Peter Carrell points beyond the democratic process...

Peter Carrell from AnglicansDownUnder, a superb blog on things Anglican wrote this,

"...both Mark Harris, and the men he takes to task, may be missing the point! The question is not whether democracy will prevail or should not prevail, but whether starting with Christ and remaining centred on Christ we discern in unity that his oversight of the church ('the great shepherd of the sheep') may be expressed on earth by any suitable person redeemed by Christ into his body)" 

His reference was to my blog posting titled, " Fifteen English Bishops in an anti-democratic snit." 

I stand by what I wrote, but I also understand and most of what Peter is saying. 

Let me take a whack at some further remarks:

First, on a personal note, I have been a candidate in two elections, one in Delaware, the other in the Convocation of American Churches in Europe. In both cases another candidate was elected. In both cases I believe we (the electors and even the candidates to some extent) "discern in unity that his oversight of the church may be expressed on earth" by a particular "person redeemed by Christ into his body."  I believe I walked out of both elections appropriately "in unity" with the rest of the church in that place and understanding that another had been chosen not only because of the votes, but in some way because that was the suitable person chosen not simply by the electors, but by God.

Now if something like this is what Peter  is talking about, then fine.  But in order to come to the place of acceptance of the democratic vote I also had to come to grips with the reality that another was chosen, not me. My spiritual problem was not with the democratic process but with overcoming my disappointment.  I don't know how elected officials do it - stand for election season after season. One day they are not elected, and what then?  

Suppose however I was able to deal with the democratic process but felt that there was no unity to which I was called in which it would be possible to affirm that a "suitable person redeemed by Christ into his body" had been indeed elected?  

What do we do when the candidate is a woman or a person of color or homosexual or worse yet one of the above and in a relationship not considered customary - with a woman or man not Christian, or a person of the same sex, or a person of different color?  Well, in various parts of the Anglican World that peculiarity would mean that the person could not for some represent the full value of "unity" that we seek. 

At some point we would have to say either, the election will not hold because the unity in Christ is not present, or we would have to say to those who were disturbed by the election, "live with it." I go with the "live with it" crowd. One of the good things about bishops is that they all retire or die. It is not the end of the world if someone who dis-unites folk gets elected, and sometimes it is genuinely beneficial.

Regarding another sacramental vocation, I remember very well in Seminary in the mid 60's a senior (white) who met and determined to marry an African American.  He was under immense pressure to change his mind, and turn his heart away from what as considered a path of dis-unity.  Those of us who supported him believed that he saw a unity that was stronger than the normal paths of unity would allow.  For a time there would be great dis-unity, but his and her suitability for the sacramental life of marriage was in no wise determined by some discerned sense of what unity was about.

I have to say that I am unmoved by the calls to unity expressed in a Christendom so divided by internal strife that we seldom even speak to each other across the boundaries of class, caste and religious belief that a shared sense of the Gospel seems not to be possible.   

If we are not divided by the understanding of the place of election in choosing a bishop, why then are we divided by the actual practice of that process?  Is it perhaps because we want "his oversight of the church ...expressed on earth by any suitable person redeemed by Christ into his body," and expect that when so chosen that person would then be for us the source of Christ's oversight of the church?  We really want Jesus, but we got George. We really want Jesus but we got Sarah?  

It is not the democratic or other process of election that is the bother, nor is it the issue of unity in Christ, it is the problem of thinking that anyone, ANYONE, could "express (his) oversight on earth."

Let Jesus Christ be Jesus Christ, and let the Bishop be a servant of the Lord.  All else is false expectation and mad hope. 


  1. Let Jesus Christ be Jesus Christ, and let the Bishop be a servant of the Lord. All else is false expectation and mad hope.

    I'm reminded of Bishop Alan's words:

    ...when all is said and done I am just a driver of the Lord’s Number 49 bus, and the more I can rememeber it’s his bus not mine, saints preserve me, the less likely I am to get too far up myself.

    And if those of us who are not bishops might keep your words and Bishop Alan's words in mind, we'd all be much the better for it.

  2. An excellent reply to my point, Mark!

    I would simply proffer, not to keep an argument going, but to point to the complexity of life, that sometimes democracy is the way to go for the church, and sometimes not. The 'not' times are when people feel strongly that a particular decision needs 100% agreement: however long it takes, we will wait for each other to come to a common mind.

    What kind of time it is in England I am not sure. But I would like all sides of the debate there to draw closer to Christ!

  3. Peter,

    Can you cite a case in the history of the Church in which 100% agreement was desired and eventually achieved? I have a hard time understanding your point without a concrete example.

  4. Speaking as someone who has spent a long time teaching college women who blithely explain to me that feminism is completely unnecessary any more, I must say that I am not nearly as engaged by the brouhaha about democracy (deeply flawed business, just less flawed than pretty much any other sort of system) as I am by the continuing efforts of a bunch of aging men to perpetuate the patriarchal hegemony. But then, of course, democracy and human rights do have a fair amount to do with each other...

  5. Hi Lionel,

    Two examples spring to mind. In Acts 15 it appears that the council in Jerusalem reached a consensus on the decision about how the once Jewish but now Jewish-and-Gentile mission would go forward.

    My second example is, perhaps, more trivial, but I am thinking generically of those occasions in local churches when vestries (or executive committees) realise that, trivial though it is in the big scheme of things, it is better to achieve consensus on (say)changing the brand of coffee used than divide the congregation ... yet the same vestries, on other matters, may be quite comfortable to work on majority votes.

    I guess I could draw on other occasions ... I have been part of many decision making occasions in my church in which we have worked our way to a consensus ... I have also been present in decision-making bodies in which we have put off coming to a decision because we have realised that no consensus is imminent. (I guess that decision is itself a consensus one!)

  6. Peter,

    I would argue that “consensus” is not the same thing as “100% agreement.” Even when, say, a vestry discusses a matter until everyone agrees on a plan of action without actually taking a vote, “consensus” usually means that everyone has acquiesced, not that they have agreed. If we wait for 100% agreement on, say, blessing of same-sex unions within the Anglican Communion, we will wait til hell freezes over.

    That said, I agree that certain important decisions may require more than a simple majority to carry a sense of legitimacy. This is why I am concerned about the CoE General Synod’s being ready to approve the covenant by simple majority vote.

  7. Hi Lionel
    I agree with you for the most part in what you say; but I do not think you are saying that you would like the C of E GS to approve the Covenant by an overwhelming majority ... which I think would be a good thing!

  8. I would like to see the Church of England reject the covenant by an overwhelming margin.

  9. It would be interesting to have a breakdown of two issues at the last CoE GS. First, who was behind the idea that the Anglican Covenant should be allowed to pass GS by a simple majority. And second, who was behind the idea that female bishops in the CoE should need a super majority to pass GS.

    I would wager that there is quite a bit of overlap in the the folks who came up with these two different amounts of majority needed to pass the measures.

  10. Dah-veed, you pose two excellent questions. I'd like to know the answers, too.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.