Friday, 30 September 2005

more Nigerian stuff

From the official Nigerian website:

To refresh your memories, in Onitsha we took a number of actions to clarify our commitment to the apostolic faith. One of the things we did to strengthen this position was to amend our constitution.

Our amended constitution deleted all such references that hold colonial intonation defining us with the See of Canterbury and replaced them with a new provision of Communion with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

This action has been largely misrepresented by those who think that schism in the Anglican Church has become inevitable following the disarray the United States and the Canadian Churches brought on the Communion because of their revisionist agenda on homosexuality. And most recently the House of Bishops of the Church of England’s apparent double-speak on the Civil Partnerships Act that comes into force by December 5, this year.

There is also this paragraph towards the end of the much earlier release MESSAGE TO THE NATION


The Synod condemns the position the House of Bishops of the Church of England has taken regarding human sexuality which runs contrary to the decision taken at the All Primates Meetings, and commends the untiring effort of our Primate and other like-minded Primates for maintaining their stand on Christian orthodoxy, and calls on all doctrinally alert Anglican to stand up in defence of New Testament Christianity, as opposed to the revisionist theology of ECUSA, the Church of Canada and the Church of England.

And this Open Letter from the Archbishop of Nigeria to his Fellow Anglican Leaders (which I haven’t yet found on the official website)

The press briefing (first item above) has resulted in press reports such as:
Mail & Guardian Online Nigerian archbishop warns of break with mother church
Washington Post Nigerian Warns of Split From British Church
Reuters Nigeria archbishop sees pro-gays leaving Anglicanism

An earlier report, in the Church Times of last week, is here: Nigerians distance themselves from Canterbury

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 30 September 2005 at 11:52pm BST | Comments (35)
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Nigeria critiqued

An article appeared in last week’s Church Times:
Why Archbishop Akinola is wrong.
This was written by Francis Bridger and Graham Kings of Fulcrum.
They had originally titled it “From Communion to Association: Nigerian disconnections”. The article deserves careful reading.

A letter appeared in the Church Times the following week and is now available on the Fulcrum website. The letter is from Dr Philip Giddings, Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Canon Ben Enwuchola, and Canon Martyn Minns and can be read here (scroll down a bit).

Further Update
An interesting response by Ephraim Radner to the article (and the letter) can be found here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 30 September 2005 at 7:17am BST | Comments (18)
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Thursday, 29 September 2005

Responses to the Windsor Report

A book has just been published which is entitled Gays and the Future of Anglicanism but which is in fact a series of 22 essays (plus an Introduction and an Afterword) all of which are critical responses to the Windsor Report.

The book information can be found here, from the publisher, and from Amazon (American version of that page here).

titusonenine has already mentioned it here and here and also Fr Jake here.

Ekklesia has this report.

The full text of what Archbishop Barry Morgan said about it can be found below the fold.

Review of Book
Gays and the Future of Anglicanism Ed. A Linzey and R Kirker

There are three things which characterise this book. It is quite hostile to the Windsor Report (I write as one of the people responsible for that report); it argues cogently for gay people’s inclusion within the Anglican Communion and its ministry; and the essays are by some of the finest theological minds in the Communion. The Windsor Report, whatever its shortcomings – is at least remarkable in that its seventeen members from across the whole Communion, and from widely different backgrounds and theological viewpoints, did at least manage to achieve unanimity. Its aim was to find a way of enabling different theological perspectives within the Communion to co-exist with tolerance and patience that is usually characteristic of Anglicanism whilst respecting the autonomy of churches on the one hand with the need for mutual inter-dependence and accountability on the other, but without the setting up of a central curia. But perhaps I protest too much.

The arguments advanced for including gay people within the church and its ministry deserve to be read and pondered by all who are involved in the debate on human sexuality. They deal in depth with the issue from the perspective of scripture, tradition and experience, by scholars who know what they are talking about. The arguments advanced here show up the superficiality and even the shallowness of the 1998 Lambeth plenary on the same topic and should also give the Anglican Church in many places cause for penitence for the way it has treated and thought about gay people. We desperately need a listening and study process on this topic in the Communion as has long been recommended to no avail and it is good that the ACC at its meeting this year has now agreed to gather material from across the Communion. It might find, as the WCC found when it gathered material from all its member churches and as this book demonstrates that sexual sins are not the only sins and are not even the main sins according to scripture; that theology has to be open to the possibility of encountering God’s revelation of truth in new and novel ways – that’s what the doctrine of the Spirit means and that what is often lost in the so called debate about human sexuality is the fact that we are talking about real persons with real feelings. This book throws down a formidable challenge to the Anglican Communion. It cannot afford to ignore it.

Barry Morgan

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 29 September 2005 at 11:50pm BST | Comments (13)
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Sunday, 25 September 2005

Some weekend reading

In The Guardian
Mark Rudall Face to faith
Highly motivated prison chaplains and dedicated visitors are helping to bring faith to those behind bars.

In the Church Times
Giles Fraser Nature, red in tooth and claw

In the Telegraph
Melanie McDonagh There is more to religion than sexuality
Christopher Howse, in his Sacred mysteries column, writes about the new Pope’s coat of arms.

In the Times
Mark Vernon Friendship provides a foretaste of the everlasting love of heaven
Jack Shamash A modern, greener way of death takes root

Posted by Peter Owen on Sunday, 25 September 2005 at 1:15pm BST | Comments (0)
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Monday, 19 September 2005

Bishop Chane on the ACC and Archbishop Akinola

Last week’s report in the Church Times contained quotes from Bishop John Chane, of Washington DC. These came from his column in the September issue of Washington Window, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Washington. The full article by Bishop Chane is now on the web as a PDF file here.
Update The article is now also online as a web page here

The column is reproduced in full below the fold.


By now you should be aware of the results of the Anglican Consultative Council Meeting held earlier this summer in Nottingham, England. At the request of the Primates, both delegations from Canada and the United States attended as observers rather than as voting participants. The Episcopal Church did so—on the authorization of its Executive Council—in order to keep peace in the Anglican family.

During the meeting, representatives of our church presented To Set Our Hope on Christ, a paper laying out the Scriptural rationale for our decision to consecrate a gay man to the episcopate and to authorize a “local option” for blessing same-sex relationships. The document, to my way of thinking, is honest and persuasive. In addition to explaining why our General Convention voted as it did, it also provides the Anglican Communion with an insight into our history as a Church created out of the newly formed United States following the American Revolution. Our style of governance—in which laity, clergy and bishops share decision-making power—is unique in the Anglican Communion.

