Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Reset progress

During and since the Lambeth Conference 2022 there has been talk of a "reset" for the Anglican Communion, with a specific initiative coming from the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches - a group with overlaps to Gafcon but not exactly contiguous with it.

Recently "Anglican Orthodox Leaders" met in Cairo, Egypt had produced a statement which included these paragraphs on reset progress:


9. To press on in resetting theCommunion according to its biblical & historical roots: 

a)    The Anglican world has changed so dramatically in the last century. In 1900, about 80% of the Communion lived in England. Today, about 75%of Anglicans are estimated to live in Global South countries. The demographics have changed, and sadly in our day the theology of many bishops in the Church of England has also changed towards revisionism. We need new wineskins for a new reality.

b)   On the 9th of October 2023, the Church of England House of Bishops signalled their intent to commend prayers of blessing for same sex couples. Despite all that is happening, we as orthodox leaders are very encouraged to see orthodox groupings within the Church of England beginning to collectively stand against this revisionism in their Church. We applaud the 12 bishops in the Church of England who have indicated that they are unable to support the decision by their House of Bishops, and we will uphold them in our prayers. We will stand with orthodox Anglicans in England both now and going forward.

c)    We lament with tears all that has happened to the historic ‘mother church’ of the communion, and continue to pray for her restoration. At the same time, orthodox Anglican churches and entities will press on with the work God has given us to do as he renews the fallen creation through the finished work of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

d)   In relation to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other instruments of communion, we affirm the Ash Wednesday Statement and the Kigali Statement.

10. As orthodox Primates, we reaffirm our adherence to Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of 1998 in full, both in moral teaching and pastoral care. We recognise this resolution as the official teaching of the Anglican Communion on marriage and sexuality and urge that renewed steps be taken to encourage all provinces to abide by this doctrine in the faith, order, and practice.

There is no doubt that a demographic shift in the Anglican Communion has taken place and that the shift to the vast majority of the Communion being African and Asian rather than British/Irish, North American and Australasian will continue through this and the next century.

Population growth in Africa is immense (see, for instance, this NYT article) and church decline in numbers in "white" Communion provinces is salutary.

Just where the Communion goes between a natural reset (the people who make up the Communion), a structural reset (provincial leaders proposing this and that as a new way forward for the structure of the Communion to match the people of the Communion), and our actual historical setting (the role of the See of Canterbury) is both a matter for debate (what do we want to do? who do we want to be as Anglican Christians?) and for speculation (where will we end up? Will there ever be another well attended Lambeth Conference?).

My own wish is that there was less emphasis placed on (say) what the Church of England is doing within its own house, and more emphasis on exploring what being Anglican means in the differing contexts of each Anglican province, with an empathetic openness to understanding those differing contexts.

There are reasons why the CofE is in its particular situation AND why the Anglican church in Egypt is not in that situation - and they are not solely theological reasons!

Friday, October 27, 2023

Disruptive Gospel

A couple of weeks ago we had a lovely and well-attended "Leading Your Church into Growth" conference, with UK presenters, Harry Steele and Rhiannon King. At the conclusion of the conference, during our closing eucharist, I preached a short sermon, the text of which is published here

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Anglican and Catholic Bishops' Statement on Gaza / Israel

Last week our House of Bishops met over three days in Wellington. On the third day we met with the NZ Catholic bishops. One outcome of that third day meeting, as we digested news of a deadly explosion at Al Ahli Arab Hospital (sometimes described as a Baptist hospital but in fact run by the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem for many years), was the following statement (reported here).

"War is once again destroying people’s lives in the Holy Land.  This new cycle of violence in this long conflict brings us new images of bloodied bodies and the anguished cries and faces of children, women and men – both Palestinian and Israeli.  We’re seeing homes destroyed, lives shattered and hope for peace strangled. 

The Anglican and Catholic Bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand, meeting together in Wellington this week, jointly express their horror at the latest acts of violence and join international voices in calling for an immediate ceasefire.


Anglican Archbishop Philip Richardson said: “Hospitals and civilian infrastructure are protected under International Humanitarian Law.  Such niceties of law did not protect the wounded in Al Ahli Anglican Hospital and the people who were seeking sanctuary and protection. There are no winners in war: so often, it is innocent people who are maimed and killed.”

The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a wound that has continued to fester. Various diplomatic efforts to find a solution have failed because of the unwillingness to honour international agreements. Violence will never be a solution.

Bishop Steve Lowe, President of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference said: “As Bishops, we endorse the work of those groups and institutions in Israel and Palestine who work for peace, justice, and reconciliation.  Such work recognises our common humanity. This is the path that we advocate for peace in the Holy Land.”

The bishops jointly ask: “Our government and diplomatic authorities to advocate for an immediate ceasefire and the opening and ongoing safeguarding of humanitarian corridors.

“In this very emotional time, we cannot let anger lead us into antisemitism or Islamophobia. Let us remember that there are innocent victims on both sides of the conflict. To our fellow interfaith religious leaders, we ask: let us unite in prayer and action for a lasting peace.

“To the people of Aotearoa New Zealand: we urge you to pray for peace and to support aid appeals for those impacted by this humanitarian crisis.”

