Bishop Bill Wright of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and Bishop Peter Stuart from the Anglican Diocese of Newcastle opened the discussion by sharing with the group some of what has shaped them as Christians and what has been formative in their lives. The pair took turns in leading the discussion and it soon became clear that ethics makes us “work hard”. There are no black and white answers and it makes us think deeply.
Christian leadership in Australia today, the notion of the common good, natural law, conscience, owning our past and same-sex marriage were all moral and ethical dilemmas raised by community members during the three-hour conversation.
One question was raised which is very relevant in the current climate. “How do we communicate the Christian message in a community that has been so wounded by our past wrongdoings, in a society that finds the Christian words archaic?”
Bishop Bill simply responded, “I don’t know...this is our challenge. We don’t have credibility as moral guides for a whole range of reasons and we speak a different language to the prevalent cultural norm.” From his perspective, the best results come out of engagement with others of different views, and to have a dialogue. This is why the Two Bishops Dialogue is so central to gaining a broader insight into issues we face as a Christian tradition.
“It’s our job as the faithful, to do our best to be honest and represent the values that we truly hold. We need to articulate the messages that matter and hope that gets across.”
Bishop Peter outlined the ways in which Anglicans use a framework to engage and make ethical decisions and simplified them into four parts – scripture, tradition, reason and experience. He went on to highlight the importance of experience in shaping the moral and ethical decisions that have faced Anglicans throughout history, in particular the role of women in pastoral ministry.
Having an understanding of the experience of women who were called to ministry was a key factor which pushed Anglicans to explore whether women could exercise more key roles in the tradition. “The doorway to this was experience – women saying ‘I have heard God’s calling’ which then made us reflect on whether this might this be the activity of God inviting us to consider where we’ve been and where we might go.”
As a reflection on both traditions Bishop Peter said that, “We keep going through the experience door and interrogating the tradition but at the same time experience is not allowed to overturn it.”
Both Bishops Bill and Peter agreed that each respective tradition don’t view the scripture as a manual and that we should read the scripture backwards as a developing revelation. “It’s what we find in the gospels reflecting on the Christian life in the light of resurrection which forms your understanding of what was written thousands of years before.”
Bishop Bill concluded by saying, “There is a reason that God gave us brains. We are rational beings, we can think our way through things, discuss them, argue it out and come to a different understanding.”
From an Anglican perspective, Bishop Peter reflected on how important the partnership with the Catholic Church is to the Newcastle Anglican Diocese. “It’s central that we hold these meets that shape us and enable us to have these sorts of conversations. The absence of them, would see a collapse of the insights that help shape how we do our work locally.”
The insights that were highlighted throughout the discussion asked us to think at another level. We were invited to ponder where we are in our own faith traditions and who we are as human beings. Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, Teresa Brierley, brought the evening to a close after some ‘hard work’ and solid conversation.
Sharing with the group, Teresa felt as if both communities had sat around a big family table and “chewed the cud of something really deep. At a troubled time in both of our churches, there is a sense that we have shared a great nourishing meal together with a greater sense of what it is to be Christian leaders in both the Anglican and Catholic traditions.”