Advances in Christian-Muslim relations and environmental advocacy were reported today to the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), which also heard how the listening process on sexuality issues is unfolding around the Communion.
Aspects of increasing globalization echoed throughout the morning session, during which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams underscored the importance of cross-cultural understanding "as the world shrinks."
Meeting at the University of Nottingham through June 28, the ACC is the principal consultative council of the Anglican Communion and one of its four "instruments of unity."
Today's comments on sexuality followed presentations made June 21 by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada which explained, at the invitation of the ACC, experience with same-gender relationships. Representatives from the two North American provinces are attending the ACC-13 meeting as observers after both churches voluntarily withdrew them from active membership in accordance to a request from the February Primates meeting.
Provinces outline 'listening process'
ACC chair, Bishop John Paterson of Auckland, New Zealand, opened the session with an announcement that Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, a leading conservative voice on human sexuality issues, had provided a letter apologizing that he was unable to attend the morning's proceedings. It was noted later that Akinola had returned to Nigeria for an important national interfaith event linking Christians and Muslims in tsunami relief.
Responding to the listening process requested since the 1998 Lambeth Conference, the one-hour session elapsed after seven presentations, leaving three more for a future session, ACC officers said.
Brazilian primate, Archbishop Orlando Santos de Oliveira, read a statement from his House of Bishops explaining that lifestyles and contexts are currently in the process of change. He also drew attention to the global, environmental, social and economic issues in his country. "We believe in inclusiveness," he said. "We believe in new opportunities for the church [and in] God's justice and liberation ... We trust in the church because as Christians we believe in the healing power of God."
Oliveira asked the council to pray for the life and work of the Communion.
Bishop John Noble of North Queensland, Australia, underscored the importance of understanding the issues of interpreting scripture. "Our dioceses are required to listen to God, scripture, the spirit, and the cries of the people beyond our own shores," he said. "We have an obligation to listen to one another with respect."
He explained that, through its deliberations, the Anglican Church of Australia, is giving space to work through the issues with pastoral sensitivity, while affirming the authority of scripture. "The Church will benefit from further exploration, discussion, listening and careful study," he said.
The Venerable Alun Evans, Archdeacon of Carmarthen, Wales, said that his province has been working on a method and approach to human sexuality that is concerned with scripture, tradition and reason, concepts inspired by 16th-century English theologian Richard Hooker.
Evans cited various publications developed by the Church in Wales which have been useful in its approach to study and reflection, including a statement issued by the House of Bishops in 1988 that initiated the beginning of a listening process.
More recently, the province's governing body issued a guide on human sexuality for study throughout the church. "A decision was made to continue the process of study," he said. "It is part of long process in which we are engaged, [and we are] taking seriously the whole challenge of listening deeply. In this approach, the Church in Wales has chosen not to be divisive. The papers we have produced largely reflect that context."
In a conference held almost two weeks ago, the Church in Wales affirmed its commitment to being "an inclusive place" for gay and lesbian people. "The way for us as a province is not be make a banging statement," he said. "What is vital is to allow informed discussion to give everyone a voice and to listen to the experience of those who are gay, and make sure the church is a place for all of us."
Bishop David Beetge of the Diocese of the Highveld in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (CPSA), recognized the benefits of diversity and explained that the struggle of apartheid has taught South Africans to walk together despite their differences. Citing the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution 1.10, he identified the importance of the listening process, "but of equal importance is to acknowledge that people of homosexual orientation are need to know that they are loved by God" and are full members of the body of Christ, he said. "We are trying to live that out."
Stanley Isaacs, ACC delegate from South East Asia, said that he had been disappointed with the consultations that the U.S. Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada presented to the council June 21. "I did not find anything in what they said that justified anything on the basis of scripture," he said. "They gave us a story about how God loves them as everyone else, and how they love Jesus and their families. I am not convinced."
Reading from a statement submitted to the ACC by the primate and bishops of his province, Isaacs said, "The recent events in ECUSA [Episcopal Church] and the Anglican Church of Canada ... have had a negative effect on the integrity of the Anglican Church in South East Asia ... In a region dominated by Muslims and Buddhists ... Christianity, which is perceived as a religion of the Westerners, has been subjected to embarrassment and ridicule."
Unable to defend the actions of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada because of "violation of the Holy Scripture," the statement continued: "We are discredited even in the eyes of many governments in our region ... when the church expresses herself in the areas of social and moral ethics and values."
Finally, Isaacs said, "We want to say to the members of the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Church of Canada that we love you in the unfailing love of our Lord Jesus Christ and we long for the time when we can again embrace you without reservation as fellow members of the one same Anglican Communion."
The Very Rev. Michael Burrows, dean of Cork, Ireland, offered one document for consideration -- a letter on sexuality presented by the Church of Ireland bishops nearly two years ago. "This letter comes from the point of view of a church that certainly does not find consensus, but one that is perhaps more historically used to living with bitter difference," he said. "We do not intend to impair or break Communion."
The letter explained that the bishops have been engaging in a process of consultation and research that began before the Lambeth Conference of 1998, and has been continuing ever since.
"The fact that little has been said collectively is an indication of the pastoral sensitivities felt by the Bishops, together with the complexity of the issue, and of a considerable range of viewpoints among the bishops themselves," the letter stated. "It is evident that no clear-cut solution will be found independently of Biblical reflection, mature thinking, and patient listening on the part of the Church as a whole. This process must involve prayerful and respectful consideration of views and insights within the Church and beyond it."
