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.

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.

The “gay church” label

I have been traveling and so missed out on much of the initial ventilation of outrage in the North Atlantic world in response to Archbishop Justin Welby’s comments linking openness to same-sex relationships in one part of the Anglican Communion with mass graves in other parts.

Not the one Samuel was in, but you get the idea
Not the one Samuel was in, but you get the idea

His comments put me in mind of an encounter I had with a seminary student in South Sudan, who told me during a general conversation about these issues, the personal impact that decisions of the American church had had on him. I tell the story—and several other like it—in my new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion:

“Many other churches in Sudan say we are apostate,” says Samuel. “They say we have broken away from the church and have gone very far away from the Bible and that soon we are going to practice here what you are practicing in America. I have heard other people say, ‘Don’t join ECS—that is the gay church.’” Samuel’s question comes from experience. When he was on the bus ride from his home village to come to school for the beginning of the term, a fellow passenger learned he was a member of ECS and accused him of being part of the “gay church.” Samuel argued back and said he would not allow homosexuality in his church. The argument became so heated the driver of the bus threatened to kick them both out unless they changed the topic. Other students are nodding their heads as Samuel speaks and I can tell this is not an isolated incident. It is hard to know what to say in response. The actions Americans take—in church or otherwise—have consequences on people around the world. (p. 57)

To assert that actions in one part of the world have an impact elsewhere in the world is not exactly a startlingly original observation in this day and age. In this regard, the archbishop is entirely correct.

The key issue is how we, as Christians, respond to such situations. The archbishop, I think, takes the wrong approach (and one he has, anyway, backed away from in recent days). But I am still unpacking. More on that in a coming post.

Well, that was fast… or, how Anglican communiques become cudgels

John+Sentamu+Justin+Welby+Annual+Church+England+PakUd_nqZ32lOn Wednesday, the archbishops of Canterbury and York wrote a letter in which they “recalled the common mind” of the Primates of the Anglican Communion to say that it wasn’t right to support anti-gay legislation in places like Nigeria and Uganda.

It’s hard to argue with the message, but it is interesting how they chose to phrase it—pointing back to a communique from a meeting of the leaders of the Anglican Communion in 2005. In the years immediately after the consecration of Gene Robinson, there were a fair number of these communiques. When I read the letter from the archbishops on Wednesday, I wondered on Twitter how long it would be before someone quoted from another one of those communiques or some other “common mind” Anglican document to make a different argument.

Not long, it turns out.

Yesterday, the archbishop of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali, responded to the Wednesday letter by reaching for the granddaddy of them all, Resolution 1.10 from Lambeth 1998:

We would further like to remind them, as they lead their own church through the “facilitated conversations” recommended by the Pilling Report, that the teaching of the Anglican Communion from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, from Resolution 1.10, still stands. It states that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture,” and the conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”

It was the Episcopal Church USA (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada’s violations of Lambeth 1.10 which caused the Church of Uganda to break communion with those Provinces more than ten years ago. We sincerely hope the Archbishops and governing bodies of the Church of England will step back from the path they have set themselves on so the Church of Uganda will be able to maintain communion with our own Mother Church.

Then today, the archbishop of Kenya responded by quoting Lambeth 1.10 and a different Primates’ communique, this one from 2007. You can read his whole text here.

It’s worthwhile looking back at the history here for just a minute. The 1998 Lambeth Conference was a fraught affair—one bishop publicly tried to exorcise a gay activist—and Resolution 1.10 was one result of that atmosphere. The resolution says a number of things, though the phrase that is most commonly quoted is “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.” (Then again, so is eating a cheeseburger.) Throughout its history, the Anglican Communion has had trouble figuring out what weight to accord to the voice of bishops assembled in Lambeth. So some Anglicans point to 1.10 as the final, definitive answer; others do not.

You might note that Archbishop Ntagali slightly misquotes the resolution. The actual text is “rejecting homosexual practice as” and not “is incompatible.” I point this out because it means that this most-commonly quoted phrase is actually a subordinate clause in a larger sentence. And that larger sentence? I’m so glad you asked:

[This Conference] while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;

The “irrational fear of homosexuals”: does that sound familiar to anyone? Oddly, it is not mentioned in any letter I have yet seen.

We are quickly getting lost in the weeds here. Resolutions and communiques, rather than serving as unifying documents that express a common mind, quickly become cudgels which we start selectively (mis-)quoting to beat our opponents over the head with. Frankly, it’s not very fun.

