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Williams urges generous love

31 July 2008

by Bill Bowder

ANGLICANS seem often to be threat­ening death to each other rather than offering life, the Arch­bishop of Canterbury said in a presidential address on Tues­day.

On what might come out of the Lambeth Conference, Dr Williams said: “I’ve made no secret of what I think [change] should be — a cov­enant that recognises the need to grow towards each other (and also recognises that not all may choose that way). I find it hard at present to see another way forward that would avoid further disintegration.”

He expanded on his earlier state­ment that council and covenant were the way forward: “a need for more structure in our international affairs to be able to give clear guidance on what would and would not be a grave and lasting divisive course of action by a Church”. Sexual ethics was the present focus, but it could just as easily be anything from pressure for a new baptismal formula to variance in sacramental practice such as lay presidency.

A covenantal agreement, properly understood, was an expression of mutual generosity or “generous love”: finding out the real intentions and needs of the other person or group, “so that when we do address divisive issues, we have created enough of a community for an intel­ligent generosity to be born”.

The bulk of his address was a “risky” attempt to present what the two sides in the Anglican divide were feeling. “What some see as confused or reckless innovation in some prov­inces is felt as a body-blow to the integrity of mission and a matter of literal physical risk to Christians. The reaction to this is, in turn, felt as an annihilating judgement on a whole local Church, undermining its le­gitim­acy and pouring scorn on its witness,” he said.

Speaking for traditionalists, he said: “Don’t misunderstand us. We’re not looking for safety and comfort. Some of us know quite a lot about carrying the cross. But when that cross is laid on us by fellow-Christians, it’s quite a lot harder to bear.”

Then, voicing the thoughts of “the not so traditional believer”, Dr Williams said: “A lot of the time, we feel we’re being made scapegoats. Other provinces have acute moral and disciplinary problems, or else they more or less refuse to admit the realities in their midst. But those of us who have faced the complex issues around gay relationships in what we feel to be an open and prayerful way are stigmatised and demonised.”

These were two sets of feelings and perceptions, two appeals for gen­erosity, Dr Williams said.

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