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Pluralism - Proclaiming and Reclaiming Our Anglican Identity

Difficult decisions must be made on how we are able, on a daily basis, to live with a wide spectrum of difference while being proud of our Anglican and Christian tradition.

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Pluralism - Proclaiming and Reclaiming Our Anglican Identity

by The Revd Peter Laurance OAM | CEO | Anglican Schools Commission

Each month in Anglican Messenger I am ‘serialising’ a paper authored for Anglican Schools Australia by The Reverend Dr Daniel Heischman entitled ‘Enhancing our Anglican Identity’.

The paper identifies the six defining components of our schools’ Anglican identity: faith, reason, worship, pluralism, character and service. In this edition we take a look at a topic on which Anglicans hold differing views … Pluralism.

Dr Heischman writes: ‘Pluralism is both a reality and a goal of Anglican schools. By their nature, Anglican schools are diverse places, and for many years there have been far more non-Anglicans than Anglicans in these schools. However, this is not simply ‘pluralism by accident’: we believe that Anglican schools are welcoming places, enriched by the presence of those who practice other faiths as well as no faith at all. As Anglican schools exist for the good of all segments of society, it is natural and desirable that we see this pluralism as positive and enriching, contributing to the greater good of the school community and bolstering the learning environment of the school.’

It is on this point that not all Anglicans agree. Whilst one cannot deny that pluralism of nationality and belief is a ‘reality’ of every Anglican school (and every school), simply because our schools are not selective and they reflect society at large, not all agree that plurality of belief should be a ‘goal’ of our schools. That is, Anglican schools are so much the richer because they aren’t full of Anglicans, or indeed Christians! My experience is this … that we should aim for pluralistic, inclusive and diverse school communities.

Before Dr Heischman and I are shouted down, let’s read on.

Dr Heischman writes: ‘Pluralism, to Anglican schools, is not the same as relativism. While relativism claims that all viewpoints are equally valuable and equally true, pluralism acknowledges the reality of a variety of viewpoints worthy of being engaged in respectful discourse. Unlike relativism, pluralism does not give up on the value of truth, nor, in recognising the existence of and merit of other viewpoints, does it require forsaking one’s own commitment to a particular pathway of truth. In fact, it is because Anglican schools confidently embody clarity of purpose and a particular form of truth that others are encouraged, within that context, to pursue what they believe to be the truth. Anglican schools tell a particular story, but ensure that the stories of others will also be honoured and explored.’

This means that we should be unashamedly Christian, holding onto the truth as has been and continued to be revealed to us, and as we live out day by day in our Anglican tradition. What it means is that, because of this, we honour truth of others’ beliefs and welcome them in our school faith communities.

Dr Heischman puts it well: ‘Thus, we encourage a genuine interest in the viewpoints of others, while coming from and modelling our own point of view. We believe that what we can learn from others who differ from us deeply enriches and graces our teaching and learning, and we are committed to living with differences on a long-term basis and in a respectful fashion. We seek to help students to articulate what they believe, learn from differences and be able to disagree respectfully and compassionately.

This does not mean that shaping a pluralistic community, within the context of an Anglican school, is an easy process. Difficult decisions must be made about such things as how chapel accommodates pluralism and how we are able, on a daily basis, to live with a wide spectrum of difference while being proud of our Anglican and Christian tradition. Different viewpoints and traditions are represented in the community, but the community continues to stand for something – meaningful pluralism does not operate in a vacuum’.

Being genuine pluralistic (inclusive and hospitable) communities isn’t easy. All of us believe we are right. While Anglicans in general are known for a broader acceptance of difference, there are limits for us, aren’t there? And it is this tension that we live with every day as reasonable Christians of the Anglican variety. Through this, we grow in our faith and tradition, and allow others to do likewise.

As Dr Heischman concludes: ‘We live with this tension, and all of its challenges, by growing into our own tradition, and being confident of our place and ministry as Anglicans. We are confident both to offer hospitality to others to be ambassadors for Christ from within the Anglican way. In the process, we honour the very real differences that may exist. By virtue of saying who we are, we allow others to do the same’.

Published in Messenger, October 2019

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