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?

One bishop without a home, and one bishop with two

In January, there was an odd story from the Episcopal Church of South Sudan and Sudan: Precious Omuku, an Anglican priest from Nigeria who currently works in Lambeth Palace for Archbishop Justin Welby, was made a bishop in ECSSS.abpandbps

He’s not a diocesan bishop, but has rather a roving, ambassadorial role.

According to the Revd. Dr. Joseph Bilal, a board member of the Justice, Peace and Reconciliation of the Province of ECSS& S, Bishop Omuku will continue to work in his base at the Lambeth Palace as special adviser of Archbishop of Canterbury on Anglican Communion Affairs. “He will not necessarily be move out from his base at Lambeth Palace, but he will continue with his duties as adviser of the archbishop of Canterbury on Anglican Communion affairs. He will be keenly involved on issues of sustainable development, justice, peace and reconciliation in South Sudan and Sudan,” Dr. Bilal explained.

What’s odd about this? It’s not odd that a person ordained in one country became a bishop in another country. (The bishop of Waikato in New Zealand was ordained in the Church of England. Desmond Tutu was once the bishop of Lesotho.) It’s not odd that a bishop is doing a non-diocesan role. (The bishop of Algoma is about to become the principal of a theological college. There is a “bishop at Lambeth.“)

The oddity has something to do with place.

For Anglicans, geography shapes the church. The Church of England, for instance, divides the entire country into parishes, groups parishes into deaneries, deaneries into archdeaconries, archdeaconries into dioceses, and dioceses into provinces. The bishop is the head of a diocese and an archbishop is the head of a province. Other Anglican churches do things in various different ways but all still maintain in one way or another that a bishop is linked to a particular place, called a see. You can give up that see later on and still remain a bishop, but to become a bishop you need to be linked to a place.

So it’s odd, then, that the church in the Sudans should consecrate someone to be a bishop without a place but rather with a role.

I probably would have let this oddity pass me by except I then read another odd story about bishops and place recently: the suffragan bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, Susan Goff, has now become an assistant bishop in the Diocese of Liverpool. The oddity here also has to do with place: a bishop is to be linked to a place, as Bishop Goff, already is, but it is to be one place. Now Bishop Goff is a bishop connected to two places. I have no doubt that the link between Liverpool and Virginia is strong and important to both dioceses. I want to take nothing away from that relationship. But in ecclesiological terms, this particular move doesn’t make much sense. (And, indeed, Bishop Goff had to post a video clarifying that she’ll only be in Liverpool up to two weeks a year.) To ask one particular question: who is Bishop Goff’s metropolitical authority? Is it the Archbishop of York (through the bishop of Liverpool), as it is for other bishops in the northern province of the C of E? Or is it the rather diffuse metropolitical authority of the Episcopal Church (through the bishop of Virginia), as it is for other Episcopal bishops?

The church is full of oddities, ecclesiological and otherwise, and I’m usually content to let them go unremarked upon. But these particular oddities reveal some deeper confusion in our Anglican thinking about bishops. There are many voices (with which I heartily agree) that tell us about the importance of all orders of ministry, about the need for priests and lay people to take an active role in governance and decision-making, and so forth. In the Anglican tradition, bishops are not the sole locus of authority. Readers of this blog and my books will know how frequently I have nattered on about the importance of involving more voices in determining the direction of the church, rather than just those that wear purple shirts.

Yet at the same time we have this fixation on bishops: who they are, what they do, what they say. We develop fancy ways of referring to them (+ or ++, which is an oddity for another time). We struggle to call them by their first names. We surround their visits with a kind of aura. The result of all this is that we are developing this unstated assumption that the only things that matter in the church are what bishops say. There’s no reason that ECSSS could not have appointed a priest or lay person as its roving ambassador. If the Diocese of Liverpool wanted to cement its ties with Virginia, the bishop could have made a priest or lay person from Virginia a canon in his cathedral. But in each case, it was decided the role needed to be filled by a bishop—a response to and a furthering of this over-emphasis on episcopal ministry. And that emphasis has real world impacts, not least the proliferation of bishops and dioceses in a church like ECSSS so that ever-smaller regions of the country can feel like they have an adequate voice at the table.

