Daybreak at Kigali – Horizons before the Anglican Global South Primates in September 2006

Michael Nai-Chiu Poon, Singapore
Director, Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia

“So Jacob was left alone, and   a man wrestled with him till daybreak. . . . The man said, "Your name will no   longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men   and have overcome." Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why   do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there. So Jacob called the place Peniel,  saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared." The   sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip   (Genesis 32: 24-31).”

I begin with a disclaimer. This   essay is “without authority”: there is no official sanction, as all my other   essays are. It is a personal reflection offered to the Communion I love and   therefore grieve.

The coming Global South   Primates’ Meeting in Kigali this September comes in a crucial time in the   present Communion crisis. Near the same time, a critical meeting also takes   place across the Atlantic in New York to “discuss some of the difficult issues   facing the Church and to explore possible resolutions”, as the Anglican   Communion News Service put it. The Archbishop of Canterbury was the main impetus   to bring about this meeting between contending parties in ECUSA.

The outcomes of these two   meetings have enormous implication for the Communion. Many ask: will the   Anglican primates and bishops do their utmost to keep the unity that the Holy   Spirit gives. After all, they are Anglican under-shepherds. Such are the grounds   of their deliberations and decisions. To harm the Communion as Anglican bishops; or to abandon their custodian responsibility as under-shepherds   would undermine their own authority.

The road to Kigali

Some fear the Kigali Meeting   would turn out to be a meeting of the so-called anti-revisionist and anti-conciliar   bishops; a meeting would lead to an irrevocable schism in the Communion.

I think otherwise. It is   important to remind ourselves the road Global South churches have traveled to   this point. The 1986 Brisbane meeting of mission agencies encouraged an   Encounter of “Anglican provinces in the South”, to give them “the opportunity to   listen to God and one another, to share their joys and pains, and to express   their hopes and aspirations”.[1] This gave “Global South Anglicans” an organizational form. Successive struggles   with Communion issues became a catalyst for closer cooperation between churches   in the southern continents. Now twenty years onwards, the Global South churches   have become a major force within the Communion. Some may even say, the future of   the Communion hinges on the views of the Global South leaders at Kigali.

The Bible also spoke of the   story of a battle-hardened street-smart fighter. I refer of course to Jacob.  That night at the ford of Jabbok, as he reflected on his twenty years of   struggle with Laban, God drew near and struggled with him until daybreak. Jacob   prevailed. But it wasn’t just another win. He received the new name ‘Israel’,  and with that, the divine calling to live and work for God. From then on, his   striving takes on a new meaning.

Global South churches have a   similar spiritual journey to share. Less than a year ago, one hundred and three   delegates of twenty provinces in the Global South met by the Red Sea. They came   from Africa, Asia, West Indies and South America, representing about two-thirds   of the Anglican Communion. They were far from being anti-revisionist and anti-conciliar.  They issued a Communiqué, the ‘Third Trumpet’, was by far theologically the most   rigorous statement that South-South Encounters have issued. The churches   rediscovered their roots in ‘the one, holy catholic and apostolic church’. [2] This insight anchors their theological reflections and concrete decisions.

Global South Anglicans are not   anti-revisionist (which has taken to mean anti-homosexual) and anti-conciliar   (which has evolved to mean ‘anti-Williams’). Global South Anglicans are churches   in the non-Western world that makes the Anglican Communion a universal reality.  They insist on two matters: the historic faith and on fundamental structural   reform to reflect the fact that the Communion as come of age.

The coming of age: a blessing   to the whole Communion

It is important to realize that   not only Global South churches have come of age. Their maturing ushers a new era   in the Communion’s history. The Anglican Communion itself has come of age: it   has become a worldwide church. The Global South churches, to borrow Archbishop   Rowan Williams’ words, gives hope – and with this of course – challenge to the   Communion.The Challenge and Hope of being an Anglican Today is   important,[3] because it does not only deal with issues surrounding GC2006; it engages Global   South churches to work out what it means to be a worldwide church.

