It 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. (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.
I am a reader of The Economist, the British news magazine that has, to my knowledge, more foreign correspondents than any print news organization in the world. The Economist covers events even after they drop from the headlines in the rest of the world’s media.
But even it can falter. I thought about that while reading about the primate of Canada’s recent visit to the Church in Melanesia. Part of the visit included time in the Solomon Islands with Fr. Sam Ata, an Anglican priest and chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Solomons.
Let’s be honest. How many of us are aware of the ongoing process of recovery in the Solomons following the violence between 1998 and 2003? How many of us know that this TRC process has been ongoing for some time? Not even The Economist has been giving much play to it.
And yet—there is the church. When the eyes of the world are turned away, when even sister and brother Anglicans are focused on a proposed covenant, the sex (or sex life) of its bishops, or any of a myriad of other things, the local church in the Solomon Islands remains an instrument of peace and reconciliation.
It reminds me of the church in South Sudan, a place where I’ve spent some time. There, in intensely poor and incredibly remote parts of the country, the government’s remit does not run. But the church is still there, running schools, building clinics, feeding refugees, and much else; “preaching good news of peace” (Acts 10:36) in other words. When society is on the verge of breakdown because of inter-tribal violence, who does the government ask to negotiate peace? The church. No one else has the authority, the stature, or the ability to do so.
So, as at least part of the attention of the church is occupied by a defeated covenant, a proposal for “radical hospitality,” and conversation (dare I call it naval gazing?) about church structure, spare a thought for our sisters and brothers in Christ around the world on the frontlines of some of the most difficult and intractable situations imaginable.
And then ask yourself: how can we support our fellow members in the one body of Jesus Christ?