If you’ve read this far, then you’re probably as far into the weeds of Anglican ecclesiology as I am. These situations are not the most pressing issue facing the church or the world. But they are odd. And in their oddity, they reveal a rather worrisome trend in the life of our churches.

3 things you might have missed at #ACCLusaka

The 16th meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council comes to a close in Lusaka, Zambia today. Many worthy topics have been discussed and there has been good coverage from a handful of Episcopal/Anglican news organizations. But it’s easy to let meetings like this slide by. I wasn’t there but here are a few things I noticed from afar that are worth highlighting.

You might have missed that the meeting happened at all. In stark contrast to the gathering in January of senior Anglican bishops, the ACC meeting has received almost no coverage in secular global press. It’s probably a safe bet that you won’t hear a report on the ACC on NPR or see it on the front page of the Guardian, as you could after the January meeting. No news editor will ever run the article, “Anglicans meet, read Bible, celebrate Eucharist, and discuss climate change, discipleship, and transitivity in Anglican-Lutheran agreements.” Plus, Lusaka is a lot harder for international media to get to than Canterbury.

This is a recurring problem in the Anglican Communion: our perceptions are formed by media coverage that is decidedly selective. Yet meetings such as the one in Lusaka have as a great a claim to represent the mind of the Communion as anything else does.

You might have missed the discussion of finances. In the past, there has been a curious divide in discussions about how the Anglican Communion Office is funded. On the one hand, conservative Anglicans claim it is funded by the Episcopal Church to spread its liberal influence around the world. But some Episcopalians say their church should not give any money so long as the Anglican Communion is unresolved on questions related to sexuality. This issue occasionally crops up at Episcopal General Conventions with proposals to cut back on the amount given to the ACO. Then there was the curious announcement a year or two back (with great fanfare) that the Episcopal church would give more—but still less than was being asked (there was less fanfare for that).

But in the middle of this, it’s never quite been clear just what the ACO is asking for from provinces. This year’s ACC had an open conversation about precisely this subject. It raised some good questions about reasonable expectations for contributions from churches. Above all, it raised the issue directly. That’s a good thing.

(Amidst all these debates in recent years, the staff of the ACO have continued to do important and innovative work that goes largely unnoticed by the rest of the Communion. But that’s a post for another day.)

You might have missed the steps taken on an Anglican archive. In a passing reference, we read of how the Standing Committee (meeting before the actual ACC meeting) “adopted objectives for the management of the Anglican Communion Office Archives.” Why does this matter? In the Anglican Communion, we lack a good historical narrative. Events, actions, and reports from even just a few years ago are forgotten, even as we talk through the same set of issues. Having consulted these archives myself in the past, I can attest that they are a valuable resource for the Communion if they could be made more widely available.

To take one example: there was considerable debate in the run-up to this ACC meeting whether the American church should even be present after actions taken in January at the Primates meeting. The debate turned on interpreting a sentence or two in the statement from that meeting. But few people in the debate looked to past precedent. In 2005, at a similar Primates meeting, the Primates requested that American (and Canadian) representatives withdraw from a forthcoming ACC—and they did. In 2016, it seems that if the Primates had wanted the Americans to stay away from the ACC in particular, they would have directly said so as they have in the past. History can help give some context and specificity to our conversations.

And another thing you might have missed: the guy who is taking a selfie during the group shot at the top of this post. Can you find him?

The Tengatenga-ing of Josiah Idowu-Fearon

ImageGenIn the last number of years, I’ve spent a significant amount of time traveling in the world church meeting, talking, and praying with Anglicans from a wide variety of backgrounds. Part of the impetus for this travel was to help other Anglicans understand how the American Episcopal church in which I was raised had reached decisions that seemed to them nonsensical, controversial, and unBiblical.

