This Advent I have begun an educational series on morality based upon several podcast episodes from the BBC titled, ‘Morality in the 21st Century‘ which is hosted by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. What I admire about the series is the ability to learn from each other, whilst asking difficult questions. While there are points in each of the conversations that some might describe as ‘more heated’ than others, the general consensus is that using language in a dignified and edifying way certainly helps to debate issues which are challenging. Many of the deeply rooted ethical conundrums we find ourselves in are about choosing between two ‘goods’, or ‘the lesser of two evils.’ Given the seriousness of the theological, moral and ethical issues which the church faces (or refuses to face) to meet together with some decorum goes a long way.
Watching debates in German politics feels to me a very intellectual matter, not only for me to consciously translate, but in the way that serious issues are looked at and scrutinized. To flip over to the Parliamentary broadcasts of the UK House of Commons, is to some extent, like changing channels on the television from the scenic Christmas-log-burning-on-the-fire, to a wrestling match between thespians. Recent political manoeuvres around the Brexit debate, the challenges made within and beyond the Conservative government and party leadership has made for fascinating late night viewing. The quick witted remarks, the scathing insults, the show and shout of the backbenches, and the cries from the Speaker — ‘Order! Order!’ — are all a little bit addictive. The form and function of parliamentary debate have always fascinated me, as much of the Church governance operates on a similar system…without the yelling (usually). There is some niceties to all of it that being the address of the individual to another member of the house, such as: ‘I would like to thank the Honourable Member across from me…,’ and other small, but important, acknowledgements of world affairs like that of the recent events in Strasbourg’s Christmas Market.
When I show my children the proceedings of the Canadian House of Parliament, the biggest surprise came from one of my daughters, “Daddy, why does that man have a woman’s voice?!” As we were watching the proceedings in English the various simultaneous translators, either male or female, work hard to get the messages out in either French or English, so the message can come across with a disembodied feel. The Canadian House of Commons has a different feel and indeed, a different atmosphere of debate as Members and staff flip back and forth in either one of the two official languages. While there is nothing on the scale of Brexit in Canada, there remains other national issues that cause debate, and still, the thanks continue to go back and forth across the chamber before arguments and points of order are fired off.
The Church of England has regular General Synod meetings, which you can also view online, and which also has a parliamentary structure. Difficult topics can be raised, debated and voted upon. While these systems in the UK, Canada and Germany slightly differ, they are the models of governance we have to work with, and they do work.
I think that as Church, canons and regulations are debated, and in Parliamentary systems, country laws and state bills are argued about it. In every place it is important to remember how we speak to people who may hold differing views. There may be something that we can learn from another point of view if we risk listening.