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Submission from the Archbishop of Cape Town to the Lambeth Commission

Posted on: June 17, 2004 11:23 AM
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The Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane
Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of the Province of Southern Africa

The Life of the Anglican Communion: A Way Ahead

14 June 2004

As the Lambeth Commission on Communion prepares to meet, I want to put forward three perspectives from my part of the 'Global South' which I hope will offer support to the Commission in its challenging task. My prayer is to find restorative processes that open doors beyond painful division. We must develop new means for handling conflict and finding new beginnings, to share with the world for the good of the gospel.

First is the question of Church Order, the way we structure ourselves as the Anglican Communion. We recognise that the Commission members tackle the difficult questions before them within the context of the existing organisational framework of the Communion, with all its complexities and ambiguities. They must deal with the autonomy of provinces alongside the weighty, but non-binding, authority we give to the Instruments of Unity, that contribute to the 'bonds of affection' that tie us to our common life. They must address these constraints and, though they may suggest changes, we cannot expect them to make unfeasible proposals.

It is for us, who watch and pray while the Commission do their work, to acknowledge their duly constituted mandate - given by the Archbishop of Canterbury following his meeting with the Primates. Our support and contributions to their deliberations must respect the process they pursue. We cannot prejudge their conclusions - but must give them the space to address their task in whatever ways are most useful to them as they work towards their October report. I look forward to responding to that report in due course - through whatever channels will contribute most constructively to a way forward.

In what I say, I do not downplay the seriousness of what we are facing. There is such tremendous pain surrounding the issues of sexuality that gave rise to the Commission - though its mandate focuses on questions of koinonia, communion. Actions have been taken and statements made that have fallen far, far, short of building up our common life. I keep praying that when each of us speaks or acts, we will have the grace to consider the wider, and longer-term consequences - and have the courage to hold back when we may be bringing further distress.

My second concern is to underline once more the perspectives which theological reflection offers to us. All the Bible teaches us about creation resonates with both unity and diversity. We know these give rise to inescapable tensions, which we must face head on. There will inevitably be times when we disagree, and I do not think we have yet fathomed all the dimensions of how we hold together in Christ. The 'bonds of affection' that hold us together are both human and God-graced. Our human frailties in relationships are interwoven with transcendent possibilities of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Where injury has been done, we must respond in ways that help heal the breach. The secular world is increasingly turning to restorative justice, in place of retributive justice, as a way of not just dealing with wrong-doing but making it the stepping stone to something better.

Restorative justice is a systematic response to conflict or wrongdoing, that emphasises healing the wounds of all parties concerned - whether offended against, or offending - while also pursuing whatever makes for greater wholeness in the community. It is a process that certainly upholds the need for justice, expecting those who have caused injury to take steps to repair it (and may sometimes run in parallel with other judicial processes). Yet this happens as an intrinsic part of genuine deep encounter between the concerned parties. All sides must be willing to engage openly and honestly, and be prepared to contribute appropriately to help bring resolution, in ways that may only emerge as this holistic process unfolds. The desired outcome is that everyone involved will become contributing members of a community that grows and shapes itself to minimise the possibility of similar harmful actions finding fertile ground.

The South African experience shows something of what can be achieved. When political change came, we were so fearful of the potential for a bloodbath as sworn enemies had to overcome bloodshed, even murder, and work together under democracy. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, drawing on principles of restorative justice, made a vital contribution to the ongoing process of building and rebuilding a new South Africa.

Within the Church we should not be slow to follow this lead! How much greater should be our optimism that with God's grace we can overcome even painful division. Lasting discord and separation can never be God's plan for us - rather, as Paul tells the Corinthians as they dealt with the aftermath of rift, 'Satan must not be allowed to get the better of us; we know his wiles all too well.' On whatever side of dividing lines brothers and sisters in Christ find ourselves, our greater task is to fight together against the evils of the world.

This underlines for me my third concern, that we must always bear in mind the demands upon us as servants of God's mission in his world. We are the disciples of the Prince of Peace, called to be his peacemakers wherever there is strife. Sent by the God of all compassion, we are to be messengers of love and mediators of mercy.

The Anglican Communion worldwide has had such a good track record, both in public advocacy and behind the scenes, in helping bring lasting peace with justice in the conflicts of the world. There are so many challenges around us today - in my own continent, in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name but two, as well as farther afield. I fear that if we struggle to deal maturely with our internal differences, we will undermine our standing and ability to act in other areas of conflict. Our calling to bring good news to the poor, in a world where half the population live in poverty, must not be jeopardised. Faith communities are uniquely placed to give a lead, and among them the Anglican Communion must play its part - learning how to handle our own divergences can only be a help within our diverse world.

As the Lambeth Commission meets, my prayer is that the God who promises to make all things new, will lead them into creative solutions that will help heal not just our own pains, but the pains of the broken and hurting world in which we live.

Cape Town
14 June 2004