The report provides a comprehensive index of the hard work the Episcopal Church has done in studying the cultural, theological and biblical aspects of human sexuality since the 1970s. This extensive work has been neither studied, nor, in many instances, even acknowledged by many of our Church’s critics. As a result, there is much misinformation afoot regarding the thoughtful, deliberate manner in which we arrived at these controversial decisions. This misinformation continues to divert much of the Episcopal Church’s physical and human resources from domestic and global mission imperatives that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to embrace.

One very disturbing outcome of the ACC meeting in Nottingham was the Council’s decision to admit Primates to membership on the Council. To this point, the Anglican Communion has been held together by four “Instruments of Unity”: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting. We are not a Church dominated by a Curia of Primates and Bishops. And yet that seems to be the direction in which we are heading. This is fearful indeed given the rhetoric of some of the Primates claiming new authority for themselves. The well-balanced essence of Anglicanism, as it has been handed down through the ages, is now under attack by a few who presume to speak for many.

One of the most outspoken of this small group of men who presumes to speak for the entire global Communion is the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria. Archbishop Akinola has almost single-handedly led the attack against the Episcopal and Canadian churches with his zealous pronouncements against homosexuality. More recently, he has set his sites on the Church of England.

This spring, the House of Bishops of the Church of England voted to allow gay clergy to register domestic partnerships as now permitted by British law. However, they required clergy who do so to pledge themselves to celibacy. Archbishop Akinola responded thusly:

“May I remind the Bishops of the Church of England that, when faced with similar decisions on the part of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, discipline was imposed. [Author’s note: No discipline has been imposed on either church, nor do any of the instruments of unity have the power to impose whatever discipline on member churches.] While I have great affection and respect for the historic role that the Church of England has played in our lives, no Church can ignore the teaching of the Bible with impunity, and no church is beyond discipline. I call on the House of Bishops of the Church of England to renounce their statement and declare their unqualified commitment to the historic faith, teaching and practice of the Church. Failure to do so will only add to our current crisis. I am, by this statement, asking my brother Primates, their bishops and all the faithful in our Communion to remain calm in the face of this new provocation as we look forward to our next meeting.”

With the Archbishop’s reference that “no Church can ignore the teaching of the Bible with impunity,” I must ask myself who has been left with the ultimate authority to interpret the teaching of the Bible? Certainly such important work has not been left up to the Archbishop of Nigeria alone. And if the Church is to really focus on the issues of the Bible’s teaching and the core teachings of Jesus Christ, why does this Archbishop spend so much time on human sexuality issues while so many of his countrymen and women are oppressed by poverty, illiteracy and violence? Where is the strong voice of the Nigerian Anglican Church in opposing the continued neglect of vulnerable women and children, or in advocating on behalf of the poorest of the poor? Jesus was very clear in his hard teachings that one could always tell the righteous from the damned by whether they lived into feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger and visiting those who were in prison.

One thing I can say about the American Church and her bishops is that we take very seriously the teachings of Jesus. Our Church may be divided in painful ways about the issues of human sexuality and the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson, but we are united in fighting poverty and hunger and are faithful in attempting to live into the mandates of Christ’s Gospel about radical hospitality extended to the least among us. When our government does not respond to the needs of the least among us, our Church, its laity, clergy and bishops respond. We work very hard at offering the resources available within our dioceses, whether they be large or small, to assist in eliminating hunger, disease, genocide and violence against women and children.

More recently, we have begun to respond to the mandate of our own Church and the larger Anglican Communion in meeting the challenges of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. We do these things in spite of our own internal divisions and we do them because of the challenge placed before us by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I call upon all Primates, laity and bishops within our Communion and Archbishop Akinola in particular to do the same within their own Provinces and the larger Church. For Jesus has made it very clear to us all; “As you have done it to the least of these, so have you done it to me.” We are all under Judgment, but that judgment ultimately belongs only to God as we know him through Jesus Christ.

The Right Reverend John Bryson Chane
Bishop of Washington.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 19 September 2005 at 9:56pm BST | Comments (43)
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Anglican Mainstream yet again on civil partnerships

Anglican Mainstream has today issued a further response, Letter to English House of Bishops.

Members of the public - apparently without restriction - are invited to sign it too. Although addressed “Dear Bishops”, the AM front page says:

Anglican Mainstream has issued a letter to all Bishops, Archdeacons and Deans of the Church of England, calling on them to rethink their statement on and response to UK Civil Partnerships. The letter calls on the Bishops to “publicly, courageously and consistently hold out to society the teaching of the Bible and the Church and the implications of it for holiness of life”.

(It will not escape the bishops’ notice that, of the original signatories, one has resigned his high office in the Church of England and is shortly to join a presbyterian body in the USA, and one of them is a clergy member of another Anglican province.)

This new statement of 19 September should not be confused with the previous statement of 6 August, here, or the one of 13 June, here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 19 September 2005 at 4:10pm BST | Comments (21)
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BBC Sunday reports on synod elections

It’s election time within the Church of England. The members of the General Synod, the church’s legislative assembly, are up for re-election. Bishops have guaranteed seats but for other clergy and lay people hoping to sit in the new Synod, now is the time to write election speeches and canvas for votes. Over its next five year term, the Synod faces crucial decisions - not least on whether to allow women to become bishops. This issue above all others has led to fierce campaigning across the Church, as Christopher Landau reports.

Listen (6m 45s) RealAudio

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 19 September 2005 at 11:04am BST | Comments (0)
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Church Society on civil partnerships

Church Society has issued a press release.

A recent meeting of the Council of Church Society unanimously condemned the Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships issued by the House of Bishops over the summer.

To read the full text follow this link

To get more background on the CS view of CPs, read this page.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 19 September 2005 at 9:37am BST | Comments (0)
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bishops report on countering terrorism

A working group of the House of Bishops has published a 100-page report under the title Countering Terrorism: Power, Violence and Democracy Post 9/11.

The working group, set up in October 2004, consisted of: The Rt Revd Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford (Chair); The Rt Revd Colin Bennetts, Bishop of Coventry; The Rt Revd Peter Selby, Bishop of Worcester; The Rt Revd Peter Price, Bishop of Bath and Wells.

This report is available only as a PDF file and can be found here.