In Psalm 130 we hear: ‘Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord; hear my voice. O let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleading.’

“May we too be attentive to those who call out to us from the depths of despair and destruction. May we commit ourselves to being instruments of peace,” the bishops concluded."

Our Anglican Missions Board is running an appeal for the hospital - details are here.

I continue to ask - at least myself - will Hamas repent of the evil deeds it committed on 7 October 2023 against Israeli citizens?

Monday, October 16, 2023

Postscript on Israel and Gaza

Surveying various things being said over the past few days, the following comes to mind:

1. Much as we all want Israel to stop its retribution against Hamas/Gaza (to save lives of innocent Palestinians), we may be missing the point of what Israel is now intending: to destroy Hamas as a terrorist group once and for all.

2. We may also be missing the point that Hamas itself could stop the intended invasion by (a) handing over unharmed the hostages they have taken, and (b) handing themselves over to Israel. (Obviously this is very unlikely to happen; but it is, in fact, a solution to the problem Gaza is facing).

3. When the Allies faced Hitler in WW2 and Japan in the Asia-Pacific theatre of that war, they had no alternative but to seek the destruction of the Nazis and the Japanese High Command. Only so could peace - genuine peace - be pursued. That destruction involved considerable military action - one thinks of the bombing of Dresden and of the two nuclear bombs. In hindsight we can and do argue whether such actions were excessive - could lesser destruction have achieved the same ends? But what we saw was succssful outcomes to relentless opposition to evil regimes. And, as we have seen since, the countries of Germany and Japan respectively have been at peace and have prospered. Should Israel in relation to Gaza be denied a similar opportunity to destroy an evil regime? (Again, in case this sound like support for war, I remind you that Israel is not the only agent here, so is Hamas.)

4. Hamas is an evil regime. Its pogrom against Jews and others just over a week ago has revealed their true murderous colours: they will not rest until every Jew in Israel is either killed or expelled to a far off country. They are not a regime that can be negotiated with.

5. I can now never hear the cry, 'From the River to the Sea" as some kind of sanguine wish for Palestine to enjoy greater freedom. It is a cry of destruction against not only the State of Israel but also against Israeli Jews. 

6. Nevertheless, inside Gaza is an Anglican hospital seeking to do good for all needing help. Please consider making a response to their plight, as noted here.

Friday, October 13, 2023

What is to be done? Israel - Palestine in October 2023

There is any amount of comment in mainstream and social media about the Iranian-supported, Hamas-led terrorist murder, rape and desecration of Israel civilians a few days ago, including women and children.

I have been sick to the stomach reading about this evil.

Sometimes as a Christian I think there are too many words in the world, and in church, and more silence would be befitting. But this is not that occasion, Silence would mean consent for evil. We must speak out and up and say that evil has taken place, that is was not the result of pressure (no one is forced to behead a child or to brutalise a woman - such things are a choice to exercise power in the worst possible way), that justification for such evil acts (as, unfortunately, many people are attempting to provide) is itself an evil, and that the Israeli government is justified in seeking once and for all to remove Hamas as government in Gaza.

Whether the Israeli government should use means such as starvation of power and water against all citizens of Gaza is a matter of debate, but that debate should include debate about (1) the role the people of Gaza themselves have in removing Hamas - a role they are unlikely to be able to play because Hamas terrorises its own people - which makes its own point about the impossibility of Hamas ever being a partner to peace in the Middle East; and about (2) Egypt’s largely unnoticed role in also blockading Gaza - which I understand at least in part to be because Hamas has killed Egyptian citizens in recent years - which underlines the point about the impossibility of Hamas ever being a partner to peace in the Middle East.

What is to be done?

I have no specific contribution to offer but many good words are available on the internet. One example only, these words by Israeli philosopher Yoah Harari, here.

So, a different question: what might we read in Scripture when faced with the presence of such evil in our world?

When so many of our readings of the New Testament, for example, emphasise the love of God, the importance of our love for neighbour and for one another and the contribution examples of love make to the well-being of communities, where do we turn when face with horrific evil?

My own thought has been to turn to the Revelation of John.

Stop reading now if you hope I am about to link the visions of John the seer to current events as though a specific point in an assume timetable revealed in Revelation has been reached.

Rather, Revelation is Scripture confronting immense and widespread suffering, painful torture and horrific death, as forces seen (Rome?) and unseen (demonic activity of principalities and powers?), as a stark acknowledgement that God’s mission of love is not a seamless robe of progress among humans till the point of human perfection of wellbeing-in-society is reached.

Against that mission of divine love there are evil forces intent on destroying the mission and forcing the world into allegiance with the powers of hatred and oppression. Whether Revelation discloses a periodic unleashing of such evil forces, or a status quo of God’s love-filled mission always being attacked, or a future but always imminent threat of one Herculean, final war against God is a matter for discussion and debate. But what is not debateable is that Revelation presses the case for Christians to face, courageously and honestly, even when painful to do so, as per the past few days, the raw reality of life: that evil exists and is not yet eradicated, and all calculations about progress and improvement in human society should take this into account.

I am back from Africa. In due course I will post some thoughts about my amazing visit there.