The Bishop and Social Justice

The Chicago Consultation is hard at work at Lambeth, providing information and opinion for the bishops at Lambeth not readily available through official channels and news releases. I was asked to provide one of the reflections on the "Theme of the Day." It was published HERE. On that page there are several resources. The daily Lambeth Witness is listed part way down the page. Click on issue #3 for the copy with my essay. Better yet, if you haven't read it all, start with #1 and work forward.

The text is as follows.

Transforming Society: the bishop and social justice

The Fourth Element
by Mark Harris
Diocese of Delaware (USA)

The fourth element in the Lambeth Quadrilateral has been the most problematic and most challenging. It reads: “The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the unity of His Church.”

Every bishop has to confront the realities of the needs of the nations and peoples they serve and recognize that from place to place those needs vary. Yet all the people of God, lay and ordained, come equipped for these tasks with the Word of God, the Faith of the Church and the Sacramental life.

Bishops practice their ministry, their administration, with that great treasure already in place. That treasure lies both within the dioceses (as a jurisdictional territory) and without the diocese. The bishop draws support and challenge both from the faithful community of the dioceses, the collegial ministry with other bishops and their communities, and from the fellowship that is the Anglican Communion. Bishops are blessed to be part of communities as well as leaders of them.

The needs of the “nations and peoples” constitute the environment for the social justice agenda of the church. Every bishop is most immediately affected by the agendas that are local to their ministry – their jurisdiction. At the same time there are regional, national and global concerns with which every bishop must also grapple.

So it is, for example, that locally there might be concerns for people who work in agriculture, but that in turn might relate to fair wage practices in the country and to the unjust local conditions brought on by global agribusiness.

To be a bishop in the Anglican Communion in this present time is to look directly and honestly at the brokenness and hurting of this world and to see there the possibilities for blessing, for the breaking in of a justice worthy of God’s good pleasure and for a society that honors the dignity of every human being.

In that context social justice concerns not only the injustices that come from economic and social inequalities but also the blessings that are possible when those are addressed. Justice is a progressive matter – that is, justice demands that we call the unjust to account, but it also requires that we call God’s blessing on those who have suffered injustice in this broken and hurting world by finding a way for justice to be theirs as well.

The question “What is my role as a bishop and our roles as bishops in Communion in a blessed but broken and hurting world” is helpful but limits the question to role. Every bishop, however, is called to do more than fill a role. As is true for every Christian we must adapt to local conditions the call to be incarnational of both the prophetic and pastoral presence of Christ Jesus.

Thus the question becomes, “What must I do and what must we do to establish the blessings of justice in the broken and hurting world, not in the role we play but in Christ, in whom we have our being.”

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