For the Anglican Communion,  especially for churches in Britain and North America, to live as a worldwide   church is a new experience. It is encouraging to read that the Archbishop of   Canterbury recognizes this new condition in The Challenge and Hope of being   an Anglican Today. If there is something good that comes of the present mess   the Communion is in, it is surely this: For the past thirty years,  church-building and diocese-creating exercises have absorbed the energy of the   Provinces in the Communion. The present crisis makes it painfully clear that we   need to reexamine the theological underpinnings of our Communion structures:  what it means for us all to live as “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” church?  This is the secure platform upon which the Global South Primates should discern   and wrestle with pressing issues and long-term concerns in Kigali.

There are of course other   platforms on offer. The question on homosexuality could serve the rallying point   as well. Global South churches are anti-homosexual, is this all that is to it? I   have insisted all along we are not. That issue does not define Global South   concerns.

In recent statements Rowan   Williams and Oliver O’Donovan warned of the split and recrimination imminent in   North America and the Church of England.  [4] O’Donovan pleaded against schism: “Schisms may come, but woe to that church   through whom they come! There is no right, or duty, of schism.” Were these words   directed to Global South churches? I suspect that we can trace the spring of   such schismatic undercurrents back in the Church of England, the historic   heartland of the Communion, back in the Church of England itself. After all, it   was a senior Church of England bishop who declared immediately after GC2006 that   “Anglicans must split”.[5]

True, some Global South church   leaders react strongly to William’s personal views on human sexuality. True too,  the North American liberal positions are untenable. However, who promotes the   so-called anti-revisionist and anti-conciliar positions among Global South   churches? After all, Williams’ “offending” article, The Body’s Grace, was   not widely available in the Global South. (Christians in the non-Western world   cannot afford to buy it; most people do not have the IT infrastructure to read   it on the web.) It is an academic and subtle paper (meant to be shared during   sherry time in a don’s study), and is (with due respect) too technical for the   faithful around the Communion.

It is not my purpose to enter   into a blame game. My point is that Global South churches are not engineering   schism in the Communion. However, ecclesiastical stakeholders in the Church of   England and ECUSA may be at work and are using the Global South churches to   advance their own political agenda. American churches may well use similar   vote-buying tactics as their political counterparts do to further their own   national interests. Global South churches need to be alert to these   undercurrents, and work out priorities that are worthy of being the “one, holy,  catholic and apostolic church”.

Worthy of the high call

There are three priorities:

1. Life and Witness

The geopolitical configurations   in Africa, Asia, and Latin America open new forms of partnership in the life and   witness of the churches. The Primate may wish to make concrete plans “to pursue   networking with one another to add strength to our mission and ministry. . . .  [and] to explore appropriate structures to facilitate and support this.”[6] I suggested such areas of fruitful engagement in my recent article “Till they   have homes”.[7]

There are other practical ways   of cooperation. The Economic Empowerment Consultation that takes place alongside   the Primates’ Meeting in Kigali is important. Christians in financially richer   areas in the non-Western world need to take up responsibilities to share in   practical ways with their counterparts in other regions.

2. Equipping the Faithful to   understand and teach the Historic Faith

The present Communion crisis   starkly reveals that the so-called Anglican Way leads nowhere. The Communion has   not yet found the Way!

The local churches are centres   of worship, teaching and practical sharing (Acts 2:44-47). Formation of   theological colleges and faculty development may not be the first priorities in   many parts of the non-Western world, where people do not even have the daily   bread. I wrote elsewhere that we need something more fundamental. I suggest   Global South theologians need to compile a new catechism that helps local   pastors (many in remote places with struggling congregations) to reflect and   teach more effectively. I hope the Theological Formation and Education Task   Force that meets also in Kigali will explore such and similar long-term concrete   projects.

3. Working with the   Archbishop of Canterbury on the promotion of unity within the Communion

The Archbishop of Canterbury and   the Global South Primates need one another to guard the unity of the Community   in the aftermaths of GC2006. Global South Primates need to cooperate in the   fullest manner with Canterbury; and Canterbury needs to call upon Global South   churches as a whole to guard the unity of the Communion.