No doubt a link to this will eventually appear here.
Update it now is included on that page: scroll down to “Terrorism”; the page also includes an email address to which comments can be sent, and details of how to obtain a paper copy of the full report.

A press release has been issued about it, see here

Preview comment:
Observer Richard Harries How the Church can tackle terrorism

Press reports about it:
Telegraph Jonathan Petre Bishops suggest apologising to Muslim leaders for Iraq war
Guardian Stephen Bates CofE bishops criticise US over foreign policy and war on terror
The Times Ruth Gledhill Bishops want to apologise for Iraq war
BBC Bishops suggest apology for war

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 19 September 2005 at 8:51am BST | Comments (9)
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Saturday, 17 September 2005

weekend reading

First, the world’s largest inter-religious gathering took place in Lyons. This is organised annually by the Community of Sant’Egidio. Complete programme here. The website also includes various audio and video recordings of the sessions.

Rowan Williams made three contributions, which can be found on his website, here and also here and again here.

While there, he was interviewed by John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter
The same event is reported by Paul Handley in the Church Times who also had an editorial comment.
And Ekklesia also reported this event including what Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor said.

Not entirely unrelated, Graham Kings has published a Fulcrum newsletter that deals with Jesus Christ, Salvation and People of Other Faiths.

From the Guardian two items:
Roy Hattersley on Faith does breed charity and Tim Radford on Can God know the future?

Two items in The Times
Roderick Strange Jesus is not a choice between Galileo and the Inquisition
Catharine Morris We still have belief, but where is the poetry

And finally, Christopher Howse in the Telegraph recalls the bizarre story of Cornelia and Pierce Connelly in Strange twist in the nun’s tale (Well, they were Americans.)

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 17 September 2005 at 11:44am BST | Comments (0)
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Fulcrum on civil partnerships

The evangelical Centre Group Fulcrum has published a very measured response to the bishops’ Pastoral Statement:
Fulcrum Response to the Bishops’ Statement on the Civil Partnership Act.

Andrew Goddard’s earlier paper, a response to the Act itself, published before the bishops document was available, is here.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 17 September 2005 at 10:18am BST | Comments (1)
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Friday, 16 September 2005

Supporting Civil Partnerships

The Civil Partnership Act, which will allow same sex couples to register a civil partnership, will come into force at the end of this year. The House of Bishops of the Church of England has issued this statement on the subject.

The tone of the statement, and the speed with which it was issued, suggests that the bishops were fearful of the growing rift with some parts of the Anglican Communion about the issue of homosexual relationships.

Peter Selby, the Bishop of Worcester, has distanced himself from the statement, saying that a previous commitment to ‘listen to the experience of lesbian and gay people’ has not been honoured. He maintains that the new Civil Partnership Act should be regarded as ‘A source of delight, not fear’. He notes that although the General Synod in 1997 urged ‘deanery synods, clergy chapters and congregations to find time for prayerful study and reflection on the issues’ about homosexual relationships, in fact little discussion has taken place. We have been very shy of raising the issues at all.

Our local deanery synod and clergy chapter in Cambridge recently shared in some most fruitful discussions on the subject led by the vicar of St. Mark’s, the Revd Dr. Sam Wells. (He is now Dean of Chapel at Duke University) For many people this provided the first opportunity to discuss issues about homosexuality in a Christian context. For the clergy it opened the door to further preaching and discussion and this has been widely welcomed.

The Bishops, in making their statement, had been anxious to preserve what they saw as a world wide Anglican consensus on an issue which is proving divisive. But no worldwide consensus exists. Whilst in Europe the rights of homosexual people are increasingly defended by law, in many other parts of the world, notably in parts of Africa and South East Asia, the opposite situation prevails. We have a responsibility to work within the laws of our own nations as far as conscience allows. The Anglican Church does not make the law, either here, or in any other country.

In Britain the Civil Partnership Act could not have been passed unless those framing the law were convinced that what was being offered was right, good and proper. It has been done after listening to the experience of lesbian and gay people, and coming to an appreciation of their place in society. The government has clearly gone ahead of public opinion, but that is not unusual. All of society, not just homosexual people, has suffered in the past because people felt afraid to be open about their relationships. A dozen years ago even MPs were taunted just for being gay, and the Church remained silent and afraid to discuss the issue.

The Church is not being asked to allow such partnerships to be registered in church in the way that a marriage can be registered by a priest. However, these partnerships will be ‘legal, decent, honest, truthful’, to quote the line used by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Since heterosexual couples, dedicating the rest of their lives to each other, may do so with prayer in church, even if they are not married in church, then we might consider giving the same opportunity to same-sex couples.

We shall need time to appreciate the significance of the act. Some analogy with marriage has to be made, particularly in the way that the public declaration of a partnership means it should be respected by all. The partners promise to be faithful to each other, and society, represented by the witnesses, promises to respect the exclusivity of their relationship. Surely this ‘strengthens society’ as we affirm in the marriage service. More than this, as Peter Selby says, it should be ‘a source of delight’.

It is worth noting that he is not the only senior churchman to welcome the new legislation. When it came to the House of Lords eight of the Bishops who are members, Chelmsford, Manchester, Norwich, Oxford, Peterborough, St Albans, St Edmondsbury & Ipswich and Truro, took the trouble to be present and vote in favour of the measure.

It is encouraging that they felt able to do so. Perhaps the statement subsequently made by the Bishops was hasty. We might need to do some more listening, and see how the new act works out in practice.

Posted by Tom Ambrose on Friday, 16 September 2005 at 3:34pm BST | Comments (3)
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Thursday, 15 September 2005

more from the Nigerian synod

Another press release (this is from the official website of the Church of Nigeria, but the tone is far from bureaucratic) is headlined Anglican Archbishop of South East Asia lashes Western liberals.

This contains various quotes from the Archbishop of South East Asia Yong Ping Chung who addressed the synod.

The release also includes the following sentence:

…He was referring to a section of the Anglican Communion particularly the American and Canadian Churches and lately the Church of England, who condones and approves homosexual marriage…

It is not clear whether this is what the archbishop himself believes, or merely what the Nigerian Director of Communications believes, but with reference to the Church of England, this statement is quite simply untrue.

The House of Bishops of the Church of England has neither condoned nor approved “homosexual marriage”. Their recent Pastoral Statement makes it quite clear that:

It remains the case that in law, as in the eyes of the Church, marriage can be entered into only by a man and a woman. The Government has stated that it has no intention of introducing ‘same–sex marriage’. Civil partnerships are not a form of marriage.

