A Preferential Option for the Migrant? Anglican Theology and Global Migration


In 2017, I was invited to deliver the keynote address to the Society for the Study of Anglicanism and reflect on Anglican theology and global migration. The Journal of Anglican Studies has recently published the result. You can read the whole article online. Here’s a snippet.

I have sometimes asked my students if, in looking at the Bible, it can be said that God has a preferential option for the migrant. There are many ways in which I think that is true: God has a particular concern for those without a place. But it is also true that displacement is not the end of the story. In the tension between place and displacement, guest and host, journey and destination, we may find, as Bernard Mizeki once did, a new Christian identity and a deeper faithfulness to God.

As the snippet makes clear, I draw on the story of Anglican missionary and martyr Bernard Mizeki to try to frame some places I think Anglican theology can usefully pursue in thinking about how we respond to the present era of global migration.

Happy for your thoughts!

Renewing the Church: Bible, Eucharist, Prayer, and Leadership

Every week I write a note to the community at Montreal Diocesan Theological College. This week’s is posted here:During my recent leave, I read through a new report from Renewal Works, an organization in the American Episcopal Church that works for congregational renewal and church growth. The report is based on a survey they conducted of over 12,000 Episcopalians in nearly 200 churches. I commend the entire report (17 pages) to your attention. But I particularly want to draw your attention to what the survey revealed to be “key catalysts for spiritual growth” (pp. 7-8). Based on the survey, the report concludes that these four “catalysts” bring transformation and spiritual growth to congregations:

  • Engagement with scripture
  • The transforming power of the Eucharist
  • A deeper prayer life
  • The heart of leader

On first glance, there is nothing surprising about this list. These four catalysts remind us that being Christian is about engaging not just our mind but also our hearts, souls, and bodies as well. Each leads us deeper into engagement with God made known in Christ—in word, in sacrament, and in prayer. The list points to the importance of the kind of work we do in the college, forming people who see themselves as leaders of Christian communities. In one way or another, each of these items is a hallmark of our Anglican tradition.

A favourite picture of mine from a trip to the Diocese of Akot in South Sudan

You might, therefore, find yourself asking: if the key catalysts for spiritual growth are hallmarks of the Anglican tradition, how come Anglican churches aren’t universally thriving? But as I look at the list more closely, I find myself asking how many of these catalysts are actually present in our churches. To take one example: it’s not clear to me that all of our churches have regular and readily-accessible Bible study groups and strongly encourage their members to participate in one. To take another: it’s not clear that all our churches create varied and regular opportunities to explore prayer in its many forms outside of the Sunday morning liturgy, or teach their parishioners how to pray.

This report is one contribution to the vigorous and welcome debate about the future of the church and of Christianity in an increasingly secular west. One message I take from this research is that part of the key to church renewal lies in returning to the habits and practices that have long been foundational to our Anglican tradition.

Praying, Fasting, and Remembering in South Sudan

In 2010, I first went to Bishop Gwynne College, an Anglican theological college in Juba, South Sudan. Among the many students I met was Simon Wal Geng, a bright, funny, and hard-working student. Unusually for a member of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan, Simon was a Nuer and part of a small minority at the college. Nonetheless, he made many friends. I remember the way he engaged in the classroom and in conversation, whether that was when we talked about the ways in which our churches were different or when he was learning about agriculture in the college’s model garden. I remember how he liked to joke and to laugh but also was serious about his studies and knew the opportunity that had been afforded him by being able to study at Bishop Gwynne. I later learned that the college administrators had taken a chance on him in letting him enroll on the introductory foundation year. His past academic performance  was not terribly stellar. Through his enthusiasm and his commitment, he succeeded and eventually transferred into the diploma program from which he in time graduated.

Simon on the front right, in a classroom discussion

Last July, I learned that Simon had been shot and killed in the violence of South Sudan’s ongoing civil war. He had returned to his home diocese of Akobo and was arranging local meetings for peace (something that grassroots church leaders in South Sudan have a lot of experience with) and it was then that the fatal shooting occurred. As with many deaths during this civil war, the details are sketchy but the outcome is not. Simon’s death is but one of many senseless deaths and one that makes peace that much harder to achieve.

