While much attention has been given to how the world’s Anglican bishops, who gathered here for their once-a-decade conference, have sought ways of mending relationships fractured by deep divisions over homosexuality, there were a host of other life and death global issues that preoccupied them.
The 670 bishops ended their Lambeth Conference here with a 42-page document, entitled Reflections, which they called a “narrative” that seeks to “describe our lived experiences and the open and honest discussions we have had together…”
In it, aside from addressing issues around human sexuality and unity, the bishops expressed their views on ecumenism, human and social justice, the environment, relations with other world religions, strengthening Anglican identity, and issued statements of solidarity to people around the world who are in situations of conflict.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said that the conference had, as a whole, been “consistent” with the theme of equipping bishops as leaders in mission. “The mission of the church in the world was a really major focus, particularly in the first half of the conference,” he said in an interview with the Anglican Journal. “We talked about everything from evangelism to our work with other churches to things like the Millennium Development Goals.” He said that the discussions that bishops had showed “a church very much engaged with the suffering and hope of the world.”
On the environment, the bishops noted that the stories that they have shared with one another “give a picture of a global crisis.” They noted that environment is “the top priority for some provinces and must be a high priority for all of us.” In developing countries and among indigenous peoples, notably the Arctic, “safeguarding creation is a day to day activity, not an intellectual exercise.”
Bishops of the Anglican Communion “should take a leading role by example, modeling a simpler lifestyle, using a carbon offset for meeting travel, or traveling less,” the Reflections document said.
The Communion itself must be “a symbol for ecological commitment to sustaining and renewing God’s creation.”
Addressing human and social justice issues, the bishops said that “the violence meted out to women and children within the body of Christ is violence done to the body of Christ.” They reiterated their commitment to pushing governments to meet their commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals, including, among others, halving poverty by 2015.
On ecumenism, the bishops reaffirmed the Communion’s commitment to “the full visible unity of the church,” and noted that this “strong desire” received “physical expression” at this conference, where more than 70 ecumenical partners were invited as participants. “At this stage of the ecumenical movement, we have to recognize that what affects one affects all, and that it behoves each church to live in accountability to the rest of the oikumene (ecumenical movement).”
The bishops, however, acknowledged that “current divisions between Anglicans and the action by certain provinces that have provoked them have inevitably disrupted not only the internal life of the Communion but also ecumenical dialogues and co-operation.” Ecumenical partners are “sometimes bewildered by apparent Anglican inconsistency, especially where issues of authority and ecclesiology are concerned,” they added.
The bishops were also encouraged to get involved in ecumenism at the local level, noting that “one of the keys to ecumenism is relationships, especially among Christian leaders.”
The bishops also noted the special relationship that Christians have with the Jewish community and renewed their commitment to ongoing dialogue and genuine friendship with the Jewish people.
The varying contexts in which the church ministers in the world today was also noted by bishops. “In some situations, Christians are faced with hostility and even persecution, and entering into dialogue with people of other faiths can be difficult and dangerous, if not impossible,” the Reflections document stated. “We recognize that our fractured Communion is at times impairing dialogue and sometimes making it impossible.”
The statements of solidarity include:
- a call for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe “to stop harassing the bishops and the faithful of our church.”
- A “strong support” for bishops who are working in “extreme and trying conditions” in Africa, including those who address “dehumanizing conditions” in Sudan, xenophobic violence in South Africa and political conflict in Zimbabwe.
- An expression of support for the reunification of the Korean peninsula for establishing permanent peace in North East Asia, and for Nippon Sei Ko Kai (The Anglican Communion in Japan), “which is leading a peace movement for protecting the Peace Constitution for settlement of peace in Northeast Asia.”
- Support for Australia’s indigenous peoples, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. “We applaud the apology made by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to the stolen generations and acknowledge that the journey towards reconciliation has only just begun, particularly in relation to remote aboriginal communities in Australia.”
- Remembering “the six million currently hungry in Ethiopia; with Christians in Somalia who live daily in fear for their lives.”
- Decrying “the persecution, torture, imprisonment and killing of people on account of their faith whatever their faith might be.” It adds: “We are particularly distressed when some acts are carried out by or with the connivance of the police, the military or the agents of state.”
The full text of the Reflections is available online.