Global South Primates did not   unilaterally dictate the terms of “compliance” to ECUSA. Those terms was   unanimously adopted in the Windsor Report and the Dromantine Communiqué. It was   Bishop Tom Wright who impressed the serious consequences on ECUSA shortly before   the General Convention in June 2006. He ended with these   words: “But if the resolutions are not amended, then, with great sadness and   with complete uncertainty about what way ahead might then be found, the rest of   the Communion will have to conclude that, despite every opportunity, ECUSA has   declined to comply with Windsor; has decided, in other words, to ‘walk apart’  (Windsor 157).”  [8] In the event ECUSA did “think the unthinkable” – using O’Donovan’s words – and   clearly walked apart, despite such was not a “choice worthy alternative”. How   Schlori referred to Mother Jesus in her first sermon as the newly elected   Presiding Bishop was insensitive and unnecessarily provocative. The contrast   with Rowan Williams cannot be starker. Primates are by definition not champions   of causes. They are guardians of the historic faith. I wonder whether Schlori   has decided to walk away from the Primates’ Meeting as well.

The Primates’ Meeting emerges to   be the only forum at this stage where the thinking and listening processes can   take place. After all, the Provinces are autonomous; therefore only the Primates   have the jurisdictional authority over their respective churches. There are   three urgent issues that Global South Primates can work with Canterbury to   promote unity in the Communion:

i. to provide a coherent arrangement of alternative episcopal oversight for   the dissenting minorities in North America;

ii. to draft the Anglican Covenant in order to “make explicit and forceful   the loyalty and bonds of affection which govern the relationships between the   churches of Communion”;[9]

iii. to redesign the agenda of Lambeth 2008 that the bishops may be able to   discuss the fundamental issues facing the Communion.

Longer term, Canterbury   recognizes that fundamental structural changes are necessary. I wrote elsewhere   that Canterbury is called to be “Servant of Unity of the One, Holy, Catholic and   Apostolic Church”. Global South churches should help him in such tasks. The   issues before the Communion are theological. They demand the bet theological   wrestling from us all. God has given the Communion at this time one of the most   sensitive theologian modern time England has ever produced to occupy the chair   of Augustine. No matter what our personal theological positions are, we can at   least work with him. He holds the historic office, and was at pains to put aside   his personal views to serve the wider church. Be critical of him; admonish him   in Christian spirit if we should; but work with him to uphold truth and promote   unity we must. After all, he did not provoke the present Communion crisis. The   seed was sown in earlier years when a theological safe Archbishop was caught off   guard by an enterprising Secretary General!

Rowan Williams may well find his   fellow Primates in the non-Western world to be his staunchest friends and   confidants in the coming days.

Arise, morning has broken. “Make   the most of the kairos, for the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)”.

The Feast of John Bunyan, August   2006

Singapore ____________________

Footnotes: [1] Trumpet I, First Anglican Encounter in the South, 1994, Section 1. [2]  Communiqué, 10.  [3] Rowan Williams, “The Challenge and Hope of being an Anglican Today: A     Reflection for the Bishops, Clergy and Faithful of the Anglican Communion,”    Anglican Communion News Service.   [4] Wim Houtman, “The Church is not Inclusive: An Interview with the Archbishop     of Canterbury,” Nederlands Dagblad. ; Oliver     O’Donovan, “The Care of the Churches: Sermons on the Subject of the Day     (2),” Fulcrum. [5] “Anglicans must split, says bishop.” BBC. Graham Kings’ account of     the founding of Fulcrum is fascinating. It told the story of the split among     British evangelicals over the appointment of Rowan Williams as the     Archbishop of Canterbury. See Graham Kings, “The Founding of Fulcrum:    Fulcrum Newsletter August 2006,” Fulcrum.   [6] Communiqué, 24. [7]Till they have homes: Christian Responsibilities in the Twenty-First     Century,” Global South Anglicans.   [8] N T Wright, “The Choice before ECUSA,” 17. Fulcrum.

[9] Windsor Report, 118.