Pope Francis has designated this Friday, February 23, as a special day of prayer and fasting for the people of South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Many Anglican leaders have joined this call as well. When I think about the scale of violence in these countries and in the world, it is hard not to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. When I think about the senselessness of a death like Simon’s, I grieve at the potential futures that are lost because of it. Prayer and fasting, in lament, from a place of pain and grief, are a wholly appropriate response.

But as a Christian I also know that it is in death that God in Christ works God’s great power to save. So I pray as well that Simon’s death and the deaths of so many tens of thousands of others become places in which the people of South Sudan and the DRC may see God’s reconciling grace working in new ways.

The bishop in the refugee camp

Reuters and AfricaNews have a short profile of Emmanuel Murye, Anglican bishop of Kajo Kaji in South Sudan.


As a result of violence in South Sudan, most of Bishop Murye’s diocese has been displaced to refugee camps in northern Uganda. Rather than stay behind in Kajo Kaji, Bishop Murye has chosen to go live in the refugee camps and minister to his people there.

This is not a new story. The Anglican Communion News Service has reported on the Diocese of Kajo Kaji over the last year, including this lengthy report, and the diocese’s own website has much helpful information. But it is always helpful when secular media report on religious stories. What is particularly devastating about this story is that prior to the current outbreak of violence, the Diocese of Kajo Kaji was one of the most successful dioceses in South Sudan. The previous bishop, Anthony Poggo (now Anglican Communion adviser to Justin Welby), built a thriving diocese with a strong Bible college and many other important institutions. One can only wonder what has happened to those in the last year.

Stories like this are an important counterpoint to many of the stories of migration and displacement that are in the news today. We often tend to think of refugees as helpless and lacking in agency, biding their time until those of us with agency and resources decide to help. What this story reminds us of, though, is that refugees and migrants are often actively working to shape their own lives. They don’t lose their agency. Rather, they seek to exercise it in different ways. Our job is to ask, “How can we assist you?”

As I watched this video, I also thought of the historical parallels. It turns out that Bishop Murye is not the first refugee bishop from South Sudan.

  • During Sudan’s first civil war in the 1960s, Bishops Elinana Ngalamu (later archbishop) and Yeremia Dotiro were forced to flee their own dioceses and ended up in northern Uganda where they lived and ministered to their people, working closely with dioceses of the Church of Uganda. There, they built a strong church that, when the civil war ended, returned to southern Sudan and made a significant contribution to the country’s recovery.
  • During Sudan’s second civil war in the 1980s and 1990s, Bishop Daniel Zindo  of Yambio followed his people to refugee camps in the Central African Republic. Bishop Seme Solomona, in a quasi-Exodus moment that is much remembered in the South Sudanese church, led his people from Yei to safety in northern Uganda. Bishop Joseph Marona for a time lived among his people in what was then called Zaire and is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Sadly, then, Bishop Murye is not unique. In the same way that the current violence in South Sudan has uncomfortable historical parallels, so too does the response of the church. For the most part, these important stories of Anglican history have gone mostly undocumented and unremarked upon.

Finally, I find that a story like this is, among much else, a helpful reminder of the role that bishops are called to play in the church. Being a bishop is not about having the nice house or car or cathedral but about being a beacon in the midst of one’s people, pointing the way to the kingdom of God in our midst. As Bishop Murye says in the video: “I was called to be leader of people, not a custodian of the soil, of the tree or of the houses, but I have to take care of the people.” In South Sudan, that is what being a bishop is all about.

Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls: An Autumnal Triduum

I write a weekly note to the community of Montreal Diocesan Theological College. This week’s is about our liturgical calendar.

When used in a liturgical context, the word Triduum (from the Latin “three days”) often refers to the holiest period of the church’s year, that beginning on the evening of Maundy Thursday and ending on Easter Sunday. But there is also an autumnal Triduum and we mark it this week: the Feast of All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day, and the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. This week’s Triduum is of a decidedly lower profile but it is still worth taking time to pause and think about what the church calendar is telling us.

