to questions of human sexuality and the diversity that exists within the church about how we should respond as people of faith to that. And the process that we have designed is aiming to bring the bishops through a series of conversations where they themselves draw on the various resources, materials that have been provided, their own experience, their own knowledge, their own understanding of Scripture, to look at various aspects of this challenge about what actually is going on out there -- how are different groups within the church and different perspectives in the church being held and articulated -- and then how do they as bishops respond to that, how do they see that impacts on the church's mission, the church's self-understanding.

So that's the nature of the process.

It's not sitting down talking to text, it's not talking about the Pilling Report, it's not necessarily sitting down arguing over the scripture, although I am sure a certain amount of Biblical discourse will take place.

It's about saying to busy leaders, as with all of the church, Let's just take a breath, create the space and talk and see how we then can get a greater understanding of what we think our response as a church should be and why we differ on that.

Interviewer: What do you think would be the ideal outcome? You say you have designed, there have been people who have designed the process. What would be the ideal outcome that that process has been designed to elicit?

David Porter: For me the ideal outcome will be that people will be able to articulate with a measure of empathy the views of others that they don't agree with, that allows them therefore to see in their relationships with them that they also are seeking to be faithful to the Tradition of the Church, the teaching of Scripture and the Calling of Christ - in our Mission to the world. And that we develop that rapport, that capacity to Disagree Well that means that when we get to the process which is beyond the shared conversations when decisions will need to be made, because you can't leave it in this space forever, the way that we approach the making of those decisions is done in a way that honours the fact that we are Brothers and Sisters in Christ, and that even though we disagree, we are going to do that in a way that reflects that reality as much as the reality of our own convictions on these issues.

Malcolm Brown: There's also something lurking here that's about some things that the church is particularly good at or ought to be good at and that's offering the world in general a different model of how you can conduct rancorous debate, really difficult debate. And a parallel I've drawn once or twice is with the very, very different issue of fracking where my department is caught up in that at the moment, and where a senior geophysicist said to me a while ago: 'there's almost no space for rational discussion if this. Everything is taken to be pushing you to one pole or the other in the argument." And that is actually true of so many areas of our public life -- that debate isn't about where can we agree, where to we disagree, it's about I'm right, you must therefore not just be wrong but Bad. Now I don't think actually that is how the church through the centuries has conducted itself. We've had our differences, sometimes they've been quite bitter, but we've also had other ways of doing things which reflect more our commitment to the mind of Christ and the way in which Reconciliation between warring factions was somewhere quite central in His ministry. And if we can get this right, and that's an if, I think we have a gift here that others may want to emulate.

David Porter: And I think that highlights how this is actually different from happened under the Women Bishops Process, because people are saying this is facilitated conversations, and yes the Women Bishops Process was with a goal in mind because the church had expressed its overwhelming mind. It had reached a legislative cul-de-sac and we used facilitated conversation with a goal to move out of that cul-de-sac and get a way forward.

We are using the Process of Conversation, because what that process showed us was that sitting round talking in a different context that isn't in the debating forum or the legislative forum does change the game. We are using the lesson of that, but not with the same goal in mind. We are not facilitating this towards an outcome. We are facilitating it towards a shaping of the relationship so that when people do get to the point where outcomes are important and important decisions have to be made, this witness to how, is "look how these Christians love one another" because of how they Disagree Well."

Interviewer: You've both been responsible for drawing up some of the materials that will inform the discussions as they go ahead; have you got a word about what people can expect to find there?

Malcolm Brown: First of all I hope that the materials will lead them very gently and carefully through the process that David has outlined so that some of the fears that are not certainly intended to be substantiated are dispelled. There is a lot of anxiety around about what may lie behind these conversations about hidden agendas and things like that. I hope that we've unpacked that sufficiently in the light of Pilling indeed to show that that isn't the case. That this is as David has described it.

So, there is a lot of process, there's a lot of reassurance I hope, that says that this is what it says it is and it's not something hidden.

There's also a certain amount of modestly academic material that we are sharing with participants. This isn't by way of discussion papers, this isn't about saying what do you think of this, what do you think of that, but it is so that those who participate will mainly have at least a rudimentary body of shared reading. They will have read the same things we hope, and will therefore at least understand that some of the things they may not have been exposed to before are actually quite serious arguments. So for instance there are some things that the Pilling Report attempted and didn't do very well, there are other things that Pilling didn't even attempt.

On Scripture which is very central to all these arguments, Pilling began to open up some of the discussion among scholars, but in the case of the resources for the Conversations we've gone to scholars who have a higher standing among Biblical scholars, who I hope are going to be able to present their case in a way that those who disagree with it can at least see the sense of. These are scholars who do not try to overclaim, they are aware of the stronger and the weaker arguments in support of their position but they take very different viewpoints.

We've also tried to expand a bit on the international experience of talking about sexuality within the Anglican Communion, and most interestingly we've borrowed, with permission, a fascinating paper that was debated at the Church of Scotland General Assembly back in May on how churches through history have dealt with profound disagreement ..

David Porter: and the other material we have provided is some reflection on what a Process of Conversation is about, and the emphasis being that by and large a lot of people will not change their view and their understandings of process of this, but they may change as people and how they hold that view in relation to the Other. And that reflection on what the process emphasises that -- emphasises our responsibility to those we disagree with, as brothers and sisters in Christ. It talks about if you do win the argument how do you care for those who are on the other side of that debate. Because this is as important, at how we conduct it is as important, as whatever conclusions we come to. And that is what we are trying to emphasise through the shared conversations. That we need to give attention to this, as much as the issues under discussion.

Interviewer: David Porter Malcolm Brown thank you very much.

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