A TRIP to the South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda, and Goma, in the
Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), brings home some
pretty tough realities. Two of those areas are post-conflict, and
two are current conflict. In them, the issues which mesmerise me
day by day vanish, and the extraordinary courage of the Church is
brought afresh in front of my eyes. By the Church, I don't only
mean the Bishops and the Archbishops, extraordinary as they are,
but the whole Church, in the small villages where they have been
raided, where sexual violence has been the norm, where unspeakable
atrocities have been carried out and yet they still trust in
These are churches of courage, Anglican, Catholic, Pentecostal,
other Protestant, and many others. Of course they are flawed - we
are all - but it is their courage and faith that lives with me.
However, like all churches, including ourselves, they are part
of the society in which they live. Societies in conflict are
societies in fear. It is on that subject of fear that I want to
reflect for a few minutes, not with reference so much to the
international situation, but to ourselves and the way we deal with
ourselves and between ourselves.
We all know that perfect love casts out fear. We know it,
although we don't often apply it. We mostly know that perfect fear
casts out love. In any institution or organisation, the moment that
suspicion reigns, and the assumption that everything is zero-sum
becomes dominant (that is to say that some else's gain must be my
loss: we can't both flourish), that institution will be
increasingly dominated by fear.
It is an old problem in game theory. The moment at which
something is zero-sum, players stop looking so much at their
objectives and increasingly look at each other. The more they look
at each other, the more they are dominated by fear, and the less
they are able to focus on their objectives.
The Church of England is not a closed system, nor is the
Anglican Communion, and, most certainly, nor is the Church catholic
and universal. It is not a closed system, because God is involved,
and, where he is involved, there is no limit to what can happen,
and no limit to human flourishing. His abundant love overwhelms us
when we make space for it to flood into our own lives, into
institutions and systems.
At the other end of the spectrum, closed systems, full of fear,
eventually implode under the weight of their own contradictions and
conflicts. Assumptions grow about what is happening. I notice many
For example, as those who were in the chamber for Questions
know, I recently commented that where a growing church is, there is
usually a good incumbent. A number of people took that to mean as
well that where a church is not growing it must be because there's
a bad vicar. But I didn't say that, and neither did I mean it. I
have to confess that the moment I said it, I knew I had expressed
myself badly, and do apologise to those hurt by the comment. But
the underlying point remains: fear leads to the assumption of
Take another example. Yesterday, this Synod, by an overwhelming
majority, supported at its latest stage the legislation that could
lead to the ordination of women to the episcopate. We all know in
this place that is only a first stage, that we have some way to go.
In the middle of all the paper we have in Annex A of GS 1932 the
five principles agreed by the House of Bishops. They are short and
to the point, and to work they depend on love and trust. The love
has to be demonstrated, and the trust has to be earned. But the
love cannot be demonstrated if it is refused, and the trust cannot
be earned without the iterative process of it being received and
reinforced in the reception. That is how love and trust work.
So, for example, if we are to live out a commitment to the
flourishing of every tradition of the Church, there is going to
have to be a massive cultural change that accepts that people with
whom I differ deeply are also deeply loved by Christ, and therefore
must be deeply loved by me, and love means seeking their
We cannot make any sense of Philippians 2, and the hymn to the
Servant, unless we adopt that approach. The gift that Christ gives
us, of loving us to the end, to the ultimate degree is meaningless
unless that love is both given and received, and then passed
Culture change is always threatening, and when we talk about
implementing the five principles, including the one that seeks the
flourishing of every part of the Church, and thus of appointments
of people who disagree with us most profoundly, all sorts of
objections can be raised.
"What would a Church flourish if it appointed men who do not
ordain women to senior posts, simply because in other respects
those appointing sense the call and purpose of God?" What would the
world think? The Church's answer has to be: "The world may think
what it likes, we are seeking mutual flourishing." Even as I say
it, my heart beats faster with concern about the consequences, and
with fear of the difficulty of climbing such a steep slope. And
"how can those who are deeply and theologically committed to the
idea that women should not be ordained as Bishops - how can they
flourish?" I can see the answer only in the grace and love of God
in a Church that risks living out its call. It is a hard course to
steer. Yet I know it is right that we set such a course and hold to
it through thick and thin, with integrity, transparency and
Yet what lies on that journey? Well, it is certainly an untidy
Church. It has incoherence, inconsistency between dioceses and
between different places. It's not a Church that says we do this
and we don't do that. It's a Church that says we do this, and we do
that, and actually quite a lot of us don't like that, but we are
still going to do it because of love. It's a Church that speaks to
the world and says that consistency and coherence is not the
ultimate virtue that is found in holy grace.