All-SaintsAt the centre of this Triduum stands one of my favourite holy days, the Feast of All Saints. The church remembers all those who have gone before us in the faith, both those who are famous and commemorated in our church calendars and also those known perhaps only to ourselves alone. For me, All Saints is an opportunity to remember “the great cloud of witnesses” who have shaped my life and my faith. Like those who have gone before us, we seek to make God’s grace visible in our lives and in our work. We also look ahead to the final consummation when we will stand with all these saints to praise the lamb on the throne. All Saints is preceded by All Hallow’s Eve, now more a secular holiday than a religious one. Historically, some Christians have believed that on this day the separation between heaven and earth is at its thinnest—it is a “liminal” moment at which we come close to glimpsing the life that awaits us.

The Triduum concludes with the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed on November 2. As we learned in our impromptu theological disputation at lunch last Wednesday, opinions about this day vary widely. All Souls, as the day is also known, has a long history in the Christian tradition connected with beliefs in purgatory. To be sure, the 39 Articles of Religion declare purgatory “a fond thing vainly invented” (Art. 22) but the day retains a special resonance. For us, it can be a day when we remember before God all those who have died. We can also pray, in the words of the Book of Alternative Services, that “they may have a place in your eternal kingdom” (p. 127) and that God may “bring them into the place of eternal joy and light.” (p. 210) We have already begun collecting the names of those known to members of this community who have died in the past year so that we can remember them by name in chapel on Thursday morning.

As with so much in the church calendar, this week’s Triduum encourages us to do many things simultaneously. We look inwards and contemplate our own limitations and mortality. We remember how others have worked with their own imperfections to reveal God’s grace to the world. And we look forward to the glorious fulfillment which Christ will bring about. As we approach the end of the church’s year, the readings for the Daily Office in the weeks ahead will begin to highlight these same eschatological themes that are raised by this Fall Triduum.

As a Christian, I find that this Fall Triduum is valuable for the way it reminds me both of my own limitations (there is nothing more limiting than death) and also shows me the possibilities and the hopefulness that are at the centre of the Christian gospel. God has worked in the lives of so many people in the past and by God’s grace is working through us even now.

Preparing for the Primates

Leaders of Anglican churches around the world will be gathering in Canterbury next week. It’s a so-called “primates meeting,” named because each is the chief bishop in his—and they are all men—church. The last of these meetings was held in January 2016. Here are some of the things I’ll want to learn as this meeting unfolds.

Primates in Canterbury, 2016

Follow through from the last meeting: At its last meeting, the primates noted that they “discussed tribalism, ethnicity, nationalism and patronage networks, and the deep evil of corruption. They reflected that these issues become inextricably connected to war and violence, and derive from poverty.” This may be one of the most fundamental issues shaping the future of the church. If you spend even a little time in churches around the Communion, you will quickly learn how church relations are often marked and marred in ways that take them a long way off from the kind of relationships God calls us to. Corruption in elections for bishops and other church offices, bishops who are created for certain ethnic groups, and divisive church politics that are rooted in underlying ethnic differences have devastated churches around the world. Here is one little example of that, but there are many others.

Happily, the last primates meeting also asked the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Josiah Idowu-Fearon, to “commission a study for the next Primates’ meeting” on precisely these subjects. Given the importance of these issues, we can only hope that this report will be made public, that it is the result of extensive consultation, and that it makes concrete recommendations for future action. Separately, the Secretary General has called for a debate about the “moral weight” of resolutions produced by Anglican bodies. Anglican leaders can ensure their decisions have moral weight by grounding them in study and research and ensuring they are followed through from one meeting to the next.

The agenda for the current meeting: we are told that topics on the list include “mission and evangelism; reconciliation and peace-building; climate change and environment; and migration and human trafficking.” These are all worthy and important issues and if the Anglican Communion is to have any moral suasion in the world, it must be able to speak to precisely these issues, clearly, passionately, and with conviction. The agenda for the last primates’ meeting was composed of suggestions from the bishops themselves (as is often the case for Anglican meetings). It will be interesting to see what merits the most time of these topics.

