From the Primate: Discerning when to speak

Image: Adapted from LittleWhale/Shutterstock
Published May 22, 2020

When we can gather at a watercooler at work or in the pub with friends, we enjoy expressing our opinions on the latest sports events, favourite movies or political action. However, in these days of social media and instant communications, when little if anything is private, we are called to thoughtful consideration of the impact of our words. This is particularly true for leaders in a spiritual tradition, such as the primate, for the primate speaks on behalf of the Anglican Church of Canada—and not only as an individual citizen. The discernment of when and how to speak is at times challenging.

Photo: Anglican Church of Canada/Milos Tosic

Let me share how our church approaches that discernment and share a recent example in the life of our church. The general secretary and I are sometimes approached to add our signatures to a public letter on a significant public issue. Deliberation on the issue requires careful listening to a variety of sources. It is governed first by statements and resolutions of General Synod. Then we turn to Church House staff with knowledge of the issue and to our archivist, Laurel Parson. We also explore where our current partnerships and working relationships are implicated by what we might say.

We explore the theological questions embedded in the issue. What gospel principles are at the core of this matter? Where does our baptismal covenant intersect with it? Is this an issue of justice; dignity of human persons; care for creation or love of neighbour?

We listen to other members of the Christian family—especially our full communion partner, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada—and other ecumenical and interfaith partners to seek to speak in solidarity with them and not only alone.

After this deliberation we decide whether this is the appropriate time to speak out and/or to add our voice to that of others in publicly taking a stand. Will our voice contribute positively to the public conversation? Are we prepared to work with government bodies, ecumenical and interfaith partners, other partners of goodwill and our own outreach ministries to be part of the solution?

Whenever we do speak, we do hear both critical and supportive responses from within the church and from outside as there are voices and opinions that differ or bring a different perspective.

Let me give you an example of this process. Recently a number of Christian leaders signed a letter to the federal government concerning its lack of response to the State of Israel’s proposed annexation of Palestinian territories. Issues in the Middle East are always complex and fraught with strong views on all sides. The Anglican Church of Canada has a clear stance articulated in Resolution A-172 from General Synod 2013 affirming that the Anglican Church of Canada: “recognizes the legitimate aspirations, rights and needs of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace, with dignity within sovereign and secure borders; condemns the use of violence of all kinds, especially against civilians; calls for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories (West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza); and calls upon Israel, as the occupying power, to respect the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer and settlement of its own citizens in the occupied territories.”

Resolution A-172 also committed to: “educate the church about the impact of the illegal settlements on the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis, explore and challenge theologies and beliefs, such as Christian Zionism, which support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories; explore and challenge theories and beliefs that deny the right of Israel to exist; and strengthen relationships with Canadian Jews and Muslims, to resolutely oppose anti-Semitism, anti-Arab sentiments and Islamophobia.” Our commitment is to honour the dignity of all the people of the Holy Land.

This issue is particularly poignant for our Anglican partners in the region, Palestinian Christians who work tirelessly with others to embody a Christian presence in the Holy Land that includes offering health care and education to those of any faith. We stand in solidarity with them in seeking a peace that maintains their presence as living stones in the Holy Land. We also work through our partnership with KAIROS (an ecumenical Canadian Christian agency) working for reconciliation, justice and peace.

Our church also values our relationships with the Jewish community in Canada. We have a prior strong statement against anti-Semitism. Resolution 35 from General Synod 1983 states, “That this General Synod: …assure members of the Jewish Community that we as leaders of the Anglican Church of Canada will persist in fighting anti-semitism wherever it exists.” We sought to affirm our relationship with the Jewish people at General Synod 2019 with the first steps (awaiting second reading at our next General Synod) towards replacement of a prayer in the Book of Common Prayer with one that seeks reconciliation:

O GOD, who didst choose Israel to be thine inheritance: Have mercy upon us and forgive us for violence and wickedness against our brother Jacob; the arrogance of our hearts and minds hath deceived us, and shame hath covered our face. Take away all pride and prejudice in us, and grant that we, together with the people whom thou didst first make thine own, may attain to the fullness of redemption which thou hast promised; to the honour and glory of thy most holy Name. Amen.

In the current letter we joined other Christian leaders in affirming the need for Canada to publicly declare its support for international law, UN resolutions opposing annexation and Canada’s own Israel-Palestine policy. The letter is consistent with our resolutions at General Synod, our ongoing partnerships with KAIROS and the diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and our baptismal covenant. It is important at this time to encourage our government to voice concerns prior to further actions in the Middle East.

It is never easy to have friendships with people on different sides of a deep conflict. We are called to consistency in what we expect of all sides and to a firm commitment to extend the hand of friendship and peace to all. That balance is challenging to maintain but it is our calling as followers of Christ committed to justice and peace.

You can see that the deliberation given to signing a public letter on a current issue involves the voice of the whole church through General Synod; our commitments past and present with faith and community partners; and our calling by faith in Jesus Christ. Pray for church leaders as we speak publicly for the common good of all people through the commitments of the gospel to justice, mercy and compassion.


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