A couple of conclusions, then:

First, responding by saying, “Yeah, but they did it first” is not very effective.

Second, perhaps it is actually time for Anglicans to think seriously about the weight we accord the voices of our bishops and how we integrate that voice into our life of faith. In this context, it is no surprise that the conversation is between (arch)bishops quoting documents written solely by (arch)bishops.

Third, rather than reaching for the nearest cudgel, maybe in the future we can reach for a slightly more constructive instrument and come back to the verb that is at the centre of Resolution 1.10: listen

We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.

Connection to the outside world

Justin Welby is on a flight to Juba, South Sudan.

(Well not directly. I yearn for the days when you can fly from Heathrow to Juba direct.)

It is easy to underestimate the power of archiepiscopal visits. At least in England, people are used to seeing the archbishop pop up all over the place—preaching at this college, visiting that church, giving an interview to this reporter—that we can get inured to the significance of his presence. Moreover, some people—especially in the media—want action they can report. Think of the headline: “Archbishop brings peace to South Sudan.” But that’s not what the archbishop is going for. In his pre-trip interview with the BBC, he says that the purpose of the trip is, essentially, to be with people.

There is ample precedent for archiepiscopal visitation to what is now South Sudan. George Carey, archbishop in the 1990s, made two visits to Sudan during his tenure. These are vividly remembered by Christians, even today, twenty years later. On one visit, he spent time in Dhiaukuei, a remote community that had become a safe haven for Christians and a centre of learning and evangelism for them. One woman there, remembering his visit, told me that when he came, “We thought, ‘OK, if part of our body from a different part of the world came to visit us, then the message of Jesus Christ which said, “We are all parts of the same body,” is true.’”

Carey’s successor, Rowan Williams, visited South Sudan in 2006. He spent time in Malakal, a town that has been the news recently because it has been one focus of the recent violence. When I was in Malakal in September, people unpromptedly told me about his visit and how everyone—Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike—turned out for his events.

Given all that South Sudan has been through in the last six weeks, I imagine that Archbishop Welby will have a similar welcome—if he allows himself public events—and his visit will have similar significance.

Later in this visit, Archbishop Welby plans to visit the church in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC has its own complex problems of violence and societal fracture. I recently read this from a bishop of the church in the DRC:

The poor infrastructure and lack of communication systems ensure that the church is internally disconnected and lacks sustained contact with the Anglican Communion… [The church] has felt proud to be part of the Anglican Communion but feels unable to fully contribute to the communion or to understand entirely its debates. Many of the problems of poverty, war, hunger, and sickness that are so pressing for the Congolese nation do not appear to be prominent in inter-communion discussions.

(That’s from the chapter by Bishop Titre Ande and Emma Wild-Wood in the new Wiley-Blackwell Companion to the Anglican Communion.)

For many Anglicans, the archbishop of Canterbury is important for what he embodies—connection to and concern from the outside world. This is what many people in conflict zones are yearning for, the assurance that someone, somewhere out there is thinking about them. By simply showing up and listening to the real concerns of real people, the archbishop of Canterbury performs a hugely important ministry.

That’s hard for reporters (and others) to grasp. But the lesson of history is that is hugely significant for the people on the ground. And in the end, that’s probably what matters.

The Congress-ification of the Church, Part II

In February, the Anglican Church in Tanzania elected a new chief bishop (or primate, as Anglicans call them). It was a close election, in which the incumbent was narrowly defeated. Jacob Chimeledya, a diocesan bishop, won.

So far, so good. Different provinces have different rules for primates. Some are elected for a single, fixed term (the United States, Sudan), some are appointed for life (England), and some are allowed to run for a second term when the first ends, like Tanzania.

Unfortunately for Tanzanian Anglicans, a handful of conservative Anglicans got a bee in their bonnet about the election. It turns out the defeated incumbent was a more reliable supporter of their causes. So—briefly—they began to raise holy hell, denouncing the election in just about every form imaginable—despite the fact that none of those raising these charges appears to have been on hand for the election, nor had any special insight into the local dynamics that produced the outcome.

The vitriol became so significant that the Tanzanian provincial secretary was forced to issue an unprecedented statement explaining the election. For me, the key paragraph was this:

The internet can be used to develop relationships, but it can also be used to spread gossip and destabilize the church. None of those writing these false stories sought to confirm them with us. It is very sad that someone who did not attend the election would spoil what was confirmed by all our bishops as a fair and transparent election.

