“Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision …”
Saint Paul, on trial for his beliefs and actions, indirectly shows the difference between the lifestyles of the believer and ‘the world.’ To those without a vision (or often enough, with the vision provided by modern science) the Universe has been set up by some unexplained ‘blind watchmaker’, and is in the process of slowly running down, purposeless and battered by the forces of chance and chaos.
In contrast, the Christian is a person propelled by a vision—a vision of the coming Kingdom of Heaven on earth for which Jesus taught us to pray, coming into being through his path of obedience, prayer, humility, self-sacrifice, compassion, wisdom, healing and service to those in need. So Christian lives are shaped by a vision of the future, not by the consequences of the past—they are filled with hope and purpose rather than despair, meaninglessness and drift.
In the book of Daniel, we learn how Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, dreamed of an enormous statue, with a head of gold, chest of silver, loins of brass, legs of iron, and feet one of iron and one of iron mixed with clay, that was destroyed by a stone that came out of a mountain, which grew to fill the whole earth. Daniel’s interpretation was that four successive kingdoms based on violence—Babylon, Persia, Greece and later Rome—would be destroyed by a new and different power sent by God.
The empires of Babylon, Persia and Greece have long since perished. Rome ruled the world for many centuries; later its empire was divided by barbarian invasions. After the fall of Rome in the fifth century A.D., Constantinople anchored the Eastern political empire for a further thousand years. Rome, however, became the center of a new religious empire, the Roman Catholic Church, of which the Anglican Church is an offshoot.
In all of this, I find that the image of the “feet of iron mixed with clay,” in relation to the Roman Empire, gives food for thought. The church has embodied the gospel of Christ in a religious structure still based on the power politics of ancient Rome. In our Synods, as in Parliament, we still overrule the wishes of minorities through the power of a majority vote.
Within the Quaker community, decisions have to be arrived at by consensus. A person in the assembly who disagrees with a proposal has the right either to ‘stand aside’ (in which case, the proposal will be allowed to proceed, though without his approval) or else to ‘stand in the way’—having a veto on the action until he or she changes his or her opinion. A consequence of this is that the reasons of those opposed to a proposed action, instead of being ignored or overruled, have to be considered carefully and out-argued, before action is taken on any new proposal.
It struck me that if we used consensus rather than the power of a majority vote in coming to our decisions, whether in Parliament in deciding on the Kyoto accord, or in our Synods in deciding on matters of clergy remuneration or the blessing of same sex unions, we might be much more able to preserve “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” A more respectful atmosphere, and one where people paid more attention to the arguments of those who disagreed with them, would be a welcome result.