And the bishops also clearly state that:

…What needs to be recognised is that the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged. For Christians, marriage- that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman - remains the proper context for sexual activity. In its approach to civil partnerships the Church will continue to uphold that standard, to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships between people of the same sex and to minister sensitively and pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to order their lives differently.

The bishops also make it clear that their position now is unchanged from what has been the de facto policy of the Church of England since 1991, when Issues in Human Sexuality was first published.

Anyone who has trouble understanding this should go back and read this summary of the bishops’ statement.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 15 September 2005 at 3:12pm BST | Comments (41)
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Nigeria redefines Anglican Communion

Update Saturday
Ruth Gledhill in The Times has Nigerian Church breaks with Canterbury over gay rights

The following press release comes from the Nigerian General Synod:

With a careful rewording of her constitution, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) redefined her relationship with all other Anglican Churches.

All former references to ‘communion with the see of Canterbury’ were deleted and replaced with another provision of communion with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the ‘Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacrament and Discipline of the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church’.

Emphasis was also placed on the 1662 version of the Book of Common Prayer and the historic Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.

The Constitutional change also allowed the Church to create Convocations and Chaplaincies of like-minded faithful outside Nigeria. This effectively gives legal teeth to the Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas (CANA) formed to give a worshiping refuge to thousands in the USA who no longer feel welcomed to worship in the Liberal churches especially with the recent theological innovations encouraging practices which the Nigerians recognize as sin.

The exact wording changes are in the press release, which also details the supervisory arrangements established for the Convocation of Anglican Nigerians in Americas.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 15 September 2005 at 2:56pm BST | Comments (20)
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Venables on Egypt

Update Friday
The Church Times has a very full report on this by Pat Ashworth Global South won’t split Communion,says Venables. This page also contains a separate report on the Kairos Journal event in New York City. Essential reading.

Reuters has published a news report, which is datelined Lagos and headlined Anglican church is not splitting - Nigerian archbishop but which, as far as Archbishop Peter Akinola is concerned, only repeats material from the press release of yesterday.

However, it then goes on to report an interview conducted by Reuters in Buenos Aires with Archbishop Greg Venables in which he talks about the Egypt meeting, and who is invited to it. The story concludes:

Since the Anglican primates meeting in February, the Scottish church has declared its backing for gay priests and the Church of England allowed priests to register under Britain’s new civil partnership law as long as they remain celibate.

This last decision was greeted with disbelief among conservatives, Venables said.

“This is an indication that England is going to go down the same road as Canada and the U.S. and that there is going to be further division in the next months,” he said.

Orthodox groups in the United States and Canada who disagree with their liberal leaders will be invited to attend the October meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, Venables said.

But liberal clerics won’t be asked to join because Global South leaders want to avoid further polemics. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has been invited, however, despite his personal support for accepting gay bishops.

Venables said the debate tearing apart the Anglican Communion is not about human sexuality, but rather how strictly the Bible should be interpreted and whether faith principles are seen as relative or absolute — a debate he said has divided Christianity since the 19th century.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 15 September 2005 at 9:38am BST | Comments (2)
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Wednesday, 14 September 2005

new CofE statistics

Updated Saturday
Another item added to the CofE website can be found here. It’s a comment by Grace Davie on the recently-published predictions (from others) of church attendance in the future.

See for example Churches ‘on road to doom if trends continue’. Or Bleak future predicted for declining churches.

Steven Croft also commented about this in the CEN.

A huge volume of new statistics has been published on the Church of England website.

Press Release: New statistics show the costs of church repairs.
Don’t be put off by this weird title, the statistics cover much more than building costs, as the following strap shows:

Church Statistics 2003/4

Parochial church attendance, membership and finance statistics together with statistics of licensed ministers for the Church of England

Warning: some of the pages contain graphical images which may not load in all browsers. If you encounter this problem, try using Internet Explorer instead.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 14 September 2005 at 3:01pm BST | Comments (1)
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international ecumenical poverty consultation

Updated Wednesday evening

The Washington National Cathedral has just held an international Consultation of Religious Leaders on Global Poverty, organised by the Center for Global Justice and Reconciliation, part of the new Cathedral College.

The conference was attended by Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Raphael S. Ndingi Mwana’a Nzeki, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Nairobi, Kenya, and other Orthodox, Methodist, Lutheran, Anglican, and Seventh-day Adventist leaders from North and South America, Africa and Europe, together with officials of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance. The conference was convened by the Most Rev. Njongonkulu Ndungane, Archbishop of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa.

A delegation of five from the conference (including Abp Ndungane, Lord Carey, and Bishop Chane of Washington) visited the United Nations in New York to meet the Secretary General.

Press coverage of this event so far:

Christian Science Monitor Jane Lampman Clergy press UN on agenda

Ekklesia Faith leaders meet to step up poverty alleviation

Voice of America Christian Leaders Show Support for Poverty Reduction (this includes an audio interview with Bishop Mwamba of Botswana) has published the conference communique in full here

The Christian Post Religious Leaders Say Global Poverty Has No Borders
and World Religious Leaders Present Anti-Poverty Communiqué to U.N.

Press releases from the conference

Other material

Church Press coverage

Living Church Church Leaders Send Message to the UN
ENS Historic religious gathering sees unique opportunity to end global poverty
Anglican Journal Churches seek to work with governments, U.N., to cut extreme poverty

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 14 September 2005 at 10:39am BST | Comments (1)
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news about Egypt meeting

The Chairman of the forthcoming South/South Encounter has issued a statement, which can be found on the Nigerian provincial website:

As Anglican delegates from the Dioceses and Provinces of the South-South in the countries of Africa, Asia and South America gather in Egypt for the 3rd Encounter, we noticed a great deal of speculative journalism is in circulation and needs immediate correction.

The South/South Encounter is a gathering of like-minded Anglicans who come together to fellowship, pray, and study the Word of God. We gather to share our experiences, encourage one another and seek ways of deepening our relationship with God and between ourselves. The Encounter is not a business meeting concerned with power, politics and other such mundane things which easily distract from set goals and objectives.

A lot of the misinformation has been due to the figment of imagination of protagonist wishing to introduce alien ideas into our historic faith. Some even go as far as to suggest it is a power tussle affair. This pitiful reasoning is far from our minds as we do not seek such.