If there was one theme I kept returning to in so many of my conversations it was this: there is more to one’s Christian faith than one’s position on sex and sexuality. It may sound surprising that this has to be said. But for some African Anglicans I encountered, the only things they knew about the American Episcopal church was that it had a bishop (later two) who was openly gay and was making decisions that would allow weddings between two people of the same sex to take place in church. This information—and only this information—had been used by more than a few African Anglican leaders to loudly condemn the American church.

I understood that part of my role in these conversations was to show that, in fact, there was a lot more going on in the Episcopal Church than these decisions about sexuality (important as they may be) and that these decisions about sexuality came from a full and whole understanding of the Christian Gospel. My conversation partners didn’t always agree with what I said but I was usually pretty confident that we parted ways agreeing that there was more to the Christian faith than one’s beliefs on sexuality.

But now I wonder if I made a mistake.

It has been striking how in recent years there is an increasing willingness among all parties in the church to evaluate other Christians entirely on their views about a handful of topics related to sexuality. Two years ago, the fine and able Malawian bishop, James Tengatenga, was appointed to a position at Dartmouth University. Within days, attention was drawn to comments he had made regarding sexuality, offense was taken, and demands were immediately made that the appointment be rescinded. As later conversation would reveal, the comments were made in a particular context. Divorced from that context, they made little sense. But it was too late. Tengatenga lost the position. The only qualification that mattered was his views on sexuality. When they—apparently—failed to measure up, his history of accomplishments became meaningless.

This week, it happened again. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, bishop of Kaduna in Nigeria, was appointed Secretary General of the Anglican Communion. I have never met Bishop Josiah but when I traveled in Nigeria a few years back, I heard much of him. I heard that he is a man of deep accomplishment who has endured significant setbacks and opprobrium within his church because he has consistently argued against divisive steps taken by leaders of the Nigerian church. I also knew his diocese has a long-standing relationship with a congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

Almost immediately, however, the Tengatenga-ing of Bishop Josiah got underway. Some comments of Idowu-Fearon’s about sexuality were found on a Nigerian news site. All of a sudden, the only thing that mattered about Idowu-Fearon was what he had said on one occasion. The loudest voices making these arguments appear to be those who had never met Bishop Josiah. Those who had met him were making significantly more nuanced and positive comments but were quickly drowned out.

There seemed to be little effort to understand the context of the remarks, a lesson I had hoped we had learned in the wake of Bishop Tengatenga’s situation. (The context of talk about sexuality in Nigeria is complex and maybe I’ll write a separate post about that when we’re not in the middle of the holiest days of the Christian year.) Nor was there any effort to think about how else Bishop Josiah has walked the Christian way in his life and how that might influence his performance as Secretary General.

Not only is it wrong to criminalize homosexuality (though we should understand the impetus for some of this), the church should be a place that welcomes all people regardless of sexual orientation into the transforming love of God. These are precisely the arguments I have made in these many conversations with Anglicans around the world.

Yet I also think that the depth of God’s love for the world cannot be summarized simply by talking about sex all day long. It is right that we should inquire about Bishop Josiah’s position on contentious issues before the Communion. (A similar inquiry took place when the previous Secretary General was appointed ten years ago, leading to upset among some Nigerian and other African Anglicans. But that was before Twitter was invented.) But it is also right that being in the church means we are called to encounter the whole person whom God has created and ask how we are to relate to them. In the end, we may conclude that the person is not fit for the role in question. But we would at least have a full sense of someone.

I’ve written in the past that the mission of the church can be understood, in part, to be helping the world deal with complexity. But in order to do that, we need to react to situations less along tribal lines and more along the lines of the baptismal relationships which undergird our life together. If we’re serious about reconciliation, it would be a useful place to begin.

