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Abp of Canterbury: Anglican Communion is in a better place than five years ago

Posted on: February 16, 2018 2:50 PM
Photo Credit: Lambeth Palace

In a wide-ranging interview with the Church Times to mark five years in office, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has said that the Anglican Communion is in “a better place” than it was five years ago. He described the question as “a hostage to fortune”; but said that the improvements in the communion were “building on what was already happening” and he said: “I’m not taking credit for it in any way.”

The interview was conducted by the Church Times’ editor, Paul Handley, in Lambeth Palace, the official residence and offices of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Speaking of the improvements in the Communion, Archbishop Justin said: “We’ve had two good Primates’ Meetings. They were jolly difficult at times, but they were good. And they were very, very moving, and I still look back at moments in each of them — particularly prayer together, the eucharist together — and am bowled over by what I saw and participated in, and just think what a privilege that was to have been there. And a good ACC [Anglican Consultative Council] in Lusaka; and we’ve got plans for a Lambeth Conference.”

In response to questions about disagreements over human sexuality and the Church, Archbishop Justin spoke of the “huge programme” about the C of E House of Bishop’s new episcopal teaching document, which will as it’s called in rather an ungainly fashion (we need something snappy for that). But what that is doing is map out the area of agreement and disagreement.

“It’s not coming to find a conclusion,” he said. “It’s mapping out the area of our agreement and disagreement always around themes of missiology and theological anthropology and general anthropology; and looking at the culture, biblical theology, the philosophical and ethical theology, and the history and patristic theology. Those four great streams.

“Now, the issue of how the Church, after 2000 years, deals with understandings of human sexuality is about as big and complicated an issue as you’re ever going to get. And it’s not one you make a snappy decision on.”

Asked for his response to criticisms that his approach to “disagreeing well” is unbiblical, Archbishop Justin said: “I think when you look through, particularly, Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians, the latter part of Philippians, Ephesians — I mean, you could go on and on — a lot of the underlying theme is how a Church that was extraordinarily diverse, particularly between Greeks and Jews, or Jews and non-Jews, Greeks meaning everyone who wasn’t Jewish, how that Church found its unity in Jesus Christ, although it disagreed on numerous things, most fundamentally about the application of the law.

“And we all know these arguments. Paul, I would not sum up his teaching as ‘disagreeing well’: I think that would be naff and obviously wildly simplistic; but there is this struggle to see how you live in love and unity when you disagree with one another — and that is disagreeing well.

“Now, you can create a straw man and say: ‘It doesn’t matter what we disagree on, as long as we’re nice to each other’ and suggest that I’m saying that. That’s rubbish — of course it matters what we disagree on. These arguments are incredibly important, not only about sexuality, but about numerous other things within the Church.

“But do we live out that disagreement in a way that demonstrates that we are caught up in the love of God and the love of Christ? Or do we live them out in a way that says we’re behaving like a political party having a row?

“That has quite a fundamental impact on the unity that we’re aiming for.”

  • Click here to read the full interview with Archbishop Justin Welby on the Church Times website.