In September 2006, a Global South Primates Meeting was held and the Kigali Communiqué published. We are among the many Anglicans concerned that its direction is at odds with our understanding of Scripture and the essence of Anglican tradition.
It is disappointing that the Communiqué renounces fellowship with Anglicans in North America and provincial autonomy, and commends for further reflection ‘The Path to Lambeth’, which condemns provinces as following the ‘way of idolatry’ if they take a different view on theology or even comply with equality laws. This also claims that there is a general ‘requirement that believers not associate with openly immoral church members’; and ‘We in the Global South have always made repentance the starting point for any reconciliation and resumption of fellowship in the Communion.’ This echoes Archbishop Peter Akinola’s earlier description of the Episcopal Church of the USA as a ‘cancerous lump’ which must be ‘excised’.
Witnessing in a broken world
The Communiqué draws attention to the tragedy of the genocide in Rwanda, to which primates and other leaders responded by ‘prayer and reflection. We were chastened by this experience and commit ourselves not to abandon the poor or the persecuted wherever they may be and in whatever circumstances. We add our voices to theirs and we say, “Never Again!”’ It continues, ‘As we prayed and wept at the mass grave of 250,000 helpless victims we confronted the utter depravity and inhumanity to which we are all subject outside of the transforming grace of God.’
Over the past century, widespread cruelty and slaughter have taken place not only in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America but also in Europe. Many vividly remember when Hitler’s regime, which held that some people were superior and others subhuman, murdered large numbers of Jewish and disabled people, and locked gypsies and gays, communists and feminists in concentration camps which many did not survive. How have ordinary people repeatedly been persuaded to go along with ethnic ‘cleansing’ and other barbarity?
Factors perhaps include the tendency of humans to feel distaste or contempt for, or distance themselves from, those regarded as ‘other’. Most disturbingly, while some Christians have bravely resisted, other devout believers have been convinced that mistreating others was doing God’s will. Through the centuries many have believed that the Bible justified anti-Semitism and separation of humankind into different ‘races’ or violence against the defenceless. It is all too easy not to question what teachers, pastors and national leaders claim is righteous and true. Scripture and tradition, as well as claims of social progress, have been misused to justify victimising others, not recognising them as children of the same heavenly Father, in whose image they are made. Indeed ‘The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse – who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17.9).
Less obviously, in both the global South and North, the destitute and abandoned largely go unnoticed by the prosperous and comfortable, apart from occasional acts of charity. Often Christians as well as non-Christians pass by on the other side (Luke 10.25-37), unwilling to enter too deeply into the lives of those whose experience is different from their own.
Humility is called for on the part of Anglicans throughout the world who wish to challenge cruelty and injustice and grow more like their Shepherd, who teaches people to love even their enemies (Matthew 5.43-48), patiently seeks the lost (Luke 15) and is willing to lay down his life for his sheep (John 10.11-16). ‘Evangelical’ or ‘Anglo-Catholic’, ‘liberal’ or ‘traditional’, we can only witness authentically to a broken world if we can admit our own fallibility.
Nevertheless Anglicanism has something to offer the world. It arose from the ashes of brutal conflict in which pious Christians burnt or beheaded one another in God’s name. Former enemies, joined in a common baptism, together partook of the body and blood of Christ.
Decolonisation further decentralised power in the Anglican Communion, as did the increased role of laypeople in decision-making. There is no single authority which wields control everywhere, which could stifle cultural and theological diversity.
At best, Anglican engagement with Scripture, tradition and reason (and experience, some would add) has provided fertile ground for the workings of the Holy Spirit. It has sometimes taken a long time to reach consensus, and profound theological disagreements remain on issues ranging from lay presidency at communion to nuclear warfare, remarriage of divorcees and homosexuality. Patience can be hard, not only for those who believe that harmful teachings and practices are not being strongly enough challenged but also for others who feel that their vocation or very humanity has not been recognised because of their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or disability. But in time correct ideas are generally confirmed and wrong ones abandoned, in the context of shared worship, prayer and care for the sick and needy.
Dare any of us judge others, confident that we occupy the moral high ground (Matthew 7.1-5)? Does the language of “The Road to Lambeth” reflect the wisdom from above that is pure, peaceable, gentle and full of mercy (James 3.13-18)? Can we presume to come to the Lord’s table trusting in our own righteousness, and insist that certain of our brothers and sisters be barred if we are to attend? Jesus himself was criticised for eating with sinners (Matthew 9.11-13); are the disciples greater than the master? And if strong differences of opinion arise over other matters (which is likely) might there not be further splits? Will clergy who disagree with legitimate decisions within their provinces again seek out archbishops overseas to offer episcopal oversight? This is not in accord with Anglican tradition, and sets a poor example to a divided world.
Living with difference can be painful, and it may take time to learn to dispute difficult issues with kindness, respect and empathy. But the breadth of Anglicanism is part of our inheritance which we should cherish. Through continuing to eat and drink together at the Lord’s table and seeking to love across boundaries of culture and opinion, Anglicans may experience spiritual renewal and play a greater part in the healing of the nations.
Prepared by Savitri Hensman, Anglican Matters and member of InclusiveChurch executive