UPDATE: Over the weekend, there was some more information released. Bishop Idowu-Fearon released a statement clarifying his views and James Tengatenga, in his capacity as chair of the Anglican Consultative Council, released a statement explaining some of the background to the appointment.

96 days of travel, 14 trips, and 11 days in airplanes

The Archbishop of Canterbury today addressed General Synod, reporting on his travels in the last 18 months to visit with every primate (senior bishop) of the Anglican Communion.

It is a gooarticle-2230787-15EFE482000005DC-637_306x423d address and he highlights several central issues to the future of the Communion: the opportunity and threat of instantaneous communication, the suffering of the church, the important day-to-day work of the church, and, simply, that Anglican churches around the world are flourishing. It is impossible to contest any of these points.

Readers of my book Backpacking through the Anglican Communion will not be surprised that I particularly liked this section:

The future of the Communion requires sacrifice.  The biggest sacrifice is that we cannot only work with those we like, and hang out with those whose views are also ours.  Groups of like-minded individuals meeting to support and encourage each other may be necessary, indeed often are very necessary, but they are never sufficient.  Sufficiency is in loving those with whom we disagree.  What may be necessary in the way of party politics, is not sufficient in what might be called the polity of the Church.

Talking with people we disagree is an important spiritual discipline—Jesus did it all the time—and like all such disciplines it self-evidently involves sacrifice.

But there were two areas of the address where I wanted to hear more.

The first is the archbishop’s continued emphasis on episcopal—and particularly archiepiscopal—leadership. This is not surprising, given that he himself is an archbishop, that he is reporting on visits with other archbishops, and that the structures of governance in the Anglican Communion, such as they are, are dominated by bishops.

Given the last decade(s) of life in the Anglican Communion, might it not be time to ask how we might credibly lift up the voices of other Anglicans in conversations about our future together? The archbishop makes no mention of the flourishing work of many of the Anglican Communion’s networks or of the serious work done in diocese-to-diocese relationships and the Continuing Indaba program. Nor does he mention a recent call by some bishops and primates for another Anglican Congress, an event expressly designed to move beyond simply hearing bishops’ voices. It is precisely in these areas that we see the kind of flourishing and sacrifice that the archbishop rightly highlights.

Again, none of this is a surprise, given his position and his interlocutors. But surely there is a more exciting way to frame a future agenda than in terms of a potential Primates’ Meeting and a Lambeth Conference, two meetings which will be dominated by men and (of course) bishops.

The second concern is related to the first. In addition to highlighting the flourishing of the church, he repeatedly discusses the divisions in the church. I want to be very clear that I understand that there are divisions within the church, not only over sexuality but (as the archbishop rightly notes) over a host of other issues as well. I have experienced these divisions in many, personal ways, as have many Anglicans around the world.

But I also think we need to be clear that there is a great spirit in the Communion of relatedness and connection in spite of (and often because of) these apparent divisions. This is not often a message we hear from our purple-clad leadership but it is my experience—and I know that I am also not alone in this—that when we move past outspoken bishops, we find not agreement on divisive issues but a real effort at reconciliation. Part of the reason I wrote Backpacking was to highlight these very voices, those that don’t agree with me on every last issue but with whom I nonetheless found deep relationship based on our common baptism and commitment to the good news of Jesus Christ.

I think Justin Welby has lots of good things to say about the Anglican Communion. I think he places great value on this aspect of his role. But his position—as all positions do—places confines and constraints on him. I hope he can continue to see beyond them and lead us all into seeing beyond our own shortcomings.

Lambeth Conference? How about a Lambeth Congress instead?

