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11 March 2016

P-p-p-polling a penguin

P-p-p-polling a penguin

Neill Harvey-Smith is director of communications for the Diocese of Lichfield. In April, he becomes head of media for the Church of England.

A penguin called Dindim swims thousands of miles each year to be reunited with the man who saved his life, according to the Metro. Five years ago, Dindim was dying, covered in oil, on the rocks by a tiny island village near Rio de Janeiro. Now, every year, the penguin returns from breeding grounds to spend his time with Joao Pereira de Souza, the elderly fisherman who found Dindim, cleaned him up and fed him back to health.

That's love. There, in a simple story, we see that love that will go anywhere to be with the one who saved us. If you like this story, you might want to stop reading here, because I'm going to spoil the moment by asking how would Dindim vote in the EU referendum? Come on Dindim, lay your cards on the table.

This week in the great Brexit debate, the media have left no stone unturned in trying to find moments of partiality among the officially unaligned. The Sun headline, "Queen backs Brexit", was followed by a complaint to the press regulator by Buckingham Palace, which insists Her Majesty remains neutral. And the 'no fixed position' of the Church of England was questioned by theologian and commentator Adrian Hilton and engaged by Bishop of Leeds Nick Baines, the Church of England's lead bishop on Europe, on the Reimaging Europe blog.

The point of hearing different views debated is a hopeful one – that we have nothing to hide, but all seek truth, and can change our opinions if they are challenged by better ones. But disagreeing lovingly is difficult, even when our intentions are impeccable. As soon as we add emotion to our arguments, coding them as strongly held, we not only strengthen our own attachment to our opinions, but we force people to unpack the emotional content before allowing them to deal with the arguments themselves. It can accentuate difference rather than reconciling.

Sometimes we can feel that the risk of being misunderstood, causing pain or creating division, mean it's better not to relate opinions to each other at all, but to stay silent.

Acknowledging that relating to each other lovingly is hard, we can seek to follow Jesus' example, even in debates where disagreement might otherwise pull us apart. Happily, in Paul's letters, we find hope that becoming more in mind like Jesus Christ is not an empty goal, but something worth striving for. To the church at Philippi, he writes: "In your relationships with each other, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus," one of deep humility and service; and to the church in Corinth, he said: "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ," acting not for his own good, but for the good of the many.

Serving the many is the idea behind the Christian online chat show TGI Monday, which launched this week. Hosted by clergy and the online pastor from the Diocese of Lichfield, it provides a place for people to ask genuine questions and hear responses, offering perspectives from across the Anglican tradition from evangelical to catholic, conservative to liberal. The team want to offer a better way for people to encounter differing views, showing the Church is a family where we all have something important to relate, to learn and to share.

I hope they will also show us some penguins. We human beings love to debate, love to argue, and as Christians we can always improve at doing it lovingly. We can also continue to share the simple stories of love that reveal God to us. We follow Jesus Christ who shows us how.

Image: CC Martin St-Amant