A Church that loves those with whom the majority deeply disagree
is a Church that will be unpleasantly challenging to a world where
disagreement is either banned within a given group or removed and
expelled. The absolute of holy grace challenges the absolutism of a
world that says there are no absolutes except the statement that
there are no absolutes.
The Church of England is not tidy, nor efficiently hierarchical.
There are no popes, but there is a College of Bishops, and there
are synods and collections and lobbies and groups and pressure and
struggle. When it works well, it works because love overcomes fear.
When it works badly, it is because fear overcomes love.
The resources for more fear lie within us, and the resources for
more love lie within God, and are readily available to all those
who in repentance and humility stretch out and seek them. With
Jesus, every imperative rests on an indicative; every command
springs from a promise. Do not fear.
Already, I can hear the arguments being pushed back at me, about
compromise, about the wishy-washiness of reconciliation, to quote
something I read recently. But this sort of love, and the
reconciliation between differing groups that it demands and
implies, is not comfortable and soft and wishy-washy. Facilitated
conversations may be a clumsy phrase, but it has at its heart a
search for good disagreement. It is exceptionally hard-edged,
extraordinarily demanding, and likely to lead, in parts of the
world around us, to profound unpopularity or dismissal.
This sort of gracious reconciliation means that we have to
create safe space within ourselves to disagree, as we began to do
last summer at the Synod in York, and as we need to do over the
issues arising out of our discussions on sexuality - not because
the outcome is predetermined to be a wishy-washy one, but because
the very process is a proclamation of the gospel of unconditionally
loving God, who gives himself for our sin and failure. It is
incarnational in the best sense, and leads to the need to bear our
cross in the way we are commanded.
Let's bring this down to some basics. We have agreed that we
will ordain women as bishops. At the same time, we have agreed that
while doing that we want all parts of the Church to flourish. If we
are to challenge fear, we have to find a cultural change in the
life of the Church, in the way our groups and parties work,
sufficient to build love and trust.
That will mean different ways of working at every level of the
Church in practice, in the way our meetings are structured,
presented, and lived out; and in every form of appointment. It
will, dare I say, mean a lot of careful training and development in
our working methods, because the challenge for all institutions
today, and us above all, is not merely the making of policy, but
how we then make things happen.
We have received a report with disagreement in it on sexuality,
through the group led by Sir Joseph Pilling. There is great fear
among some, here and round the world, that that will lead to the
betrayal of our traditions, to the denial of the authority of
scripture - to apostasy, not to use too strong a word.
And there is also a great fear that our decisions will lead us
to the rejection of LGBT people, to irrelevance in a changing
society, to behaviour that many see akin to racism. Both those
fears are alive and well in this room today.
We have to find a way forward that is one of holiness and
obedience to the call of God, and enables us to fulfil our
purposes. This cannot be done through fear. How we go forward
matters deeply, as does where we arrive.
Where we work to overcome fear, and to bring society closer
together, we can make a real difference. Over the past few years,
the Near Neighbours programme has, in extraordinary and creative
ways, helped to create a stronger fabric of relationships and joint
working across different faith communities.
Largely funded by the Department for Communities and Local
Government through the Church Urban Fund, the Church of England,
with its network of parishes, and the four Presence and Engagement
centres, has partnered with people and organisations from a range
of Churches and different faiths to produce real, local change that
has been acknowledged in two independent reports.
I am delighted that it looks as though this fruitful partnership
between government and faith communities led by the Church can
continue at least over the next two years, and we look forward to a
formal announcement soon. This is recognition that the Church is
part of the glue that holds our society together, which casts out
fear of difference, and works practically for the common good.
So I come back to where I started. We live in a world of
courageous Churches - not only the ones I saw last week, but
Churches like the Church of Nigeria and the Church of Kenya and the
Church of Uganda, and many, many others - South Africa, I could go
on and on - who live out the reality of a costly discipleship, and
somehow managed to find love in the midst of it.
They are not sinless, but they are heroic. We are called to be a
heroic Church: before us, the great demons of poverty, ignorance,
need, human suffering; filling us, the grace and love of Christ,
who leads us in mission.
The Churches I saw in the past ten daysare certainly heroic.
That heroism should challenge us not simply to follow what they
say, but to be those whose heroic faith is truly holy and