Six primates of the Anglican Communion and a handful of other bishops recently met in New York City for several days and, at the end of their gathering, expressed their “fervent and urgent hope that another Anglican Congress might be held in the next two years.” (The full statement is here.)XIII-1_1

To which I say: hooray! I have been banging on for the last several years about the significance of the 1963 Anglican Congress and how we ignore it at our peril. That meeting, which drew together lay, clerical, and episcopal representatives from across the Anglican Communion produced a document known as Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ, which, I have argued, is an important—but neglected—resource for Anglicans of our time. (These are arguments I’ve made at length in the Anglican Theological Review, the Church Times, and The Living Church.)

Actually, I have more than just “hooray” to say.

First, it’s worth noting that what these bishops are suggesting has been suggested before. In the run-up to the 2008 Lambeth Conference (of bishops), there was an effort to hold a parallel Anglican Congress in Cape Town. But, when it became apparent there wasn’t enough money to fund two major conferences, the Congress was abandoned and Lambeth went forward. (A telling sign, not incidentally, of whose voices are most valued in the Communion.)

Second, this suggestion comes at the same time as some (very spurious) speculation about the next Lambeth Conference. To call for an Anglican Congress in this context helpfully shifts the focus away from episcopal naval-gazing (which Anglicans are so good at) and broadens the conversation to include many more voices.

Third, as the conversation about the next Lambeth indicates, there’s some rather great dissatisfaction with the four “Instruments of Communion” in the Anglican Communion. The Primates have not gathered in over three years. The next Lambeth is open to question. The Anglican Consultative Council meets to apparently little notice. And it is now seriously suggested that one need not be in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury to be Anglican. The call for a Congress essentially recognizes this dissatisfaction and proposes a new way forward. Rather than concentrating our energy, time, and money on holding these meetings to apparently little end, perhaps there’s an alternative.

Fourth, the bishops say a Congress should be held in the next two years. That’s an awfully ambitious timeline. But it does seem that there is a vacant window in 2018 (the putative date of a next Lambeth Conference) that could be usefully taken advantage of.

So let’s put some flesh on the proposal. Instead of a Lambeth Conference, let’s have a Lambeth Congress, and instead of having it in London or Canterbury, let’s have it in Accra, Cape Town, or Dar es Salaam.

Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the Toronto Congress, I wrote this reflection:

In its fractures in the early 21st century, the Anglican Communion stands as a mirror-image of the divisions that stalk a world ever more divided by class, race, region, background, and so much else. “Frontiers” abound, in parishes, dioceses, and the worldwide Church. The body of Christ seems not a reality, but an ideal hardly to be grasped.

Fifty years on from MRI, it is worth returning to the manifesto and the period that produced it. In its emphasis on the patient work of building genuine relationships across lines of difference, the importance of genuinely coming to know one another in the context in which each lives, and above all in its recognition that God is always calling us to something greater than ourselves, MRI has much to teach us.

It is risky to reach out to those who are different from us, and daring to ask what we might learn from someone from a different background. But it is precisely these things that are at the heart of what it means to be God’s people in the world – a fact that is no less true today than it was in August 1963.

UPDATE: I just saw this comment posted on the Episcopal News Service version of this story. It says much about Toronto’s important—but forgotten—legacy.


Desmond Tutu, my “friend”

BYBAjdtxThere’s been a Facebook account in the name of Desmond Tutu that has recently been appearing in a lot of people’s “People You May Know” section, including my own.

I have to say, I found it suspicious. Tutu has ostensibly retired from public ministry but he still wants to be on Facebook? I also noted that the current archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, who is genuinely active on Facebook, was not friends with this Tutu, though they certainly are in real life.

But the Tutu account seemed active. It said some things that seemed at least broadly Tutu-esque. So I sent a message to Desmond Tutu, asking, with all respect, if there was anything he could do to prove it was a genuine account. (I was going to be very embarrassed if it actually was him and I had just asked a Nobel Peace Prize winner if he was a fraud.) I came back to Facebook a few hours later and received an error message that the account could not be found.

