by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia.News and Director of the Ozanne Foundation
Whether or not Albert Einstein actually said “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result” I think we can all agree that in the most part this sentiment holds true.
That said, perhaps a better, more accurate saying actually might be “if you want a different result then you have to try a different approach”.
Certainly President Trump and the Democrats could learn this, and arguably Theresa May and her Brexit deal too (we’ll find out soon enough!).
One thing is clear though, simply repeating the same rhetoric over and over again is not likely to unlock any deadlock or move people nearer to finding a solution that is acceptable to the majority.
While many would love for the content of what is being said in various key debates to change, the first thing that normally needs to be addressed is that of the debate’s tone. Hence the constant talk of “good disagreement” – not as an endpoint, but as a way of working together towards trying to find one.
Anyone who heard President Trump lambasting the Democrats for not agreeing on his demands for a border wall, and laying the blame for any deaths of children in custody firmly at their feet, will understand I am sure what I mean.
He has stormed out of meetings, he has shouted at reporters, he has made what many would see as outrageous claims – but the one thing he has not done is modelled any form of “good disagreement”. Or compromise. For to do so would be seen as weakness, or so it seems he believes.
This is “stubborn hard man” diplomacy – which most of us learnt earlier in our childhood rarely works.
Intransigence it seems can be rather infectious, affecting both sides of the pond. Indeed, our very own Prime Minister has been accused of the same tactic.
However, at least in her case she has brokered a deal with all 27 EU nations, and appears to be trying to address some of the concerns expressed over the backstop. Perhaps most importantly, her tone – whilst firm – has been far more respectful and as such a much better model of “good disagreement”. Who can forget her willingness to sit, listen and answer hours of questions in the chamber back in mid-December – a model that perhaps her counterpart in the US would do well to heed?
Intransigence, of course, is not the sole purview of politicians.
We see it constantly in various polarised debates across society – not least in matters concerning the sexuality debate within the Church.
I would suggest we had a perfect example of it last week.
A letter signed by some 100+ clergy within a large diocese of over 1500 clergy, which criticised their bishop for a letter he himself had sent a few months before. Their complaint? That he had failed to mention things that they felt he should have said, and that he had said things that they felt he should not have said (despite it being completely in line with the current House of Bishops guidelines). Their “overriding concern”, or so they said, was that it implied a certain “direction of travel” in the diocese – even though it was a direction that the Archbishops themselves had committed the whole Church to undertake.
Ironically it beautifully proved why the bishop’s letter was needed in the first place!
Of course the hard truth is that their letter said nothing new. It was the same intransigence that we have seen throughout this whole debate. Yet again they chose to ignore the fact that – as the House of Bishops have themselves stated – there is a wide body of opinion on this matter. Yet again they failed to engage with the critical issue of pastoral care for the LGBTI community and the significant harm that has been caused by their teaching. Yet again they threatened to go elsewhere if their demands weren’t met.
What struck me most however was the letter’s tone.
It’s a tone that many are now becoming all too familiar with.
It’s a tone that has the veneer of seeming gracious and kind, yet has veiled threats at its heart. An iron fist in a velvet glove. “Stubborn hardman diplomacy” that gets us nowhere.
It’s a standoff.
Or should I say a very Mexican standoff?
Where (according to Wikipedia) “no strategy exists that allows any party to achieve victory. As a result, all participants need to maintain the strategic tension, which remains unresolved until some outside event makes it possible to resolve it.”
So what could this outside event look like I wonder?
Well, it’s very difficult to speak for either the US or UK situations, but I wonder whether in the Church it will be when the congregations of these clergy start to stand up to them and say “Not in my name!”
Ideally of course they would follow this up with action – such as choosing to stop their financial assistance, and perhaps instead divert it to an inclusive church organisation.
The good news is that we know that there is an inevitably about this particular “standoff”. For research has shown there is a younger generation of Christians that are growing older by the year who hold a completely different view on this issue to their older leaders.
It is purely a matter of time.
Sadly there is the burning question about how many lives will be traumatised before this time comes to pass…but the answer to that is of course in our hands.
My answer to the very Mexican standoff that we are currently experiencing is therefore that we pray that the voices of those in the pews will become louder over the year ahead, and that they will vote with either their feet or their wallet against letters sent in their name.