The reasonably observant can hear the rumble of canons in the distance, lobbing shells that do not yet reach us. Perhaps these are practice rounds. Perhaps these are rounds fired to see if anyone is listening. Two such rounds were fired this last week: One from the Communiqué from the Global South Primates Steering Committee meeting at Singapore, 6 Feb 2006, and one from THE MOST REV. PETER J. AKINOLA, Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria, etc.
The Communiqué shot this, “7. We are very much aware of the crisis that confronts our beloved Communion. We continue to pray and hope that at the General Convention of ECUSA in June 2006 and the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada in June 2007 there will be a positive response to the Windsor recommendations otherwise we fear this conflict will only worsen. In light of that we are concerned that the current design proposals for the Lambeth Conference in 2008 do not appear to fully recognize the seriousness of the crisis.” It also said this, “9. We have noted with regret the continuing efforts of those within Episcopal Church of the USA to portray the Provinces of the Global South as of divided opinion regarding their actions. While we do minister in a wide variety of situations and cultures we are united in our commitment to the ‘faith once delivered to the Saints’ and will continue to oppose those who would seek to subvert it.”
In two short paragraphs the authors of the Communiqué push at (or perhaps attack) the General Convention 2006, the General Synod of 2007 and the agenda of the next Lambeth Conference, and claim once again to represent in their statements all the Provinces of the Global South.
It is of course reasonable to expect the Steering Committee of Global South Anglican to try to influence what is done in various Provinces and to ascribe to themselves authority to speak for as many people as possible.
The Communiqué speaks of a crisis that will only worsen, the seriousness of the crisis, and the subversion of the faith once delivered to the saints. There is indeed a crisis. As the word indicates, there is now in the Anglican Communion a moment of decision, for that is what crisis means, but that may not be a bad thing at all.
The decision, however, is not between those who uphold “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 1:3, KJV) and those who would subvert that faith, namely, “ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4b KJV) That is of course what the writers of this communiqué contend. But the particular phrase, “faith once delivered unto the saints,” used so often by the realignment folk, is not just a claim about their righteousness but about progressives being “ungodly men,” etc.
The shot being fired is, as usual, a claim that the effort to include gay and lesbian persons in the church is the work of ungodly men taking grace and turning it into a license for immoral behavior. At least they are clear just who they are shooting at and why.
But the decision might well be stated another way. If the “crisis” or decision involves seeing “the faith delivered” in a way that invites all who are committed to a new level of loving-kindness – one that is as well justice making (something of what is meant in Hebrew by j#sd “checed”) – decision is a good thing. The decision here may not be between “God’s way” and “the revisionist way” but rather between what we heretofore believed was God’s way and what we now understand is God’s way. Perhaps the decision is like that of moving from a world view where slavery was a reality and Christians could be slave owners to a world view where slavery is not condoned and Christians are not to be slave owners.
The Communiqué however has none of that. It has made the crisis between good and evil, rather than the decisions made by people who understand what they are called to do in quite different ways.
In the end the writers of the Communiqué take recourse in numbers. Their friends in the Episcopal Church were a minority at General Convention, so their efforts now are to make threatening noises from what is claimed to be a majority in the “Global South.” The Global South Anglican initiative does not of course represent all of the Global South churches, no matter what they say. It is unclear just how much authority these leaders have to speak for the whole of their synods and churches, much less for the church elsewhere in the South. The Executive committee condemnation of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada may not come with the force of the numerical superiority they claim, and may not well represent the decision facing the Anglican Communion anyway. Nonetheless, the whole point of firing off the canons is not lost. Large booming noises in the distance are in themselves threatening.
The second canon shot came from Archbishop Akinola, who opined concerning “perilous times” in his Lenten letter reprinted on the Global South Anglican website.
“Spiritually, people now only seem to love themselves and the unrighteous mammon. What obtains is religious gangsterism, distortion of the historic faith and doctrines, outright denial of the faith, pandering of falsehood and half- truths, self seeking and self glorification instead of seeking the glory of God by self appointed prophets and preachers who ought to have known better.
At the human and physical level, there is much moral decadence, encouragement of violence and lasciviousness by the screens, eroded family values and shameless immorality actively supported and promoted by some government laws in the name of human rights and even encouraged by some religious groups in the corrupted name of love.”
Well, an interesting rant, but at the close of it is the telling sentence, “shameless immorality actively supported and promoted by some government laws in the name of human rights and even encouraged by some religious groups in the corrupted name of love.” Up until that point the reader might well have thought that the Archbishop was speaking to issues primarily within Nigerian society, but this sentence brings forward his first comments on the subject of “shameless immorality.” Clearly, the reference to “some government laws in the name of human rights” hits out at the English civil partnership law. But the comments work just as well as his first response to critics who have held him to task for supporting the federal law in Nigeria criminalizing homosexuality and all conversations, meetings and organizations in support of homosexual rights.
The invocation of love and human rights is a time honored prophetic role, and it would appear that the Archbishop will have none of it, save to brand those who so invoke the names as agents of shameless immorality. Perhaps he is just testing the distance, our hearing, the range. Well, we hear the guns but their sound is an embarrassment to more and more who hear it.
As with the mutterings of too many religious leaders, both in Nigeria, the United States, England and elsewhere, this rants concern the things of religious conflict. These are the comments of a theologian entrenched in the front lines of a religious civil war while the real battle for justice and love in a world largely devoid of both is being fought prophetically somewhere else. Archbishop Tutu speaking on the balcony of the Montana Hotel in Port au Prince Haiti did more in ten minutes for love and justice than all these cheap shots at fellow Christians.
The Archbishop of Nigeria has done better, and indeed has at times done courageously. His words against state corruption and manipulation of power have been important statements by a major religious leader. Of course he is not alone: we wait impatiently for words of God’s checed to be spoken by our religious leaders, for words from religious leaders in the US calling for the freeing of captives held in our prison at Guantánamo, joining Archbishop Tutu. For that matter, where is the continuous outrage from American religious leaders for our out of control military spending in Iraq? Ain’t none of us clean. And we continue to be hear the guns in the distance, whose sounds are a distraction from the prophetic need to make the world safe for the least of these our sisters and brothers.
Don’t worry about the pop guns claiming to be canons…the decisions we have to make concern that loving kindness against which there is no struggle, except to attempt to surpass one another. Our crisis is the decision to make room for loving kindness.