It is pertinent to state that we are not concerned with power as being published in the media. Our major concern is the upholding the integrity and sanctity of the Word of God and the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference guiding the integrity of our common historic faith. Any person or Church disregarding or flouting these are the ones to do a rethink about their status within our worldwide Anglican family.

We encourage all delegates to come to Egypt prepared to fellowship in the presence of God.

Every blessing,

The Most Revd. Peter J. Akinola, CON, DD
Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 14 September 2005 at 9:11am BST | Comments (14)
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Monday, 12 September 2005

News about Africa

Updated on Tuesday and Friday

The primate’s opening address to the 8th General Synod of the Church of Nigeria is published in full on the web here. This includes a section on Global Anglican Relations which is reproduced below the fold here.

The speech also contains the following amazingly untrue remarks about Britain (hat tip to Pat in the CT):

Britain has joined its brethren in the ‘Civilised West’ to legitimise civil partnerships which to us simply means same sex marriages. They are also debating putting a ban on public preaching because it offends Moslem minorities! Britain has of course made Sunday a working day.

Mark Harris updated his earlier blog article about the Egypt meeting, to take some account of George Conger’s remarks.

Two developments on Monday

First, over the weekend there was a story headlined Africans set to found rival Anglican church by Trevor Grundy in Scotland on Sunday. Earlier I added this link to my previous article Akinola in the news.
George Conger has now posted a lengthy comment about it on a blog entry of Brad Drell. Here is what George has to say. Basically, he thinks the article is “more creative writing than news” and he details a number of points in the article that he says are incorrect.

Second, the triennal Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) General Synod is now meeting, and reports are being published on the provincial website. Today’s report can be found here, and contains among other things the following item:

In a pre-conference briefing, the Primate announced that the Synod was likely to review the relationship of the Church of Nigeria to her sister churches in the West, particularly the Church of England, who recently approved homosexual marriages among her clergy.

The hierarchy of the Church of Nigeria has not ruled out a major constitutional amendment to give legal effect to some new positions likely to be adopted by delegates to the General Synod.

Global Anglican Relations extract from Abp Akinola’s primatial address

We assumed leadership position as Chairman of Conference of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) in August 2003 and Chairman of the South-South Encounter of the Anglican Communion in September 2003 and also became the National President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in November 2003.

Clearly, as never before, there is a God-given opportunity for the Church of Nigeria today to exercise servant leadership in Africa and in the third world as a whole. We have seized this opportunity and have been able to uphold the integrity of the Gospel and preach a message of self-reliance under God around the world.

We have strengthened our links with Provinces in other parts of Africa and the global South. The result of this was the successful hosting of the first ever African Anglican Bishops’ Conference (AABC) in October 2004. The conference was fully funded by the Church of Nigeria. Tickets were provided for over 50 bishops who could not afford the tickets. Meals and hotel accommodation were provided for all delegates at no cost to them. The theme of the conference, AFRICA COMES OF AGE, was clearly demonstrated. As at the end of the conference, links have been developed among Dioceses in Africa with the aim of supporting each other. The Church of Nigeria, for example, has already made a presentation of a Jeep to the Primate of the Church of Congo to assist the work of the Church in that Country. Before the end of this year, we hope to be able to send a missionary Bishop to Congo.

We have continued to challenged the revisionist agenda of the Provinces in the West as they attempt to twist the clear teaching of the Bible in matters of human sexuality. Our voice became really loud when Canon Jeffery John, an openly gay priest, was chosen to be Bishop of Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. Then came the approval of liturgy for same-sex marriage in Westminster, Canada and the sad climax being the consecration of Gene Robinson, who did not hide his intention to continue an active homosexual partnership, into Episcopal ministry in ECUSA.

As part of our initial response, a committee, set up by the House of Bishops articulated our views in a presentation titled “What We Believe About Human Sexuality”.

This was posted on our website for the entire world to see. It reads in part: “Our position is not simply representative of the opinion of an insignificant minority and ‘broadminded’ scholars.

We are glad to identify ourselves with the company of godly people, both past and present, who have earnestly contended for the truth of the Scriptures and who are spread across many denominations and generations. We share the concern of all who want to do what is right in God’s sight; and we continue to examine our own selves in the light of God’s requirements and generous provision through the means of grace for our instruction.”

A significant outcome of the current crisis has been the need to cater for the spiritual needs of thousands of Nigerian Anglicans in the USA who must not be abandoned to the vagaries of a confused ECUSA. At least three (3) teams of Bishops (including: The Most Rev. M.S.C. Anikwenwa, Rt. Rev. M. Owadayo, Rt. Rev. Peter Adebiyi, Rt. Rev. E. Chukwuma, Rt. Rev. H. Ndukuba, and Rt. Rev. Ikechi Nwosu) went to the US on our behalf to study the potentials for fruitful ministry and their reports have been a guiding light in further moves.

Also a considerable number of American Bishops and clergy have indicated a desire to collaborate with the mission of the Church of Nigeria’s Mission to America known and called Convocation of Anglican Nigerian Missions in USA (CANA). Although we have under the laws of the USA incorporated CANA, it remains a vivid and constant reminder that the continued existence of the worldwide Anglican Communion rests on a very shaky foundation. We ask for the prayers of God’s people.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 12 September 2005 at 10:47pm BST | Comments (1)
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Categorised as: Anglican Communion

Sunday, 11 September 2005

yet more from ND on CP

I have previously linked to earlier articles on Civil Partnerships in New Directions by Nicholas Turner. Now here is the latest, from the September 2005 issue: Blessings of silence.

The same issue also has What did they mean? by Gerry O’Brien who:

was not happy with the House of Bishops’ statement on Civil Partnerships, viewing it as too subtle and convoluted by half. He preferred the more forthright response of Archbishop Akinola

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 11 September 2005 at 11:52pm BST | Comments (3)
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worthy of their hire

The Cash section of today’s Observer has an article by Jon Robins on clergy and UK employment law:
Doing God’s work, but denied rights as employees.
As the article makes clear, the issues are not specific to the Church of England, but affect clergy of all religious bodies.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 11 September 2005 at 4:51pm BST | Comments (10)
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Categorised as: equality legislation

Saturday, 10 September 2005

columns this weekend

In The Times Jonathan Sacks has Tragedy unites us but blame divides, in the aftermath of disaster.

Ian Bradley writes in the Guardian Let’s hear it for the union (this is about Britishness) and Karen Armstrong writes about Old world order.