The full text of the letter can be found online at: http://www.ireland.anglican.org/issues/sexuality.html
Bishop Winston Halapua of the Diocese of Polynesia in Aotearoa, New Zealand, spoke about a resolution from his general synod that acknowledges the contribution of gay and lesbians in the life of church and which established an appropriate process to listen. "Any work in our church takes times because of the particular cultural diversities and the multiple languages in which we work," he said. "We happen to go at a pace where we can listen to each other."
As the session ended, delegates leaving the lecture hall were presented with a publication of the Church in Wales, "Theology Wales: The Church and Homosexuality, a Contribution to the Debate," and a packet from the American Anglican Council including the book "Striving for Gender Identity." The South East Asia members also offered their statement as a handout.
Imam shares in NIFCON report
Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali of Rochester, England, and president of Network for Interfaith Concerns of the Anglican Communion (NIFCON), said the work of the network since 1994 poised them for what was needed following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in the United States. "We were particularly well prepared to respond in dialogue with religious leaders and with scholars," he stated.
During the presentation, the Archbishop of Canterbury stressed the importance of interfaith dialogue and NIFCON. Sharing that he was "surprised" how much time interfaith matters take of his time, Williams spoke of a recent meeting at which many faith leaders shared "what we thought we should be doing in our society." Topics ranged from moral issues, family, environment, and raised the sensitive question of human rights, which is "very differently viewed and interpreted in different cultures."
"This is a very very important network," Williams said. "As the world shrinks in terms of communication our divisions seem to get deeper because we know more about each other."
NIFCON's work has been shaped by seminars and dialogues. For example, the annual Building Bridges conversations between Christians and Muslims started in 2002 by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Archdeacon Michael Ipgrave, formerly interfaith adviser for the Church of England, spoke of the Building Brides seminars which was held in most recently in Sarajevo and previously in Croatia, Qatar, and in Georgetown (Washington, D.C.) where the members read the Bible and Koran at the same time.
NIFCON Coordinator Clare Amos reported on the Anglican Al Azhar Dialogues and Study Exchange, held annually either in Cairo or in a city in the west. The planning meeting for the first, she shared, occurred in Cairo on September 11, 2001, so the decision was made that the dialogues would be held at that time each year. The Archbishop of Canterbury lectured on September 11, 2004.
Amos said NIFCON is also working on regular study exchanges for young Muslim scholar to work at Anglican seminaries and vice versa. "It will help alleviate misconceptions and help each faith to learn about each other," Amos said.
Examples of interfaith dialogues and side-by-side work were presented. The Rev. Dr. Guli Francis-Dehquani, commissary of the Anglican Bishop in Iran, asked for prayers for the area. "Currently the diocese is without a bishop, and in this state, the people are bewildered," she said. "Its place in the world is sensitive. It's in the interest of western government to foster good relations with the government of Iran. The church struggles to remain alive. They must not be forgotten."
The Rev. Diane Johnson, St Philip's, Leicester, and her neighbor Imam Ibrahim Mogra provided a case study of the "most multi religious city in England." Mogra "discovered much in common and much we can do together."
NIFCON exists to encourage progress toward genuinely open and loving relationships between Christians and people of other faiths and to exchange news, information, ideas and resources relating to interfaith concerns between provinces of the Anglican Communion through networks, meetings and writings.
For more info on NIFCON: http://www.anglicannifcon.org/
"It's a reality that the greatest contributors to global climate change are not the greatest victims of global climate change," the Rev. Canon Eric Beresford, dean of Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Canada, in his presentation to the council. "There's a disparity in the experience."
Beresford, who is concluding his term as convener of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) cited severe droughts and flooding, eroding mountaintop snow caps and other examples of global warming, using photographs to illustrate his presentation.
Focusing on data from the network's recent gathering in Canberra, Australia, Beresford said delegates from 18 Anglican provinces affirmed the ACEN's commitment "to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the earth."
Canberra, Beresford said, offered "proximity to many of the most affected regions." He presented examples of the effects of global warming: in the Pacific, which is experiencing an increased severity of storms, causing flooding; in Africa, with photos proving the retreating snow caps of Kilimanjaro as well as changes in the rainy season affecting agriculture and the increasing spread of the Sahara; flooding in the United Kingdom; changing rainfall patterns in Australia causing drought as well as algal blooms; and the North American loss of permafrost and severe storms and flooding.
He also cited the recently-released UN Millennium assessment report stating ecosystems have changed more rapidly in the last 50 years than in any other time in history. The global temperature has warmed 2 degrees centigrade, enough to make a significant impact. This has resulted in "substantial and irreversible loss of life on earth."
"We heard a chilling thing that in Australia the government decided it would be cheaper for Australia to carry on and deal with changes in the environment," he shared. "It may be cheaper for Australia but it's not cheaper for the island nations of the Pacific, it's not good for Bangladesh, it's not good for Denmark."
In fact, an ACC representative from the Pacific island nation of Tonga endorsed the resolution. "Something strange has happened in some of the islands," he shared. "We watch helplessly. We are the victims. We are the helpless, powerless people."
He added, "Maybe I won't see you at the next ACC meeting. The waves will rise and Tonga will be gone."
ACEN, Beresford said, has taken major steps to combat environmental problems through advocacy, development of resources, and promotion of special projects and initiatives, such as Episcopal Power and Light.
ACC approved a resolution with 13 recommendations for Anglicans and Provinces, including environmental education, use renewable energy, and to "press government, industry and civil society on the moral imperative of taking practical steps towards building sustainable communities." (Full text of resolution will be posted online at http://www.anglicancommunion.org/)