“Relational consequences”: The communique issued after the 2016 meeting was overshadowed by its Addendum A, which set out a series of consequences for the Episcopal Church, which had recently changed its canons on marriage. American Episcopalians were asked to not represent Anglicans on ecumenical or interfaith bodies, not be appointed to an internal Anglican committee, and not participate in decisions related to “doctrine or polity.” At the time, I noted that this met one definition of insanity: trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Others noted that what had once been called “relational consequences” in a proposed Anglican covenant were now being resurrected in a different guise.

The follow-through on Addendum A was, to say the least, confused and confusing. Episcopalians did stand down from ecumenical bodies and many chose not to participate in internal Anglican committees. But these consequences were the subject of a contentious bit of resolution-politiking at the 2016 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Zambia when Archbishop Justin Welby sought to have the ACC ratify the consequences, Episcopalian representatives (rightly) noted that the primates could not decide who could and could not vote at ACC meetings, and various resolutions were put forth, withdrawn, amended, until one was finally passed that essentially said nothing at all but led to a debate about the meaning of the word “receive.” Later, different parties sought to put different interpretations on the same resolution and claim victory. I could expand on this story but it quickly gets tedious.

More significantly—and one might say more ominously—the consequences in Addendum A began to broaden in their applicability. Addendum A is clear that the consequences apply only to the American Episcopal Church, but as time passed it seemed that these consequences were applied to a growing list of Anglican churches. The primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church, for instance, reported that the Archbishop of Canterbury told him he would be forced to step down from his chairmanship of an international Anglican ecumenical dialogue if the Scottish church changed its understanding of marriage. Similar noises were made around the time the Anglican Church of Canada took similar steps on marriage. What’s worrisome about all this is that it is not clear on what authority these decisions are being made: who is making the decision—and by what right—to extend the consequences from the 2016 meeting more broadly than they were first presented? It will be interesting to know what, if anything, primates have to say about how their 2016 Addendum A has been, in Anglican parlance, “received” by the Communion.

Looking to Lambeth: There is often a complex relationship between the so-called Instruments of Communion, especially primates’ meetings, Lambeth conferences, and the Anglican Consultative Council. As preparations begin for the next Lambeth Conference scheduled for 2020, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, primates might do that would influence the shape, content, and direction of that conference. Will they suggest themes, agenda items, or actions that might be central to that conference? Or will they let the planning committee and archbishop of Canterbury take a lead?

No doubt lots will happen during next week’s meeting. These are just a few things that might be interesting to pay attention to. What are you looking for?

Five Marks of Mission: History, Theology, Critique

In recent years, many Anglicans have given new attention to what are known as the Five Marks of Mission. It’s a definition of mission first formulated by the Anglican Consultative Council in the 1980s but not taken into widespread use until the late 2000s when then Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori used them repeatedly, including to structure her budget proposals and one of her books. At one point, the Episcopal Church even produced a Facebook quiz to let you figure out which mark of mission you were. In the Church of England, candidates for ordination are asked to evaluate themselves against these marks. At the 2016 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, there was an unsuccessful attempt to make them a fifth instrument of communion.

In teaching mission in Cambridge in the last few years, it felt obligatory to talk about these marks of mission. As I tried to do this I realized that little had been written about their origin or their theology. So I started doing my own research, which eventually resulted in a new article in The Journal of Anglican Studies, published last week.