The Tablet has a very interesting report on an aspect of New Orleans not reported elsewhere in After the deluge by Nicole Pepinster Greene and and also an article about Christians, Muslims and Jews in London studying scriptures together, in Three in one by William Taylor.

Giles Fraser discusses The benefits of Babel in the Church Times.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 10 September 2005 at 11:31pm BST | Comments (0)
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Friday, 9 September 2005

a look back to 1997

At York in 1997, General Synod debated a motion on Issues in Human Sexuality put forward as a Private Member’s Motion by the Archdeacon of Wandsworth, David Gerrard:

That this Synod

(a) commend for discussion in dioceses the House of Bishops’ report “Issues in Human Sexuality” and acknowledge it is not the last word on the subject;

(b) in particular, urge deanery Synods, clergy chapters and congregations to find time for prayerful study and reflection on the issues addressed by the report.

This motion was eventually passed, unamended. The voting was:

Bishops 44 0
Clergy 187 38
Laity 150 88

Before that, three amendments were due to be considered. None was passed, and this outcome was ensured by the 44 members of the House of Bishops present voting unanimously against all amendments.

The details of the amendments and voting thereon is below the fold.

Text of the failed amendments

Amendment 1

Mr Geoffrey Locke (Lichfield) to move as an amendment:

Leave out all words after “That this Synod” and insert the words “in the light both of its 1987 resolution on sexual morality and of its responsibility to the Anglican Communion,

(a) welcome the Biblical discussion basic to the House of Bishops’ report Issues in Human Sexuality,

(b) welcome also the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Preface to the report;

(c) reaffirm that God’s calling to all people requires chastity outside marriage and fidelity within it; and

(d) reaffirm also that the Gospel requires the Church both to welcome those who fall short of this standard and to hold before all its members, lay and ordained, the call to live by it.”

Vote on this amendment:
Bishops 0 44
Clergy 50 177
Laity 114 123

Amendment 2

Canon Paul Oestreicher (Coventry) to move as an amendment:

Add at the end of paragraph (b) the words “having particular regard to the relationship between holy scripture and the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

This amendment was not moved.

Amendment 3
The Reverend Stephen Trott (Peterborough) to move as an amendment:

Add at end

“(c) and affirm the statement made by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his address to Virginia Theological Seminary on 10 February 1997 viz:

These days it is in the area of human sexuality that some of our most intractable problems have to be worked out. Anglicanism with its rich theology of comprehensiveness is an ideal context to wrestle with these questions. But comprehensiveness does not mean relativism; it does not mean that there is no objective truth to be found. Anglicanism is committed to a Biblical, credal and historic faith and that is the context in which we debate issues which go to the heart of human identity … I do not find any justification, from the Bible or the entire Christian tradition, for sexual activity outside marriage. Thus, same sex relationships in my view cannot be on a par with marriage and the Church should resist any diminishing of the fundamental ‘sacramentum’ of marriage. Clergy especially must model relationships that commend the faith of Christ.

Vote on this amendment:
Bishops 0 44
Clergy 59 157
Laity 108 119

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 2:57pm BST | Comments (1)
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Doctrine in the Church of England

Where is the Church’s doctrine to be found? As far as the Church of England is concerned, the answer is at first glance simple. Canon A5 states that:

The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.

In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.

Furthermore the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974 notes that “references in the Measure to the doctrine of the Church of England shall be construed in accordance with the statement concerning that doctrine contained in the Canons of the Church of England.”

But it’s not as simple as that, and there is a good section on “Doctrine in the Church of England in an Historical Perspective” in GS 1554. This document contains the proposals for updating the procedures for clergy discipline in matters of doctrine, ritual and ceremonial that were defeated at General Synod in July 2004. I think that one of the reasons for this defeat was the difficulty of saying just what the CofE’s doctrine is.

Article 7 of the General Synod’s constitution requires any “provision touching doctrinal formulae or the services or ceremonies of the Church of England or the administration of the sacraments or sacred rites thereof” to be voted on at final approval in a form submitted by the House of Bishops. Voting must be by houses so bishops, clergy and laity must each approve. As GS 1554 puts it:

All doctrinal and liturgical matters are brought to the General Synod by the House of Bishops in virtue of their role as guardians of the Church’s faith and teaching. The Synod as a whole determines whether or not to give assent. This reflects the relationship between bishops and laity which was clearly set out by Richard Hooker four hundred years ago.

In particular this means that, unless the Article 7 procedure has been followed, a motion passed by General Synod supporting, for example, a resolution of a Lambeth Conference, is no more that a statement of opinion by those present.

Posted by Peter Owen on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 2:04pm BST | Comments (9)
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Akinola in the news

Update Saturday
Stephen Bates reports in the Guardian on all this: Church in new row after Nigerian primate bans Brazilian archbishop from conference
Also, here is Homosexuality’s Destructive Effect on Church & Culture apparently written by Peter Akinola and published on the website of the Kairos Journal that gave him (and others) the award mentioned below.
later note I have added the content of that extraordinary Kairos webpage below the fold here, to ensure the full text gets safely archived.

Update Sunday
Trevor Grundy Scotland on Sunday Africans set to found rival Anglican church
Somewhat to my surprise, the New York award event is reported on ACNS Digest Archbishops honoured.

First, some correspondence has been published concerning the attendance of the Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil at the upcoming III Global South Encounter scheduled for Alexandria, Egypt October 24-29 this year.

There is a letter from Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria to Archbishop Orlando Santos de Oliveira of Brazil, and his response. Also a letter from Bishop Jubal Neves, another Brazilian bishop.

For the full text of these letters, see here.

Mark Harris has already commented about this exchange in Let Brazil Through the Door!

Church Times Pat Ashworth Akinola blocks Brazil from Global South meeting

Second, there is an Associated Press report quoting both Archbishop Peter Akinola and Archbishop Henry Orombi, on the subject of the Church of England and Civil Partnerships, African Archbishops Fault Church on Gays (here from the Washington Post but published on newspaper websites all across the USA)

This matter is also mentioned in a report from the Daily Independent Nigeria, Anglican Church Synod begins Saturday in Onitsha

Further reports about this synod are on the Nigerian provincial website:
Akinola invites journalists to be abreast of developments in the Church
Church of Nigeria 8th General Synod holds at Onitsha. An extract:

The relationship of the Church of Nigeria with other national churches of the Anglican Communion in the wake of the controversy generated by homosexuality and same- sex unions is also expected to engage the Synod.

