The Lambeth Conference 2008: Some Reflections
by Bishop Mouneer Anis
Bishop of Egypt, North Africa and the Horn of Africa
God is faithful through whom you were called into the fellowship
of His Son Jesus Christ Our Lord 1 Cor. 1,9
I am glad I came to this conference. It has given me a great opportunity to learn, listen to others, debate and share my views openly. It has been a great joy to meet many friends and to make new friends who love the Lord and are committed to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ by word and deed.
I have heard many inspiring stories from colleagues who put their lives at risk and suffer in order to stay faithful to God and His Church. I cannot describe the encouragement we received from, and the fellowship with, our ecumenical partners, especially the Coptic Orthodox. The conference has provided the Global South Bishops as well as other orthodox bishops from the UK, NZ, USA, Canada and Australia to meet and support each other. It has been a blessing to us all.
Archbishop Rowan and Jane Williams
warmly welcomed every one of us and worked very hard to encourage us to be united. We are deeply grateful to them and their hard working staff. I am committed to pray and support Archbishop Rowan because I know that he so much wants the present crisis in the Communion to be resolved.
The task is not easy!
While some very positive things are happening at the conference, the unresolved issues are still dividing the Communion. I can only wonder if during the coming two days we will truly be able to do something about these unresolved issues. I have some doubts but I would have loved to go back to my people with good news of progress towards truly resolving our crisis and that we still all continue to uphold the mind of the Church as exprsesed in the Lambeth '98 Resolution 1;10 which reaffirmed the historic teaching of the Church . From my experience of the Bible studies and of the Indaba discussions I see a great wall being put up by revisionists against those orthodox who believe in the authority of Scripture. The revisionists among us push upon us the view that current secular culture and not the Bible should shape our mission and morals. In this we are not divided by mere trivialities, or issues on the periphery of faith but on essentials. I am shocked to say that we are finding it very hard to come together on even the essentials of the faith we once received from the Apostles.
Everywhere we go here, we meet gay & lesbian activists, receive their news letters or read about their many events. Many seem to be supported by North American churches. They are intent to push their agenda on us. No other lobbying groups seem to enjoy similar access, or to be able to have their literature prominently displayed all over the campus and at the entrance to every residence. They are determined that their way is the only right way and that everyone else should follow. They are not at all open to listening to us or the historic church teaching. Yet, is surprising that they push all these sexuality issues so intensively into the conference and then blame us for talking about them too much! In the attitude of some from the North American churches I am reminded of the arrogance of the American administration that made a mess in Iraq because it refused to listen to millions of voices from the wider world.
Through the advocacy of unscriptural practices, I would say they are inviting the church into a new form of slavery: a slavery to modern secular culture and to immoral desires and lusts. Simply because people feel desires to do certain things, or, to live in certain ways, has never before, of itself, meant that the Church should bless them in doing so.
*Please note that these are my own personal views and I am aware that my colleagues in the other dioceses of the province of Jerusalem and the Middle East may have different views.
Some say that same sex unions that are faithful relationships are alright. But I feel we cannot be truly faithful to each other unless we are faithful to God and his purpose made clear in the creation of man and woman for each other. We cannot endorse an inadequate subsitute, that is not open to the transmission of life.
The scientific literature (which as a medical doctor I have taken trouble to review) does not support the conclusion that the experience of same sex desires is in fact fixed or determined by genetics or otherwise "hard wired" into people.
The church must offer a welcome to all and offer every loving support, but this does not mean it must endorse whatever temptations and lifestyles people desire. The church must uphold its moral teaching and call society to account: this is the true nature of its prophetic witness to the world.
I was shocked to hear a lady bishop saying we should not preach the Gospel but work only for social justice. Ultimately, there can never be full social justice without the Gospel. Mankind needs the salvation that only Jesus Christ can provide. The world needs redemption not simply secular improvements! Economic development is good but it cannot replace salvation.
Is there a way ahead?
Healing requires sometimes the taking of unpleasant medicine or surgical intervention. Healing of our wounded Communion requires hard decisions.
I was greatly encouraged by the truthful and realistic assessment made by The Windsor Continuation Group (WCG) about the situation of the Communion. Their recommendation of retrospective moratoria on the blessing of same sex unions, the ordination of active gay and lesbian people and upon interventions across boundaries are indeed the only way forward to mend the torn fabric of the Communion. Their proposal of "A pastoral Forum" if fully implemented, could protect the orthodox within TEC. These recommendations will help to stop further splits and will put an end to interventions. The big question is: will the Episcopal Church in North Armerica (TEC) accept these recommendations? Will TEC recognise the importance of mutual submission?
This is a way ahead that could prevent future crises. It can enhance our interdependence in essentials while also preserving our appropriate administrative autonomy and local identities. Some TEC bishops resist the idea of the covenant as they see it as punitive and limiting of their sense of control. They think that it will restrict them from responding to the needs of their culture which they feel should have priority. But sadly, it must be asked, if they are not willing to abide by the mind of the church why do they say the Communion is important to them? If TEC and Canada do not accept the Covenant recommendations they will leave the wider Communion with the one option that was recommended by the Windsor Report and the Dar es Salam Primates' Meeting. This was for them to withdraw from internationalAnglican Councils and bodies. This will create a safe distance for them to consider their priorities, while also allowing the wider communion to move forward with its shared priorities and mission and to clear away the mess created by the current crisis.
It is my prayer, as we gather here in Canterbury in the historic See of St Augustine, that we will yet unite in mutual submission under God and be thus freed to carry forward the message of salvation in Jesus Christ to the waiting world that is so much in need of it.
Jesus said unto him, I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes unto the Father but my me. John 14, 6
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