You can read the entire article for yourself but here are some key themes:

  • The Five Marks of Mission were heavily influenced by non-western Anglican leaders, particularly African ones. People like David Gitari, a Kenyan bishop, and Benjamin Nwankiti, a Nigerian one, drew on their experience of mission in their own contexts to shape an approach to mission that Anglicans worldwide adopted. Mission thinking is a site of cross-cultural consensus-seeking in the Anglican Communion.
  • Gitari, Nwankiti, and others were heavily influenced by contemporaneous debates among evangelicals like John Stott and others about the nature of mission. Was mission solely about individual evangelism or did it also involve social action? The Anglican Consultative Council reports that gave birth to the Five Marks of Mission sometimes quote verbatim (and not always with citation) from these evangelical reports of the same era. Although it was non-evangelicals like Katharine Jefferts Schori who brought the Five Marks of Mission to wider Anglican attention, they are deeply rooted in the evangelical wing of the Anglican tradition.
  • For a long time, no one called this definition of mission the Five Marks of Mission. In fact, the definition sat on a shelf for at least a decade more or less undisturbed. The need to turn it into a slogan is part of a larger series of Anglican mission slogans, from Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the 1960s to Partners in Mission in the 1970s and 1980s, the Decade of Evangelism in the 1990s, the Millennium Development Goals in the 2000s, and the Five Marks of Mission today. (And if “Five Marks of Mission” is too long, the image above suggests they can be reduced to five words beginning with T.) In studying each of these slogans, it is possible to see how Communion-wide thinking about mission has shifted in the intervening half century.
  • The way in which the Five Marks of Mission are used now—as a check-list approach to mission and as a source of mission strategies—diverges from their original intention, which was as a definition of holistic mission. Lambeth Conferences, Anglican Consultative Councils, and other bodies have produced no shortage of mission reflection over the years, some of it quite good. We should ask ourselves why, of all that material, the Five Marks of Mission rose to such prominence, particularly when their shortcomings are readily apparent (something I wrote about many years ago and expanded in this article).
  • Anglican mission slogans have historically lasted about a decade. New leadership in the American church and in the Church of England is emphasizing other themes—the Jesus Movement, reconciliation, discipleship—and we should not expect the Five Marks of Mission to last much longer. But we can hope the process of cross-cultural consensus-seeking in thinking about mission continues.

As I say, you can read the entire paper I wrote by clicking on this link. Your feedback is welcome.

UPDATE: I’ve fixed the link to the .pdf version of the article so it should be possible for all readers to access now.

The good news of Easter in the midst of the religion of consumption

At several moments in the past week, I have been reminded that Easter is no longer just a holy day for Christians.

  • This week’s edition of Waitrose Weekend, the free newspaper offered by the grocery store chain, lists “100 things to do this Easter.” On the list are such activities as make a robot, time for a spring clean, visit a beer festival, and get involved in the fun of a country fair. Not on the list: anything to do with attending church, marking the resurrection, or meditating on God’s great love for the world.
  • The grocery store Tesco had this new ad:
  • Last week, there was a kerfluffle when the National Trust changed the name of its annual Easter egg hunt to a “National Trust Egg Hunt” (which, incidentally, is one of the 100 things Waitrose thinks you should do over the long weekend). The Archbishop of York weighed in. The prime minister weighed in (rather incongruously from Saudi Arabia). Later in the week, I heard an interview on Radio 4 with an executive from Cadbury’s, the company that supplies the chocolate, who reassured the BBC reporter that “Easter will continue to be an important part of our marketing strategy.”

None of this is particularly surprising. In England, Easter falls in the midst of school holidays and a four-day weekend; families need things to do to fill the time. Ad-men are always looking for a new hook with which to flog their wares.

But the series of events was a reminder of how Christianity exists in a world of multiple faiths. We often talk about Islam or Judaism but rarely do we understand consumption as a faith. Yet that is precisely what it has become. It defines ethical norms (consume more) and sets the boundaries of our thought horizons (non-consumption is simply not an option).

And, as has happened many times in the past when different faiths interact, one is taking over the holy days and holy sites of the other. In the same way that the Christian feast of Christmas came to overwhelm the feast of Saturnalia in ancient Rome and in the same way that Christian missionaries once built churches on sites that had been sacred to existing religions, the religion of consumption (if we can call it that) is taking over Christian holy days. It’s easy to see how this has happened with Christmas. These recent events indicate the way in which it is true of Easter as well.

