The Presiding Bishop of the Province of the Southern cone of America gives an insight into new alliances which may upset the balance of power at Lambeth ’98
IT WAS MY PRIVILEGE as a member of a small team from the Province of the Southern Cone of America to share in the Second Anglican Encounter in the South. This event took place in Kuala Lumpur in February this year and brought together 80 delegates from dioceses and provinces in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Oceania.
From Kuala Lumpur two strong statements have emerged: one on human sexuality and one on Anglican reconstruction. These appear in this issue of New Directions and were recommended for consideration in our Communion as we prepare for Lambeth ’98. What, though, was the reason for this particular focus? In what context were the statements being made? How and why was such a high degree of unanimity achieved? What is the Anglican Encounter in the South anyway?
Anglican Missionary Agencies meeting in Brisbane in 1986 were conscious that international contacts and partnerships in our Communion were almost exclusively North to North of North to South but rarely South to South. Responding to the concern of leaders from Africa, Asia and Latin America they wanted to facilitate an opportunity for the Anglican Provinces of the South “to listen to God and to one another, to share their joys and pains, and to express their hopes and aspirations.” The first “Encounter” was held in Limuru, Kenya, in 1994. The movement continues and responds to the fact that the majority of Anglicans now live in the “Two Thirds World”. The part of the Communion which is growing numerically is bringing a shared vision into focus, communicating it with others, and seeking to make its full contribution throughout the world.
An encounter is much more than the sum of its pronouncements. People came together in February from situations of civil war, refugee displacement, harsh political and religious discrimination. We heard testimonies of churches growing in spite of acute suffering and dislocation. We learnt how the voice of the church in the South is sometimes a lone voice raised against corruption and injustice. Our hosts in the newly-formed Province of South East Asia witness in an area of growing economic prosperity. (Kuala Lumpur enjoys full employment). Whether in the currently prosperous cities or in the rural areas these Anglican churches bring together evangelical and catholic traditions enhanced with charismatic gifts.
Our central theme in Malaysia was the place of Scripture in the life and witness of the Church. Previously in the Province of the Southern Cone we had been concerned that Lambeth ’98 should open an opportunity for Scriptural renewal in the Anglican Communion. In Kuala Lumpur we were profoundly encouraged to find this concern so widely reflected among our brothers and sisters from Africa, Asia and the Pacific. Evidently the pace of change in the world around us throws up sharp challenges and potentially divisive issues for the Church. Resultant controversies and confusion within show up inadequacies in the interpretation and application of Scripture. Where the witness of Scripture is not recognised as normative and where tradition, with its derived authority, is not fully respected, the situation is made worse. A confused church ill-serves a fragmenting world.
Yet we have a new opportunity for wise discernment of God’s way. Reflected in the composition of the Encounter in Malaysia, it the fact that our Anglican membership and leadership is now fully international and multi-cultural. Every culture can contribute understanding of the Gospel and every culture can distort the Gospel. From our different situations and cultural backgrounds we need to help each other and correct each other. It was from this perspective that the Encounter made its recommendations. These included effective ways of influencing government, the lifting of international debt burdens and countering corruption. They also focused upon sexual ethics and the need for greater cohesion and effective mutual accountability among provinces within our communion.
There is evident anger and dismay among many Anglican churches in the South on account of the innovations in teaching and laxity in discipline shown in parts of the North with regard to sexual morality. A permissive and unbiblical stance on homosexual practice not only compromises Christian witness in the area where it is adopted. Through the influence of the media it also throws up yet another obstacle against the Gospel in those places where the church witnesses as a barely tolerated minority and other religions dominate.
The South has been receptive of much Christian teaching developed within the framework of Western or Northern culture. The insights have been welcome but in certain areas the distortions are now serious. It is surely time for the post-modern North to receive some help and correction from Christians working within a more traditional cultural framework in the South.
No attempt was being made in Kuala Lumpur to create unnecessary polarization. From a position of strong conviction there was concern for careful dialogue with those with different views. Indeed serious consideration was being given in the “Encounter” on how our international relations within our Communion can be strengthened and improved. The question was asked: should our Provinces remain completely autonomous? Ought the Primates’ Meeting exercise some enhanced responsibility? Should there not be some way of encouraging positive initiatives in Provinces and applying a brake against the most serious culturally determined mistakes?
The inspiration for this “Anglican Reconstruction” came in Kuala Lumpur from our reading of Nehemiah. This book clearly encourages spiritual depth, united action and internal unity. It could be misapplied to justify a defensive exclusivist. But in wanting to be scriptural the delegates from the South were not wanting to be simplistic.
There is a whole agenda of Biblical study and action to be set in hand at Lambeth. Sensitive pastoring, faithful teaching, coherent discipline, appropriate structures and overflowing life in our Communion at every level from local to global will not come from Biblical posturing. Rather we must seek the Spirit’s help in thoroughly interpreting, applying, obeying and enlacing God’s word.
The ‘we’ is now a completely international ‘we’. The wisdom for guiding our churches must be Christianly cross-cultural. We must not allow post-modern cultural pressures to distort our vision but rather, with all God’s saints, explore afresh the dimensions of Christ’s love. This, as I understand it, is the message from Malaysia.
Maurice Sinclair is bishop of Northern Argentina and Primate of the Province of the Southern Cone of America.