Presuming this is a fake account, it is not the only one. Several other Anglican bishops have been afflicted by this problem, says the Anglican Communion News Service. It is a niche market for scammers, no doubt. Anglican bishops by and large don’t rise to the level of needing verified accounts on Facebook (or Twitter or anywhere else) but generally have relationships with lots of supportive people who may be inclined to send them money.

I hope accounts like these don’t put people off financial support of the church around the world. But the situation is a helpful reminder for me that even though much of our life is lived online these days, nothing replaces the real-life, inter-personal interactions which sustain our common life as the body of Christ. I don’t know Desmond Tutu in real life but I do know many other African Anglican bishops. I am friends with some of them on Facebook, but only after meeting them and getting to know them in real life. Facebook is a helpful tool but it’s time to be wary when it begins to replace human interaction, rather than supplement it.

And if you need your online Desmond Tutu fix, you can still like him as a public figure on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Remembering the Melanesian Brotherhood on D-Day

inikopuria-473It was only this morning that I realized that the anniversary of D-Day coincides with the church’s commemoration of Ini Kopuria, founder of the Melanesian Brotherhood. It is, I think, an apt coincidence. The Melanesian Brotherhood is a religious order in the South Pacific—you can read more on Wikipedia—that entered Anglican consciousness perhaps most forcefully in 2003 when seven of their members were killed in violence related to civil turmoil in the Solomon Islands. At the time, the attention of many Anglican leaders was focused on the consecration of a new bishop in New Hampshire but the witness of these men was so powerful it demanded attention. I have just finished reading Richard Carter’s In Search of the Lost, a moving account of the months before and after the martyrdom of these seven Brothers. By 2003, the turmoil in the Solomon Islands had moderated and the Brothers had been asked to take the lead on a disarmament campaign. At a time when the police were suspect and international forces were only just establishing themselves, it was only the Brothers who could make a credible claim that weapons needed to be collected and destroyed if peace was to be reestablished. Their trustworthiness was rooted in the life they lived as a community—prayerful, open, honest, mutual. By living the values of the Gospel, they held up a vision of a different kind of community. People saw that and responded. The Gospel is powerful stuff. The death of the seven Brothers came about when one went to meet with a rebel leader and work towards peace. When he didn’t come back, six others went to look for them. For several agonizing months, it was unclear what had come of them. Finally, it was confirmed that they had been tortured and killed.SI_Brotherhood_Funeral (As a taste of the book, you can listen to this interview that Richard Carter gave last year to Vatican Radio on the 10th anniversary of the martyrdoms.) Ini Kopuria, whom the church commemorates today, died long before the 2003 martyrdoms. But the vision of a community that in its way of living challenges the ethos of the world around it remains strong. I have incredible admiration and respect for all who participated in D-Day and for those who fought in the World War II. But I also want Christians to be able, at the same time, to hold up a vision of a different kind of community that is not based on violence, submission, and force. Christians do this best when they are living those values in their own lives. One of the stated priorities of Justin Welby is a revival of the religious life in the church. It is not only in religious orders that Christians are able to show forth this alternate religious community, but given their nature it is a particular charism of such orders. We pray for the success of the archbishop’s efforts so that we can all be enriched by the example of orders like the Melanesian Brothers. Then, together, as the body of Christ, we pray that we may model the other world that is brought about in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.melanesianbrotherschapel

From talking about mass graves to silence about mass graves

Not many weeks ago, my various social media feeds were full of consternation and outrage about comments from the archbishop of Canterbury about mass graves and their putative connection to same-sex marriage. Truly, the ventilation of outrage was astonishing—and perhaps the debate about our interconnectedness was useful.

At the time, I had a glimmer of hope that the archbishop had managed to draw attention (however ineptly) to the serious suffering and mass murder that takes place in some parts of the world. Surely, I thought, if the Anglican world can muster this much outrage about mass graves, something must be changing.

My hopes were misplaced.

