In his opening keynote address at the Lambeth Conference July 29, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby encouraged bishops from around the world to look beyond the internal conflicts that divide the church to the challenges facing the world as a whole.
“Too often the Anglican Communion has been known best—when it is known at all as a communion—for looking inwards and struggling with its own disagreements,” Welby told the assembled bishops.
“Those questions, especially on the Christian and Anglican approach to human identity and sexuality, will not be solved at this conference. However, my prayer is that while we are aware of them because they really matter, we turn as a communion outwards to the entirety of the world that God loves so much that God sent his Son to die for the world’s salvation … because… we meet in a time of world crisis.”
He called attendees to focus on issues such as climate change, rapid technological advancement and the inequality they promote between the rich and the increasingly disenfranchised poor. He referred to these challenges as “roaring lions,” in reference to 1 Peter, which depicts the devil as a lion seeking someone to devour.
“To someone without food, or caught up in war, or persecuted, or suffering from intense poverty, their daily struggle is uppermost in their minds. They want a church that stands with them,” said Welby. “As shepherds we must, as Pope Francis said, ‘smell of the sheep’ because we are among them. We must tend to their wounds, guide them to water, protect them from the lions.”
As one example of a crisis facing the church, he described his recent visit to Canada and the tour he took to meet with survivors of and apologize for the residential schools run by the Church of England on behalf of the Canadian government. “What … shakes me to this day, is that through that period, no leading Christians, no archbishops, stood up and said ‘this is not Christ,’” he said. Their failure to speak up against the idea that some people are more civilized than others showed that beliefs embedded in a culture that ignores God can cause people to ignore their conscience and perpetuate inequality rather than standing against it, he said.
He also said this attitude had a flip side—that religious extremism can become an attempt to cope with a changing world by seeking shelter in xenophobic interpretations of comfortable beliefs. Neither this isolationism nor deference to secular culture are what Christians are called to, he said. “Rather we venture out, clad in the armour of God, to ‘proclaim the wonderful works of him who brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light.’”
The Lambeth Conference, which runs from July 26 to August 7, is organized around nine “calls” or statements to the church. During the runup to the meeting, a number of bishops—including several in Canada alone–protested a draft of the call on human dignity. It contained a clause calling the church to re-affirm Resolution I.10 from 1998’s Lambeth Conference. That resolution, among other things, states that the conference of bishops “upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” and “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.” A later draft, however, made mention of this resolution as an example of the views held within the communion, rather than explicitly reaffirming it.