“Before, it was America and Canada, but now England is joining the bandwagon to say that homosexuality and same -sex unions are acceptable practices,” Akinola said, adding that the Nigerian church will review what her level of relationship will be in the Communion.

Homosexuality’s Destructive Effect on Church & Culture

Archbishop Peter Akinola is primate of over 17 million Anglicans in Nigeria. Here he responds to the practice of appointing homosexual bishops in the Anglican Church.

Within the ambit of this ‘hand over’ [Romans 1] lie many destructive tendencies, understandings and conjectures which war against the Church and society and what they stand for. These include for the Church:

  • The removing of the ground on which the Christian faith has stood since its inception—the Scriptures. By indicating that a particular prohibition in the Scriptures can be blatantly violated with impunity . . .
  • The revisionist trend thereby initiated is such that no one can say where it will eventually lead to or end. Once the water source is muddied/poisoned, the down-stream cannot expect to be better.
  • Official recognition by the Church of the practice of homosexuality portrays her as a morally confused entity—condemning some sins and sanctioning others. It therefore implies, as some have advocated, that the Church should apologize to the world for peddling a Scripture that is ignorant of and incorrect on the human nature and thus cannot be held as a standard for conduct.
  • The moral confusion thus occasioned by the Church’s sanction for homosexuality opens the door officially to many other immoralities hitherto lurking at the Church’s doors (and cupboards) in a state of fear and shame. Now they too can come out and stand to be recognized, and the Church will have no moral integrity to say no. * The society will stop (and has stopped in most places) looking up to the Church for moral guidance, resulting in a further relegation of the Church to social irrelevance.
  • At the center of [the] “sacred canopy” [of marriage and family] is the understanding that God has, in creation, entrenched certain modes of behavior and relationships as beneficial to humans and thus acceptable to Him. This implies that behaviors and relationships contrary to these accepted ones must be condemned as disobedience to God. To opine that, unknown to humans, God had hitherto created some people to be homosexuals and lesbians (i.e., sexual orientations) is tantamount to creating God in our own image and introducing a cancerous element into the fabric of the African understanding of marriage and family.
  • Homosexuality and lesbianism, like divorce, breed a society of single parents which gives rise to a generation of bastards. And in the context of much poverty and lack of education, this further produces an ill-bred generation of hooligans, portending much terror to the peace and stability of the society.
  • Homosexuality and lesbianism thrives on many sexual aberrations and improvisations typical of human selfishness and greed in the name of pleasure and self-actualization.
  • In a society where many women are finding it difficult to have husbands of their own due to the depletion of men by many factors, homosexuality will exacerbate the existing social disequilibrium, leading to much social unrest.

Granted, the American society as a super-power is in the forefront of human adventure. However, in this case of human sexuality, it is nothing but adventure in ungodliness. For people like Gene Robinson, who was married for years with children, to wake up one morning and discover that they are homosexuals is nothing but adventurous promiscuity and unfaithfulness. The Church condones that at her own peril. If this is not yet clear to many today, it will surely be tomorrow.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 9 September 2005 at 10:30am BST | Comments (18)
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Categorised as: Anglican Communion

Wednesday, 7 September 2005

civil partnerships: another dose of IHS

First, some responses from readers of the Church Times in recent weeks:

5 August Bishops’ pastoral statement on civil partnerships

19 August Civil partnerships: the Bishops’ statement and Archbishop Akinola

26 August The Bishop of Worcester on the Bishops and the Civil Partnership Act

2 September Evolving morality and the nature of the perceived threat to marriage

Second, another extract from the 1991 document Issues in Human Sexuality, this time from the summary section at the end. The bishops insist that their more recent statement does not change their policy. So this summary shows what has been the de facto position in the Church of England since 1991.

5.23 Let us try to sum up the essential points of the guidance we are seeking to give in this chapter. The Church in its pastoral mission ought to help and encourage all its members, as they pursue their pilgrimage from the starting-points given in their own personalities and circumstances, and as they grow by grace within their own particular potential. It is, therefore, only right that there should be an open and welcoming place in the Christian community both for those homophiles who follow the way of abstinence, giving themselves to friendship for many rather than to intimacy with one, and also for those who are conscientiously convinced that a faithful, sexually active relationship with one other person, aimed at helping both partners to grow in discipleship, is the way of life God wills for them. But the Church exists also to live out in the world the truth it has been given about the nature of God’s creation, the way of redemption through the Cross, and the ultimate hope of newness and fullness of life. We have judged that we ourselves and all clergy, as consecrated public and representative figures, entrusted with the message and means of grace, have a responsibility on behalf of the whole Body of Christ to show the primacy of this truth by striving to embody it in our own lives. But we also wish to stress the Church’s care for and value of all her clergy alike, and that where the Church’s teaching results for any ordained person in a burden grievous to be borne we, the bishops, as pastors to the pastors, will always be ready to share in any way we can in the bearing of that burden.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 7 September 2005 at 10:18am BST | Comments (9)
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Categorised as: Church of England

Saturday, 3 September 2005

Saturday columns

In The Times Geoffrey Rowell writes about Orthodoxy and Buddhism in being Aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway to a world of religious renaissance.

Both the Telegraph and the Guardian have columns about Islam.
Christopher Howse writes about an article on “The Remembrance of God” by a learned Shi’a Muslim, Ayatollah Muhsin Araki in The anatomy of God’s presence.
David Self writes that Christians and Muslims share a journey.

In the Church Times Giles Fraser asks Where is God at the wedding?

The CEN has a piece by Rowan Williams THE RECORD: Urbanisation, the Christian Church and the Human Project

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 3 September 2005 at 11:44am BST | Comments (1)
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ACO advertises for unaligned listener

The Church Times and the Church of England Newspaper this week contain an advertisement for the Anglican Communion Office:

Church Times The Anglican Communion Office, Facilitator for the Listening Process on Human Sexuality/Permanent secretariat

The news of this is also reported in the Living Church under the headline Facilitator for Listening Process on Human Sexuality Sought (warning: the link from there to the CEN version of the advert is to a 1.2 Mbyte PDF file)

As TLC notes, the post has not been advertised in print journals outside the UK, and the key hurdle any candidate has to leap is that he or she must have: no previous public alignment on the subject of human sexuality.