This has not stopped the vitriol, which continues in various corners of the Internet to this day.

The question this raises for me is this: is this what we really want to be as a world church? A global group of people on a perpetual witch hunt, determined to find enemies where none exist, see every situation through the lens of what matters most to us, and create conflict as a means of perpetuating our existence? That may be fine for a cabinet or Supreme Court nominee on Capitol Hill, but surely the church can model something a little different?

(Not incidentally, the faux-controversy over the election shows the mistake of placing so much emphasis on primates’ meetings, as Anglicans have increasingly done in the last decades. Primates are important—but not that important.)

In this context, Justin Welby’s attendance at the enthronement of now-Archbishop Chimeledya seems to me one of the most significant acts of his young archiepiscopacy. His presence said, essentially, “I believe you. I am with you.” In a needlessly controversial situation such as this, the power of that affirmation cannot be underestimated. Wouldn’t it be great if Tanzanian Anglicans heard a little bit more of that from their sisters and brothers around the world, rather than the vitriol and invective to which they have become accustomed?

An odd couple: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori

Pope Francis and Justin Welby hung out at the Vatican today. It’s easy to miss the significance of this. Less than 50 years ago, then pope Paul VI and then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey met in Rome. It was practically a revolution that the meeting should take place. Paul VI couldn’t really recognize Ramsey as a bishop—what with Apostolicae Curae declaring Anglican orders “absolutely null and utterly void”—but he did famously give Ramsey his ring, a de facto acknowledgement of Ramsey’s position.

Really, Paul VI gave him the ring because he had dared Ramsey to wear the most ridiculous piece of headgear he could find.

Today, Welby wore that ring and Francis kept calling Welby “your grace,” a different way of acknowledging Welby’s position. No one is surprised by this anymore. Of course, the pope and the archbishop of Canterbury would get on. It’s just how it goes.

I’m as happy as anyone else that the two of them spent some time together and I hope there is more to come. But it doesn’t seem like enough anymore. Since that Paul-Ramsey meeting, there’s been a major change in Anglicanism—we ordain women on a regular basis, and some women are now bishops. As I’ve argued before, Anglicans should not see women’s ordination as an obstacle to unity, but as a gift to the relationship.

Just waiting for that invitation, Francis

So the pictures of Pope Francis and Justin Welby are great, but here’s the picture I want to see: Pope Francis and Katharine Jefferts Schori praying together, him in his white and her in a purple cassock. It would be as significant a moment as Paul VI giving Ramsey his ring. (I’d settle for any other woman bishop out there, actually. If Francis wanted to stay in the British Isles, he could go with Jana Jeruma Grinberga, whom Welby highlighted at his enthronement.)

You bet! It’s in the mail.

What Paul VI seemed to understand is that sometimes the rules and regulations are a bit outdated. You might not be able to change them, but you can, you know, circumvent them to acknowledge a present reality. I wonder if Pope Francis can see the same thing about women’s ordination.

Obviously, I’m not holding my breath on this one, but this pope has been full of surprises. Maybe he has one more up his sleeve…

Justin Welby pleases no one

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, spoke today in the House of Lords on the legislation that could legalize same-sex marriage in England. It is noteworthy that he even spoke. There was some thought that the bishops in the House of Lords would just abstain, though I think that would have generated as much comment as anything they could and did say. It is the perils of Establishment that the archbishop should be compelled to speak on this issue and at this time.

Given what was known about him when he took office—namely, that he is a self-described “conservative evangelical”—he said some things that were surprising:

It is clearly essential that stable and faithful same sex relationships should, where those involved want it, be recognised and supported with as much dignity and the same legal effect as marriage.

But then he expressed his ultimate opposition to the legislation, for reasons that have much to do with the nature of the particular legislation under consideration.

It is this opposition (creatively reinterpreted by some headline writers) that has seized the initial headlines and has already light up my various social media streams with negative comments. But I imagine that in the not very distant future there will be people from the opposite end of the spectrum who start hitting him for what seem to be positive comments about same-sex relationships.

The end result? I think this is a speech that will please no one. Neither liberals nor conservatives in the church will have to look hard to find reason to be outraged. (Being outraged has lately become a cottage industry in the church, as in our politics.)

