Council resists sexuality debate

by
10 October 2007

Edgar Ruddock was encouraged by a meeting that knew its own mind

The Mauritius meeting of CAPA rightly focused on the challenges facing the continent: poverty, war, injustice, debt, natural disaster. But there was no appeal for pity, but rather for the Churches to work for transformation as never before; to share the good news with renewed energy and sensitivity in the face of religious pluralism, growing materialism, and educational challenge. For the sake of all this, we were reminded again and again to “Rejoice in the Lord always!”

How sad, though, that the fractures of the Communion’s struggles over sexuality kept appearing, in an attempt to persuade the meeting to adopt an entrenched line in response to the US Bishops’ statement from New Orleans (News, 28 September).

How sad that whenever we looked at a document, we found it had been drafted by a Western pen. How sad that paragraphs appeared in the draft communiqué that spoke of matters that had not even been debated. And how encouraging it was that the meeting roundly threw them out, and left the issue of sexuality to the Primates.

How rich an experience it was to share the diversity of fellowship across the continent and beyond. How humbling to see the concerted attempts by many delegates to build a sense of community across the traditional lines of high or low church, pro- or anti-Lambeth 2008 — delegates younger and older, female (well, a few), and male. Here was a mature Church, in creative dialogue with itself, on matters of importance.

While there was a concerted attempt to get both the Council and the CAPA Primates to take a firm stand with the “Global South” and against Lambeth, this was clearly not the mood of the meeting. Their concern was an African agenda. Yes, the majority take a conservative view on the sexuality debate, but there was much talk over coffee and tea about the pressure being exerted by the US conservatives (who were very visibly present at the meeting) to “keep CAPA on board”. Many resented this, even those who would sympathise with the position.

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Many delegates still have had very little opportunity to enter into informed discussion with those from cultures other than their own. They all stand for the truth of the Bible, but do not realise that others with the same high view of scripture can come to different conclusions. There is still a long journey ahead for the listening process.

There were moments of deep thoughtfulness, as the meeting listened to the Archbishop of York. He spoke gently yet powerfully of what it means for him to be an African, but above all, a follower of Christ; and of his belief that the Communion would be the poorer without the wisdom of a strong African presence at Lambeth. For a moment, we rose above politics. It was a moment of real encounter.

There were moments of excitement, too, as Archbishop Akinola preached simply at the dedication of a new outreach centre about the gift of Christian joy.

Yet the mood of the meeting was expressed most strongly when the final communiqué, which, it appeared, had been drafted largely by the Rt Revd Martyn Minns, was discussed. Its many references to the sexuality debate, which had simply not been discussed, were voted off.

The final act of the meeting was to elect new officers, as the four-year term of the Most Revd Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria, came to an end. After a closed debate, white smoke finally emerged, and the new chairman was announced: the Most Revd Ian Ernest, Archbishop of the Indian Ocean, with the Most Revd Emmanuel Kolini, Archbishop of Rwanda, as his vice-chairman.

The other newly-elected members of the standing committee indicate a subtle shift away from the fusion of Global South and CAPA agendas, to a group more concerned to focus on the needs of the continent and islands, and to offer a lead perhaps based more on reconciliation and dialogue than confrontation.

The communiqué that the Primates of the provinces issued separately remains a strong statement. It rejects the US Bishops’ response from New Orleans as inadequate, and calls for the Lambeth Conference to be postponed.

Yet this needs to be understood in the light of a much stronger agenda brought by the outgoing leadership group, which was tempered by the incoming team. It needs to be read alongside the personal statement issued by the incoming chairman, Archbishop Ernest, where the little word “reconciliation” appears like a seed in the desert sand.

The Revd Edgar Ruddock is International Relations Director and a Deputy General Secretary of USPG: Anglicans in World Mission.

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