In the last ten days, the situation in South Sudan, never very good since mid-December, has turned decidedly worse—much, much worse. There are reports of mass graves in Bentiu (the survivors tell a grim story here)and the spread of violence in other places as well. Not only are there reports, there are pictures as well. I’m not going to post them here because I know some young people who read this blog but you can click through to some of them yourself here, herehere, and (extremely graphically) here. Do click through to these and meditate on what crucifixion looks like in the twenty-first century.

And what has been the response from Anglicans around the world who not three weeks ago was so deeply exercised about mass graves?


Here is who is speaking: Christians in South Sudan. In these last weeks, they have been doing all manner of things to speak the truth about what is happening. The archbishop and several other church leaders have launched a very brave reconciliation process. The bishop of Bentiu wrote a lengthy report and appeal for assistance.

The situation in South Sudan can seem difficult and intractable. The rights and wrongs are certainly not as cut and dry as they are about other issues and it’s much harder to figure out at whom to direct our outrage.

But none of this should make us afraid to try. It shouldn’t make us afraid to listen patiently to our sisters and brothers. Christians are people who look at the world—in all its pain and suffering—and tell the truth about what we see. That is what Christians in South Sudan are doing. But their voices would be louder if they were joined by their sisters and brothers from around the world.

It is, of course, the privilege of those of us in the north Atlantic world to casually disregard what happens elsewhere in the world. We did it twenty years ago in Rwanda. But somehow—particularly after the outrage about mass graves just a few weeks ago—I had thought that Anglicans could be different, that Anglicans could muster just a little emotion and passion about what is right now going on.

Perhaps you will tell me that I am comparing apples and oranges, that there’s a difference between talking about mass graves in the abstract and having them in real life. But the contrast between the discourse then and the events now strikes me as so stark and leaves me with these questions:

Is there any way we can turn our outrage not on one another but on this instance of profound suffering and sorrow?

Is there any way we can credibly speak to the world, rather than simply speak (shout) at one another?


And that silence indicts us.

UPDATE: This post generated more than the usual amount of attention on Facebook and elsewhere. So I wrote a follow-up post to expand on this one. Continue reading it here.

A rejected visa application and the future of the Anglican Communion

Two stories in the Church Times in the last two weeks highlight the challenges facing the Anglican Communion.

The first, from the current week’s issue, was reporter Madeleine Davis’ commendable effort to track down South Sudanese bishops and ask them what they thought about the Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent comments on same-sex marriage. She also spoke to some people in the UK who disagreed with what the archbishop had to say. To me, the various voices (all male) quoted in the article seemed to be speaking past one another with no one showing much interest in engaging with the particular context in which the other ministered. Perhaps that wasn’t the point of the article or of the questions they were asked. But it jumped out at me nonetheless.

The second article, from a week earlier, was about a Sudanese priest who was planning to visit the Diocese of Salisbury to raise awareness of the ongoing violence in his home—but was denied a visa. In a sense, this is the farthest thing from news. Sudanese and South Sudanese get denied visas to the UK all the time. I have been in South Sudan when church members—including bishops—are in the process of applying for a visa and I see how nervous and uncertain they get. The UK border machine is seen by some as capricious and unpredictable. It favours those who can speak English well enough to do well in an interview and who have the resources to travel to Nairobi or Kampala and then wait there for a result as you can’t apply for a UK visa in South Sudan.

The one conclusion I return to time and again in my travels in the Anglican Communion is how little Anglicans in different parts of the world truly know about one another. I am convinced that the way to remedy this is the patient building of mutual, honest, incarnate relationships, particularly relationships that move past the level of bishops and truly engage Anglicans at all levels of the church. But the difficulty of getting visas continues to obstruct this holy work.

For me, the juxtaposition of the two stories is a reminder of the significance of immigration policy. The pressure British politicians feel on immigration needs to come not only from screaming tabloid headlines but from faithful Christians who say, “We need to welcome these people to our home. They enrich our life together.”