As I read the speech, I thought back to Rowan Williams, who similarly managed to please no one during his tenure in Canterbury. Perhaps that’s just the nature of the job and the peculiar nature of episcopal ministry, in which you are not just attempting to advance an agenda (as political leaders are) but serving as a “focus of unity” in the body of Christ, an entity that is like nothing else that exists in the world. But when these exigencies meet the real world of politics, the result is the vitriol that is quickly sprouting around the Internet.

It made me think back to this sermon the archbishop gave some weeks ago.

He concludes by saying:

In the end it is not up to us. We put everything we can into it but in the end it’s God’s call. And that’s very, very good news. So we don’t have to believe in ourselves, in our processes, in our inspiration, let alone in an archbishop of Canterbury.

Amen to that.

“A safe place to do risky things”

I’ve just finished Andrew Atherstone’s brief biography of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. For a book that was produced on such short notice, it is excellent. Atherstone does a terrific job of trawling through Welby’s publicly-available writings to paint a picture of the interesting, intriguing, and complex person now in the see of Canterbury.

Some of the interesting bits of the book have been quoted elsewhere. One bit that stuck with me, though, which I have not seen elsewhere is Welby’s emphasis on risk as a Christian virtue. When he was at Liverpool Cathedral, he encouraged members of the congregation with the phrase, “This Cathedral should be a safe place to do risky things.” It is a view, Atherstone argues, that has informed Welby’s ministry.

So I’ve been thinking about risk and the church lately. And to that end, I am off on a visit to the church in South Sudan that begins this evening. I’ll be bringing my copy of Atherstone’s biography to donate to the library at Bishop Gwynne College so students there can also reflect on our new archbishop. Stay tuned for posts from South Sudan (and in the meantime, read about my past visits there).

Is the ground shifting under ACNA?

Change is afoot in the Anglican world—and already its effects are beginning to be felt.

There’s a new archbishop of Canterbury, of course, who will be formally seated in his new cathedral on Thursday. Rowan Williams was a convenient whipping boy for breakaway American Anglicans. (This is the group that has left the Episcopal Church and affiliated with various overseas provinces. Many are now grouped under the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA].) They bemoaned his alleged liberalism and chastised him for not going after “apostate” liberals more forcefully and chucking them out of the Communion.

But Justin Welby is not so easy to pigeonhole. For one thing, he’s no liberal. His public statements on sexuality-related issues, for instance, have been entirely in keeping with what ACNA Anglicans say they’ve wanted to hear from Lambeth. He comes from the centre of contemporary Anglican evangelicalism, Holy Trinity Brompton.

Yet already he’s causing ACNA Anglicans to have fits. Welby’s early statements have been all about reconciliation, a profoundly Biblical concept—and ACNA Anglicans have busily set about redefining reconciliation and downplaying its significance. A less Biblical move I cannot think of. Welby gave a major stage to the deeply holy relationship between Tory Baucum and Shannon Johnston—and GAFCON Anglicans apparently put tremendous pressure on Baucum that he had to contort his own rhetoric to end the relationship. No matter the surface justifications, this is not the move of a strong organization.

But the potentially more significant change is taking place in Rome. Anglicans don’t always like to admit it but Rome has always had huge influence on Anglicanism—things we adopt usually start there first. The stature of the pope is such that we can’t avoid the effects of what he does. ACNA Anglicans relied on Pope Benedict as a handy backstop. In his opposition to same-sex marriage, say, and his theological acumen, these Anglicans could—and did—say, “See, there’s the kind of leader we need to have—bold and orthodox.” They trumpeted their meetings with him.

Francis has only been pope for a few days but already things seem different. He talks about the poor, for one thing—a lot. There’s a hint that he was once open to blessing same sex relationships. Most significantly—and the thing I have found most appealing about him—he takes himself with a kind of holy lightness, one thing that has been in short supply in the church (of any communion) in recent years. He looks like he’s having fun.

It is way too early to say anything with any certainty but two of the verities that ACNA Anglicans have relied on in recent years—a “weak”, “liberal” leader at Lambeth and a backstop in Rome—are quickly changing. These breakaway Anglican groups have lots of money and lots of time to come up with new ways to make their case and I have no doubt they will. But the fact that they are scrambling is significant.

I don’t wish ACNA ill and I make these comments with no value judgment. But I do wish for a new narrative in Anglican relations, one that is a little more accurate, interesting, and fruitful. Change is coming. Let us hope it move us closer to reality.