When that Cadbury’s executive said that “Easter will continue to be part of our marketing strategy,” I think he meant to reassure people who had protested at the exclusion of Easter. But I didn’t find it particularly reassuring. The trouble is that the deep-seated beliefs of the religion of consumption are diametrically opposite to the good news that is proclaimed on Easter day.

In the religion of consumption, you succeed by buying, acquiring, getting, claiming, and otherwise coming to possess things. One’s salvation, you could almost say, depends on what you have. The person who wins the (Easter) egg hunt is the one with the most eggs. Christian theology has a term for this: it’s called works righteousness and it’s the belief that what we do is what makes us right before God. In the religion of consumption, what we purchase and acquire is what makes us right within the framework of that system.

On Easter morning Christians proclaim that we are made right before God not because of anything that we can do but because of what Christ has done. God in Christ came into our midst—and we put him to death. Christ’s response was to rise from the dead and return to the very people who had denied him and say, “Peace be with you.” The good news of the gospel is that our efforts to make ourself right will always come to naught—but Christ’s work always will.

The religion of consumption (or whatever you want to call it) is exercising a greater and greater hold over society. But the vision of the good life that it offers will always be a mirage. By our own work, we will never be able to achieve it. That’s why the good news of Easter morning is so important. It is Christ who promises and delivers life abundant.

My 7-year-old niece has discovered the best way to resist Trump

Another day, another truly outrageous decision from the Trump administration: all citizens from seven countries and all refugees are to be banned from entering the United States. It’s easy to find reasons to be outraged: theological, practical, national.

  • The Bible repeatedly makes it clear that God takes the side of those who are on the move. It is by being migrants and from migrants that we learn new things about God. This shuts down that possibility.
  • Trump explicitly invoked 9/11 and the importance of keeping the country “safe”—but none of the 9/11 hijackers came from countries on the banned list.
  • The Statue of Liberty says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Yet somehow, none of this feels sufficient. It feeds my outrage but it does frustratingly little in the real world. I can’t turn up at JFK airport and protest. I’m not a lawyer and I can’t file a suit to reverse the decision. When confronted with such a great injustice, how are we to respond?

Children walking in the Zaatari Refugee Camp, located near Mafraq, Jordan. Opened in July, 2012, the camp holds upwards of 20,000 refugees from the civil war inside Syria. International Orthodox Christian Charities and other members of the ACT Alliance are active in the camp providing essential items and services.

I’ve been thinking this week about my 7-year-old niece. Sometime last fall, the news about Syrian refugees combined with the rhetoric of the presidential campaign became so uncomfortable and upsetting to her that she decided she wanted to do something. So she told her parents, “Can we have a clothes drive to help refugees?” Her parents did a little research on this and decided that the refugees who had been resettled into their (red) state were well clothed. Shipping clothes to a place like Greece or Turkey was an inefficient use of resources.

So my niece had another idea: “Can we make friends with some refugees?” It turned out that not far away from their house lives a refugee family from Congo. It took a little doing and some awkwardness, but pretty soon my niece and her parents started getting to know this family. They learned about some of the challenges they’re facing: the father’s working hours place a burden on the mother and children; they struggle to stay in touch with family members back home; the children need help in school.

I’m not sure how much of this my niece has processed. From what she tell us, it sounds like she mostly just enjoys having some new friends. Once a week, on the way home from school, she spends time playing with them at their house. It’s a young relationship: who knows how it will develop?

I think my niece is on to something. To live in our political moment is to be bathed in outrage. Fine. There are lots of things to be outraged about. But the best way to challenge the the Trump administration is challenge it in our actions. As my niece shows, those actions don’t have to be heroic or extraordinary. They can be as simply as modestly altering our weekly schedule to incorporate a new activity.

Think about what it means to say, “Can we make friends with refugees?” It means that refugees have value, that they enrich our lives, and that they are welcome in her community. It takes a step further than a clothes drive: it involves her life in theirs and theirs in hers. Simply by existing, the relationship she has with this family challenges Trump’s impoverished moral calculus. There’s no executive order he can sign to ban it.

I think she’s on to something.