Why is the future of reasoned Christian disagreement endangered? Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, has a penetrating answer in “Knowing Myself in Christ,” an essay that belongs to The Way Forward?: Christian Voices on Homosexuality (Eerdmans, 2003), edited by Timothy Bradshaw. Although he specifically addresses the contentious issue of human sexuality, substitute any other contentious issue in the church and his insight still applies.
Ours is a time in which it is depressingly easy to make this or that issue a test of Christian orthodoxy in such a way as to make wholly suspect the theology of anyone disagreeing on the issue in question; in other words, the possibility is neglected that Christians beginning from the same premises and convictions may yet come to different conclusions about particular matters without thereby completely voiding the commonness of their starting-point. It is really a matter of having a language in which to disagree rather than speaking two incompatible or mutually exclusive tongues. Of late, attitudes toward sexuality have come to be seen as a clear marker of orthodoxy or unorthodoxy in many circles; and it is true that there are plenty of people for whom the casting of ‘traditional’ or even scriptural norms to do with certain kinds of sexual behavior is part of a general program of emancipation from the constraints of what they conceive to be orthodoxy, part of a package that might include a wide-ranging relativism, pluralism in respect of other faiths, agnosticism about various aspects of doctrine or biblical narrative, and so on. However, it seems to me that the St Andrew’s Day Statement, beginning as it does with proposed principles for theological discussion, recognizes that the assumption that revisionism on one questions entails wholesale doctrinal or ethical relativism is dangerous for the future of reasoned Christian disagreement of a properly theological character.