Primates tackle issues on AIDS pandemic

Published June 1, 2002

Anglican primates gather in a table group during their annual meeting in Canterbury in April. Thirty-five of the Anglican Communion’s 38 national leaders attended the meeting, which is closed to media.

Primates of the Anglican Communion, at their annual meeting, this year avoided the contentious issue of homosexuality, but tackled the issue of HIV/AIDS and developed a statement concerning the nature of God.

Thirty-five of the 38 national leaders attended, including Archbishop Michael Peers of Canada and Archbishop Frank Griswold of the United States. During the closed meeting, held April 10-17 in Canterbury, England, each primate outlined areas of concern in his province and how the church is meeting those challenges, according to a report released after the meeting.

One huge challenge, especially for some African bishops, is the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, was given a mandate by the primates last year to coordinate a communion-wide strategy on AIDS.

A statement by the primates, noted that “it is in African nations that women, men and children are living with and dying from HIV/AIDS in greatest numbers.”

The statement also noted that the church has been a “voice of condemnation” in the past and now wants “to make it clear that HIV/AIDS is not a punishment from God.”

The primates called for AIDS drugs to be more widely available and said they are committed to sharing financial resources to provide assistance to churches addressing the crisis. The primates gave Archbishop Ndungane a mandate to lead the Anglican Communion’s policy development and strategy concerning AIDS.

The statement represents “quite a step forward” in terms of attitudes toward AIDS, said Archbishop Peers in an interview after the meeting.

The development of a statement concerning the nature of God (see accompanying story) arose from a request from Archbishop Robin Eames of Ireland, Archbishop Griswold said in a published interview.

Some observers saw the statement on God as having a conservative tilt, with references to “our” God possibly negating other faiths and references to God as exclusively masculine denying modern theology that sees feminine and masculine qualities in the Deity.

Canon Eric Beresford, consultant on ethics and inter-faith relations for the Anglican Church of Canada, said the statement is an attempt to focus more on what the primates agree upon, rather than on disagreements.

“It’s about creating a space where a more sensible conversation can be had. This is the primates saying, “We stand in historic Christianity, but we know there are disagreements,'” he said.

Archbishop Peers and Archbishop Rowan Williams of Wales made presentations as part of a session on canon law. Not all provinces in the communion have the same resources when questions of church law arise, Archbishop Peers said.

For instance, he said, “What happens when there’s an episcopal election and a group in the diocese contests the result in a civil court, as happened in East Africa and Kenya?” Each province has its own canon law, he noted, and Anglican provinces are autonomous.

The primates heard from a committee of legal advisers that identified 44 shared principles of canon law common to the churches of the communion. They also said shared principles of canon law can be viewed as an instrument of unity in the Anglican Communion.

The primates also released a statement on the Middle East, in response to a plea for assistance from the Anglican Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of Jerusalem. The statement criticized both Israeli military incursions in Palestinian territory and Palestinian suicide bombers.

Following is the text of a Doctrine of God statement approved by Anglican primates in April:

A Doctrine of God

In the light of current challenges to historic Christian doctrine from various quarters, and of the growing influence of different kinds of ?post-modern? theory which question the very idea of universal and abiding truth, the Primates wish to reaffirm the commitment of the Anglican Communion to the truths of the fundamental teachings of the faith we have received from Holy Scripture and the Catholic Creeds.

Our God is a living God

We believe that God is real and active, creating and sustaining the universe by power and freedom, and communicating with us out of unlimited holy love so that we may share his joy. God is infinitely more than a thought in our minds or a set of values for human beings.

Our God is an incarnate God

We believe that God the eternal Son became human for our sake and that in the flesh and blood of Jesus of Nazareth God was uniquely present and active. All claims to knowledge of God must be brought to Christ to be tested. Through Christ alone we have access to the Father. We believe that Christ?s Resurrection is the act of God in raising to life the whole identity and reality of Jesus. We believe that it is not simply a perception or interpretation based on the subjective experience of the apostles.

Our God is a triune God

We believe that by the gift of the Holy Spirit bestowed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are able to share the eternal intimacy and delight which is the very life of God in the mutual love of three divine persons.

Our God is a faithful God

We believe that God is always as he shows himself to be in Jesus. In Holy Scripture we have a unique trustworthy record of the acts and promises of God. No other final criteria for Christian teaching can supplant this witness to the self-consistency of God through the ages. Our God is a saving and serving God We believe that God calls us into the Church and commissions us to proclaim and work in active hope for the dawning of God?s kingdom in the world.


  • Solange DeSantis

    Solange De Santis was a reporter for the Anglican Journal from 2000 to 2008.

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