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Giles Fraser: The bishops really need to talk

15 August 2007

by Giles Fraser

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee has issued advice that the British Government, through Tony Blair in his new role, ought to be talking to Hamas. It is quite a risk. After all, Hamas has been responsible for encouraging suicide-bomb attacks against Israel. None the less: “We recommend that he engage with Hamas in order to facilitate reconciliation amongst Palestinians.”

This is the right thing to do, for it is just this sort of risky talk, often clandestine, that led to peace in Northern Ireland. No peace will ever come without a willingness to sit around a table and talk.

This is why the refusal of a number of Anglican bishops to accept the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitation to the Lambeth Conference looks so childish and lacking in moral imagination (Press, 27 July). From Sydney to Nigeria to Winchester, there have been bishops toying with the idea that they might refuse to sit down and talk to other bishops. This is an out-and-out scandal, and has nothing whatsoever to do with homosexuality.

It is a scandal because church leaders might talk the talk about peace, but some just don’t walk the walk when it involves themselves. Think of those men and women of great moral courage — in South Africa, in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and in Northern Ireland — who have sat down with the people who have murdered their loved ones, in the search for reconciliation. Lay that side by side with the refusal of some bishops to meet others because they disagree about theology. Shame on them.

Yet there are glimmers of hope. Last month, a gathering of bishops from 24 dioceses in the United States and 31 dioceses in Africa met together in Spain without fuss or publicity. Organised by Trinity Church, Wall Street, this meeting involved some of most strident advocates of their various positions. The Primates of Central Africa, Burundi, Congo, and Ghana sat down with the Bishops of Washington and Los Angeles, both keen supporters of Bishop Gene Robinson. The Bishops spoke their mind to each other — frankly, but in love.

This is what the Lambeth Conference ought to be about: a conference in search of peace and reconciliation. If it can be done in Spain, there is no reason why it cannot be done at Canterbury. In reality, of course, those who refuse to turn up at the Lambeth Conference will be those who do not want peace. They want control. Yet, if we as a Church cannot model the necessary risks for reconciliation, we are a useless bunch of pious frauds. That is what the world at large will think. And it will be dead right.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney.

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