Debt eclipsed by sexuality concerns

By on September 1, 1998

The following is an edited version of a speech by Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane to a Lambeth plenary session, Aug. 5, 1998. Archbishop Ndungane chaired the section, Called to Full Humanity. He is Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of Southern Africa.

IT IS A GREAT JOY for me to present the work of Section 1 to this Lambeth Conference. In the limited time and resources available at our disposal, we have done our best to be faithful to God, that through us He may take the process of our work to wherever He intends to use and bless it.

Our section set out to explore a number of seemingly disparate themes, each of them contentious and large enough to merit a section of their own. Yet we sought to link them to a framework which we as Anglicans understand as providing moral, ethical and theological guidelines for our actions as people seeking full humanity in Christ.

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To return to the themes: international debt was considered by all the pre-Lambeth regional meetings to be important. For most it was at the top of the agenda. In thinking about international debt and economic justice we have held three principles in mind:

  1. Debt relief must be achieved in a way that will benefit the poor;
  2. We want to address creditor and debtor nations alike so that all bishops can use the resolution in their home situations; and
  3. We want to avoid making moral pronouncements that cost us nothing as a church: So we have addressed ourselves as provinces and as a communion.

It is an understatement to say that the sub-section on sexuality has been far from straightforward. Here our different cultures, theologies and understandings and interpretations of biblical texts nearly broke any chance of coming to some sort of agreement on the question of homosexuality. This section of the report was hammered out on an anvil of pain. Nevertheless there was much careful listening within this sub-section. It represents where the communion is. This part of our report is not only about homosexuality. There is much of great value in what it says about all sexual relationships.

In the end the human sexuality section agreed unanimously with a report which spoke of the differing viewpoints on this issue within the communion. Their resolution reflects the hard work of this section where people with strongly opposing viewpoints have engaged with one another. I therefore urge you to support their resolution and acknowledge the diversity of practices within our communion.

Those in the environment sub-section remind us that by the time environmental issues get to the top of the Lambeth agenda it will be too late.

If the church fails to take up environmental questions in earnest then it will fail our children and our children’s children. Environmental issues and international debt place a future burden on our society unless they are addressed now. Our generation is mortgaging our children’s future and the future of our planet.

The human rights sub-section has been representative of the Anglican Communion throughout the world and has shared stories about the violation of human rights in different countries. This is reflected in our report. The report speaks of the widening gap between rich and poor; the violation of women and children; war, guns and landmines; racial and caste discrimination; fundamentalism and nationalism; refugees, asylum seekers and uprooted and displaced people; indigenous people; and the effects of the global economy. In our theological reflection we have indicated a framework for considering our theme with attention to context, practical application, and the nature and role of the church (Anglican Communion) in the world.

And what of technology?

Technology is power which brings great promise for a better life and a better world. But this power can also corrupt and destroy God’s creatures and God’s creation. Our call is to use this power appropriately and reverently, reminding ourselves that we are at all times accountable to God. This section calls for the establishment of a commission through the ACC to keep track of technological developments and to reflect on them theologically and ethically.

And if all that I have said is not enough – the section had also to consider euthanasia. The euthanasia group has tried to do three things:

  1. Clarify people’s understanding of the term in the light of widespread public confusion;
  2. Define the term more precisely so as to distinguish what is appropriate medical practice and palliative care, and what involves the act of taking of human life; and
  3. Reject calls for the legalization of euthanasia as being against Christian conscience which upholds the sacredness of life as a gift from God.

So, Section 1 has not been idle. But our work is only a step on a long road. The new millennium is upon us. If the churches cannot model what change, justice and peace means in our different communities, the world will be a poorer place. It is our responsibility to accept the challenge of difference and otherness, to wrestle with it and with God’s grace to celebrate our diversity, respectfully. Then we shall reflect God’s image and claim our authentic humanity.

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