Julian Mann on the practical implications of indaba and the problems with its underlying core of niceness

Indaba, having been introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury as an exotic way of avoiding unpleasant confrontation at the Lambeth Conference, has been lampooned to great comic effect by, among others, ND’s ‘Last Chronicle’. But the practical consequences of indaba now filtering down to dioceses and parishes are serious for mission and ministry.

In their philosophical approach to the unavoidable reality of human conflict, indabblers believe: (1) that human beings underneath it all are inherently nice people; (2) that self-awareness is the beginning of wisdom for nice people wanting to solve the relational difficulties they may be experiencing with other nice people; (3) that nice people need intellectually stimulating conversation partnerships with other nice people in order to lead a nice life.

Indabblers do not believe: (1) that the fear of the Lord, as pre-critical Christians would have defined it (in the dark days before the assured results of critical biblical scholarship enlightened nice people), is the beginning of wisdom; (2) that nice people will aspire to spiritual or moral certainty; (3) that nice people will ever reach a point when they consider there is no point entering into conversation partnerships with other nice people.

Questions arising

This indaba philosophy of niceness is obviously preferable to a punch-up at a PCC meeting, to which the police may have to be called. But as an approach to the realities of life and relationships in the local church it begs certain questions.

How can you indabble between the church member who acts on their belief that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the church member who acts on their belief that it is not?

How can you indabble between those who believe firmly and truly that the ordination of women to the presbyterate or of practising homosexuals is contrary to Holy Scripture and those who believe the Holy Spirit is changing the script?

How can you indabble between the bully and his or her victim? How can you indabble between the church member who is empire-building/going on an ego-trip and the church member whose genuine attempt to serve Christ and his precious people is being disrupted?

Friends and allies

Indaba has potentially got a very nice friend in the new Clergy Discipline Measure. An indaba-believing bishop who receives a letter of complaint from a church member to the effect that his or her vicar is not as nice as they would like him to be may be tempted to mediate between the two inherently nice people involved. However, given the often not very nice realities of human nature, the meeting might not turn out to be as nice an experience as he had hoped.

Worse than attempting mediation himself, the bishop may decide to delegate the indabbling to a hapless area dean, leaving him or her to preside over the slanging match. A not very nice thing to do to an area dean, however you define niceness.

In the worst-case scenario, the indabbling bishop may find he gets a not very nice cold shower from the Defamation Act 1950. The front-line clergyman involved (and, let’s face it, clergyman he is most likely to be and most likely a Conservative Evangelical or a traditional Anglo-Catholic clergyman at that) may consider that in the course of the CDM procedure leading up to the indaba conversation with his complainant, malicious falsehoods have been both written and disseminated about him.
Under such a scenario, I would rather take the defamation on the chin than sue – for the sake of the Gospel. But if such a case were to go to court, the bishop may well find that a secular libel jury does not share his faith in indaba. Presumably, the bishop would be banking on the fact that a clergy stipend probably wouldn’t run to a libel action.