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It's "Iterative" Innit

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Trigger warning - there is a higher than average possibility

of coming across the word 'iterative' in this post.

Anyone listening to any of General Synod cannot have failed to hear that the House of Bishops of the Church of England have been taking an 'iterative' approach to the implementation of Living in Love and Faith. It was in fact tempting to open a "book" on the number of times the bishops would utter the word 'iterative', because, if one takes the word literally, it's use became quite iterative.

But even taking into account the second definition, Synod members have been scratching their heads as to what such an approach could possibly involve in this context.

Did the bishops don white coats and safety glasses fearful of their experiment blowing up in their faces?

Were they crowded round a screen using a hi-tech computer-aided design programme to move the different aspects of Pastoral Guidance around so they all lined up neatly?

Or, perhaps the bishops were more like Steve Jobs, using the iterative process to seek out the glitches and the bugs in PLF 1.0, with only a distant vision of the potential capabilities of PLF 15.

Some hoped the bishops might be taking an iterative approach to the law - stare decisis - basing their new rulings on previous judgements or precedents - but that dream didn't last long under the cross examination of the M'Learned KCs.

As is so often the case, the reality is far less glamourous or complicated. Summing up the debate, Bishop Sarah Mullally told Synod,

"At all of these meeetings ... the legal has been in conversation with theology. This has been an iterative process, as has the development of the Pastoral Guidance. Theology, legal advice, pastoral consideration have been in constant conversation."

So, for 'iterative', read 'talking shop'. Far from moving iteration by iteration towards a solution which encourages unity the constant round of meetings appears to be driving the church apart.

The Bishop of Sheffield explained that the iterative process is grinding to a halt because of -

"the intractible trickiness of answering two fundamental questions -

"Will the House of Bishops maintain, or will we relax, the discipline which currently prohibits clergy from entering into same-sex civil marriage?' and,

"Will we maintain, or will we relax, the frequently stated position of the House of Bishops that the only proper context for sexual intimacy is heterosexual marriage?'"

Which raises the question of whether the Bishops are on the right track at all.

At the heart of the 'iterative process' is a need for improvement; for novel ideas; for a product that can be adjusted in accordance with the feedback received.

It is the process that the senior bishops of the Church of England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, has put their confidence in. Justin Welby is not alone in wanting to put doctrine to one side while emphasising, "that the faith is proclaimed ‘afresh in each generation’ and ‘Led by the Holy Spirit’.”

But that is not the message of the Scriptures:

Moses didn't look for something new - instead he commanded that the words of God should be reiterated to each and every generation:

"And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." (Deut 6:6-7)

Paul didn't turn to focus groups - instead he reiterated what he had heard to the Corinthian Church:

"Now I would remind you, brothers,of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you standand by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received.." 1 Cor 15:1-3

Peter wasn't swayed by the 'promise of freedom', - instead he reiterated the teaching of the prophets and the Lord Jesus Christ:

"This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires." 2 Peter 3:1-3

'Iterate' or 'Reiterate'? That is the real question that is dividing General Synod and will, if there is no repentance, divide the Church of England.

'Iterate' or 'Reiterate'? That is the question that faces each one of us.

TRIGGER WARNING: Clicking on the picture below may harm the reader.


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With thanks to Matt Seymour at Unsplash for the original image.

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