Thursday, 8 July 2010

Compromise or Confrontation?

Archbishop Rowan Williams addressed Methodist Conference meeting in Portsmouth this week. He was welcomed warmly and you could have heard a proverbial pin drop during his address.
Archbishop Rowan spoke on the feast of St Peter and St Paul. He argued that Peter’s messy mind led to confusion and compromise, whilst Paul’s ruthless integrity, incapable of compromise, led to confrontation. Both compromise and confrontation are elements of apostolic ministry – and both are at the heart of many questions we face as churches and as a Joint Public Issues Team.
Working at the point where church and political life collide, should we work with political realities and get the best result that we can, or do we take the prophetic high ground and risk not achieving any change? Do we push for changes which reduce harm, or do we say that something is just unacceptable? Do we risk being co-opted and having uncomfortable bedfellows or do we keep away from the debate and risk being unable to effect change?
The dilemma of compromise or confrontation, engagement or prophecy, is present in so much of our work on public issues. Should we engage with companies on ethical investment issues or should we boycott them? Should we try to improve legislation or oppose it? Should we work to minimise the impact of public spending cuts, or oppose the cuts entirely?
Like Peter and Paul we may find ourselves personally more inclined to one approach or another. Rowan Williams described both approaches as forms of apostolic ministry, requiring discernment in each case as to the best form of action.
In some situations there can be no compromise – for Rowan Williams these were the treatment of prisoners and asylum seekers and the renewal of Trident. In others, such as the gambling campaign led by the Methodist Church which the Archbishop commended, simple confrontation would have led the Church’s voice to being marginalised or ignored.
What do you think are the issues we should confront today, and where should we compromise to achieve change?