The Primate of Southern Africa, Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba, looks ahead to Primates’ 2017 and describes the Anglican Communion as a family where “we don't hide our differences and we are real with one another.”
As we prepare for the forthcoming Primates’ Meeting, I hope we can focus the attention of both the Church and the world on a wider range of the issues that the Communion faces than we have in the past.
When they cover the Communion, the secular media – and even the church media – tend to focus on debates over human sexuality. But there are other issues they should be devoting attention to also, matters of life and death to billions of people across the globe: the glaring economic inequalities both between and within nations; the evil of human trafficking; and climate change, just to name a handful.
My own passion is the environment. In my diocese – Cape Town – we face a major water crisis in coming months, and across the world the rise in temperatures impacts agriculture and people’s livelihoods. I hope that we can look at ways of helping people mitigate the effects of climate change which are biblically-based and can find expression in our theology.
I also hope that as we approach the next Lambeth Conference in 2020, the thread that will run through all our work will be to explore what God has called this family to be. For we are above all a family – God’s family, a global family which lives with all the tensions and difficulties ordinary nuclear families go through, under the guidance of their fathers and mothers.
In a healthy family, we are not manacled together, we don't hide our differences and we are real with one another. As in any family, there will be those who push left, those who pull right, and sometimes everyone is expressing different views at the same time. But family lives best when each member, as St Paul writes, is able to be himself or herself, not being straight-jacketed into conformity.
In a family, you don't choose your brothers and sisters; they are a gift to you from God. Sometimes we threaten to walk out on each other but the beauty of family is that at the end of the day we don’t really want to sever ties. I recall that our daughter some years ago, upset at something in the family, got frustrated and said, “Unbond me, Daddy!” But I told her she couldn’t choose where she was born and to whom.
Family is sometimes messy, yes, but that means we are a real family, alive and vibrant. For that reason, I hope that as we prepare for Lambeth 2020 we will not be overly structural in our thinking. Let’s look at the instruments of Communion: are they still holding us together or not? If they are, why do we have these tensions? If not, what can be done? Do the instruments have the elasticity needed to keep the Communion together, or is it going to snap? If it’s about to snap, how do we relax the tensions so that we can enjoy the fun, the love, the excitement of being family?
As with any family, we cohere best as family when we commit to walking together in God. So let’s all commit to working out how we live out the messiness of the Incarnation together. God has a purpose for us and he keeps on inviting us again and again to try to emulate his family through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.