An Address by Dr Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation to the Twelfth Meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council
20th September, 2002
In a challenging address that provoked an absorbed response from ACC members, WLF General Secretary, Dr Ishmael Noko urged representatives from the Anglican Communion’s 38 Provinces to be involved in making sure that Christian churches "do not fail to provide today genuine reasons to hope for a just future for all."
Dr Noko argued that the Churches must listen to the prophetic voices of our time, and make it clear that "the cross of Christ itself shouts into the chaos of humanity that there is another way!" So, he said, the Churches must proclaim the gospel of God’s free grace loudly and clearly to all; they must strengthen their commitment and continue and serve and help at all levels in the face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, without marginalizing victims in the life of the churches; they must boldly proclaim God’s ownership of the created world; and they must continue to shout NO to violence against women and children.
He called for the Anglican Communion and the Lutheran World Federation to grasp the opportunity provided in the Report from their bi-lateral conversation to grow together in communion and to promote strongly and concretely the experience of fellowship in the human family that is the gift of God.
Dr Noko began with a reflection on the vision of the 'Good Society'. "It is essential to avoid the temptation of defining the good society by reference to the existing evils in the world – as the sum total of the opposites of those evils," he said. "We should proceed from the basis of fundamental ethical principles and faith values in order to discern the shape of a society based on those principles and values.
"It is at this point that the consequences of the Gospel of reconciliation and communion must be identified."
Commencing with from the view that the churches’ social witness is radically affected by ‘communion’, Dr Noko focussed his analysis upon globalization and fragmentation; extreme poverty; HIV/AIDS; gender equality; racial discrimination and other forms of discrimination; the caste system and other forms of inherited social exclusion; armed conflicts; and environmental protection and conservation.
He said that while globalization has brought many benefits and brought the nations of the world much closer together, at the same time, and paradoxically through the same processes, fragmentation and alienation are on the rise. "Churches are themselves fully implicated in the ambiguity of globalization." Dr Noko also suggested that to the globalization of fragmentation lies in the notion of 'communion'.
"Poverty eats away at the self-esteem of human beings," Dr Noko said. "We must remember that to a great extent poverty is man-made. We must remember that this curse is not external to the life of the church. The church is itself poor. Its life is never outside the lives of those who suffer."
Arguing that it is essential that a 'world ethic' is found, Dr Noko emphasised that the principles of communion and reconciliation must provide its essence. He also stressed that ethics and values are not static concepts, they are rather, dynamic processes, so "the Good Society" itself can't be envisaged as a static and achievable, it is rather a sign of the Kingdom of God.
Reflecting upon inter-faith dialogue for peace, Dr Noko said "I believe we as churches are called to multiply events such as the Assisi Conference for Peace and to substantially strengthen our efforts at the level of ecumenical and inter-faith relations to establish firm ground for overcoming the many serious conflicts that have given such a tragic opening to the present millennium."
On human rights he said "Churches, from the perspective of our faith convictions, must insist always that human dignity must take the highest priority in public policy, and that political and economic policies and structures serve no other purpose than that of the well-being of the human family…Together with all people of faith and good will, we have the responsibility to claim human rights and to use them on behalf of our communities and on behalf of the whole human family."
"We must not only proclaim the faith. We must ourselves live by the same faith. Faith that is open to the voice of the Holy Spirit. No renewal in church life has come as a result of neglecting social and human needs," he said. "But much renewal has come from faithful attention and loyal service to the needs of the sick, the hungry and the oppressed – inspired not least by the Sermon on the Mount. It may well be that once again, this is the way Christ calls us to walk."
ACC members later gathered together in groups to discuss their response to this thought provoking address, and when they returned to a plenary reporting session the impact of Dr Noko’s words to the Anglican Communion and their engagement with his challenges was immediately obvious.
From the wide cultural diversity represented in the ACC meeting, it was clear that Dr Noko’s mention of the Xhosa concept of Ubuntu was recognised to provide an important contribution to the Churches’ understanding of reconciliation and community. At the same time members also saw the place of other traditional Christian concepts such as ‘baptism’ that also emphasises Christian community through being united into the body of Christ.
Article from: the ACC-12 News Team - Dan England, Margaret Rodgers, James Rosenthal