The question is, When and where does the “world” so invade the church that the fundamental nature of the church is destroyed? To this question there is—by definition, Bonhoeffer would say—no general and abstract answer. Up to a certain point we struggle to keep the conversation alive as long as we can recognize that our partners in this conversation are speaking the same language, wrestling with the same given data of faith. If I might put it in a formula that may sound too much like jargon, I suggest that what we are looking for in each other is the grammar of obedience: we watch to see if our partners take the same kind of time, sense that they are under the same sort of judgment or scrutiny, and approach the issue with the same attempt to be dispossessed by the truth with which they are engaging. This will not guarantee agreement, but it might explain why we should always first be hesitant and attentive to each other. Why might anyone think this person’s view of the question might count as a gift of Christ to the Church? To answer that, I have a great deal of listening to do, even if my incomprehension remains.
There is a further turn to this. When I continue reluctantly to share the Church’s communion with someone with whose moral judgment I deeply disagree, I do so in the knowledge that for both of us part of the cost is that we have to sacrifice a straightforward confidence in our “purity.” Being in the Body means that we are touched by one another’s commitments and thus by one another’s failures. If another Christian comes to a different conclusion and decides in different ways from myself, and if I can still recognize their discipline and practice as sufficiently like mine to sustain a conversation, this leaves my own decisions to some extent under question. I cannot have absolute certainty that mine is the only imaginable reading of the tradition. I need to keep my reflections under critical review. This, I must emphasize, is not a form of relativism. It is a recognition of the element of putting oneself at risk that is involved in any serious decision making or any serious exercise of discernment (as any pastor or confessor will know). But this is only part of the implication of recognizing the differences and risks of decision making in the Body of Christ.
If I conclude that my Christian brothers or sisters are deeply and damagingly mistaken in their decisions, I accept for myself the brokenness in the Body that this entails. These are my wounds, just as those who disagree with me are wounded by what they consider to be my failure or even betrayal. So long as we still have a language in common and the “grammar of obedience” in common, we have, I believe, to turn away from the temptation to seek the purity and assurance of a community speaking with only one voice and to embrace the reality of living in a communion that is fallible and divided. The communion’s need for health and mercy is inseparable from my own need for health and mercy. To remain in communion is to remain in solidarity with those who are wounded as well as wounding the Church, in the trust that within the Body of Christ the confronting of wounds is part of opening ourselves to healing…
…Unity at all costs is indeed not a Christian goal. Our unity is Christ-shaped or it is empty. Yet our first call, so long as we can think of ourselves as still speaking the same language, is to stay in engagement with those who decide differently. This, I have suggested, means living with the awareness that the Church and I, as a part of it, share not only in grace but in failure, and thus we stay alongside those on the other side, in the hope that we may still be exchanging gifts—the gift of Christ—in some ways, for one another’s healing.
Rowan Williams. “On Making Moral Decisions.” Sewanee Theological Review 42, no. 2 (1999): 154-5,7-8