It seems odd that this advertisement is not yet to be found on the ACO’s own website.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 3 September 2005 at 11:24am BST | Comments (3)
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Categorised as: Anglican Communion

church press this week

Updates to three stories:

Lake Malawi
CEN Jonathan Wynne-Jones Bishop-elect gives reassurances over his “lodger” and liberal views
Church Times Pat Ashworth Bishop-elect quizzed
and from last week Bishop-elect in Malawi faces opposition

CofE Racism
Church Times Rachel Harden Colour still C of E issue - Sentamu
and leader comment Stepping into one another’s shoes
CEN Church still racist, says bishop

CEN George Conger US clergy charge Bishop

And two new stories:

Church Times Pat Ashworth Kunonga trial halted as judge resigns
and from last week Kunonga: no testimony by phone
CEN Harare bishop trial collapses
Living Church Trial of Zimbabwe Bishop Collapses

Some further reports on this from African papers:
Kunonga Trial: Judge Storms Out in Protest
Kunonga: On Trial for His Country
both originally in The Herald (Harare)
Drama at Kunonga trial in The Zimbabwe Independent
Anglican Church puts Mugabe bishop on trial on

CEN George Conger and Johanna Thomas-Corr Archbishop deposes 35 clergy to oust evangelicals
TLC Mass Depositions in Recife

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 3 September 2005 at 11:21am BST | Comments (1)
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Categorised as: Anglican Communion | Church of England

Thursday, 1 September 2005

Dancing with Terrorists

I arrived for a six week visit to our sister diocese of Peru about 10 days after the London bombings. A few days later a second set of bombers attempted, but failed, to set off four more devices. Everywhere I went I met huge outpourings of support for Britain. And the accompanying message was always, “We know what your country is going through. We have experienced terrorism here too”.

The effects of the Shining Path violence are still evident in Peruvian society. For about a decade the rural hinterland of the country was especially unsafe. Over that period millions flocked into the shanty towns or “pueblos jovenes” that surround Lima, mostly living in shacks made of matting. Economic life stagnated. Businesses failed. The Anglican Diocese itself almost collapsed totally as foreign personnel (especially targeted by the guerrillas) were withdrawn and Peruvian nationals with saleable skills headed north, to the USA or elsewhere. Priests told me of messages pushed under doors threatening to burn their churches down. Then, in the late 90’s, the government of President Fujimori (himself now in exile after fleeing corruption charges, but planning a new presidential bid next year) broke the back of the Maoist movement and Peru began to enjoy the peace, stability and economic growth that characterise it today.

Everyone I met had their stories of suffering from the Shining Path period. It was good of them to empathise with the present London experience, if somewhat overgenerous – it is unlikely that Britain will face anything remotely resembling the sustained attack on its structures and economy that Peru went through.

About a month into my stay, by which time I had been joined by 16 fellow members of the Diocese of Worcester, we were invited, with the permission of the prison authorities, to spend a day as part of our hosts’ long standing ministry to women prisoners. Sentences are undeniably harsh by European standards, particularly for women, and it is not uncommon to spend well over a year in custody awaiting trial. But the regime itself in some ways compared favourably. There are real efforts to teach skills, and mothers can have their children with them up to three years of age. The prisoners make craft goods which are then sold outside with the money returning to the producers to provide funds for extra toiletries, food etc. There was good access to outside telephones lines, though medical assistance is not as readily available as in European penal institutions. Much mirrored the conditions of life in the poorer areas of Lima itself.

With the exception of telephone kiosks the same seemed to apply in the maximum security section we visited after lunch. We were allowed, even encouraged, to take in a modest amount of cash with which to purchase handicrafts from the prisoners. There were few prison officers but the women told us there were no problems with violence. One block brought out guitars and sang songs to us and we replied with the “a capella” version of the 23rd psalm we had practised for such eventualities. Then they began a dance and invited us to join in. The women told us of how dramatically their conditions had improved in recent years. We were introduced to a tiny baby conceived during a conjugal visit to one woman from her husband who is a prisoner in another jail. We watched some of them making sculptures from clay and painting. And we learned that visitors are permitted for most of the day. Some prisoners told us that they are currently awaiting retrials because the law under which they had been convicted had been ruled unconstitutional. Then they began to speak of how they cared for each other because they were all members of the same party, and how their leader was prevented from mixing with the other prisoners. Suddenly the lack of religious pictures and scriptural passages on the walls (unusual for Latin America) struck home – these were the Shining Path members we had heard so much about on the outside.

One of the hardest things that Britain has had to cope with in these last few weeks has been the very normality of the lives of those who detonated bombs in London. We want the perpetrators of such atrocities to be radically different from ourselves, creatures of utter evil whose lives are depraved in every aspect. However, even allowing for some wrongful convictions, and for some whose offences may have been entirely non-violent, I can’t escape the fact that, in Peru, I have been dancing with terrorists. And that they were without exception pleasant, friendly, appreciative individuals.

I need to hold on to the fact that well-intentioned and caring individuals can commit appalling atrocities in the name of some cause deemed high enough to justify it. The original aim of Shining Path – to present a solution to the poverty and inequality rife in Peru by promoting a society based on the radical equality that underpins communism – is not of itself evil; indeed it has much in it that is laudable. The use of violence as part of the means to overthrow despotic regimes is the story of the liberation of Africa (and elsewhere) in the 20th century. Somewhere Shining Path lost the balance. It terrorised the general population more than it pressurised the government. And maybe it was ill-fated in presenting a communist solution at the very moment when that political philosophy was collapsing across the globe. It never succeeded in breaking out from being a small vanguardist force. Its attacks on Peru’s economy did not persuade the mass of the people that capitalism was the prime problem. Part of the tragedy of the recent bombings in London (and before that in Madrid and elsewhere) is that it is hard to see any realistic link between the political goals of the bombers and their actions.

It was a thesis of the French existentialist (and erstwhile international goalkeeper) Albert Camus that to understand all is to forgive all. For Christians I suspect that has to be a statement more about God than humanity. To understand is not automatically to forgive. Or maybe to forgive is not to exonerate from the consequences of a person’s actions. I’m glad, not least for the sake of the many friends I have made in Peru, that the Shining Path terrorism is a thing of the past, and that those who led it on its violent course are largely now behind bars. But I’m grateful that I was allowed, briefly, to see not only the scars that Peru bears from its history, but the humanity, the normality, and even the face of Christ, in some of those who bear responsibility for it, and who now serve out their sentences. And that the Anglican Church continues to minister in such places.

Posted by David Walker on Thursday, 1 September 2005 at 3:07pm BST | Comments (10)
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Categorised as: just thinking