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Presidential address

Geoff Crawford/Stefano Cagni

THEOLOGY was at the heart of today’s global conflict with extremism, which had been described as the Third World War, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the General Synod. Extremism had to be overwhelmed not by other extremes, but by hope and love.

Giving his presidential address on Tuesday afternoon, the Archbishop warned the Synod not to be inward-looking in the context of the world’s problems. But he did have some advice for it on the conduct of its own business.

“So much of the atmosphere and environment in which we sit and work seems to guide us in a particular way. We have the wigs, the formality, the points of order, all of which derive from the fact that, in the General Synod, we are from time to time required to discuss and make the law of the land.

“Since Parliament has delegated certain responsibilities — albeit with the check of the Ecclesiastical Committee, and the requirement for Measures to be laid before both Houses of Parliament — we are required to do things properly, carefully, and legally. That is, of course, exactly as it should be.”

But he feared that members approached the Synod “as a place of suspicion and conflict”, and he quoted Kenneth Williams’s line from the film Carry on Cleo: “Infamy! Infamy!” he said.

“They’ve all got it in for me!” the Synod responded en masse.

The Archbishop went on: “The Westminster model, in which we are to some extent caught, sets up a mood of equivalence and exchange, in which all Synod decisions are regarded as a zero-sum game, in which one side must win and another must lose. But that is not the logic of the body of Christ. If any lose, we all lose. If any win, we all win.”

He referred to the Council of Jerusalem, as described in Acts 15, and said that the Early Church “faced turning the experience of the grace of God into practical decision. If the way in which we work is only on the Westminster model, we will neither be overwhelmed with joy by the grace of God, nor capable of finding a way forward that ensures that all those who receive his grace — all those — are enabled to flourish in his love.” The Church should not, he said, “be ashamed of the fact that we are a Church that has its arguments in public — loudly. It is healthy and good.”

On the other hand, the Synod was called to unity, “not for efficiency, or for bureaucratic tidiness, but by the prayer and command of Christ”.

The Synod could not afford to be “too consumed by the inner workings of the Church of England”, he said. “The events of the last two weeks in Paris have broken our hearts. In great sorrow, we have seen the impact of religiously motivated violence at its very worst.

“We will not likely ever be forgiven if this Synod turns inwards at this time of crisis, thinking only of ourselves and our own preoccupations, and that if we neglect the fact that all around us is a great struggle, described recently by Lord Alderdice, who was so instrumental in the Northern Ireland peace process — he described what is happening all around us as the Third World War.

“Let me be clear, it is not a war against Islam. Religious extremism is global, and faces us with a generational and ideological or theological struggle. It is a war against extremism and the fundamentalism that prefers to defy God himself rather than to live in holiness with those whom we are called to love.

“And let us remember: we are called to love God, one another, our neighbour, our enemy. . .

“The conflict around us is global, affecting people of all faiths and none, including vast numbers of Christians, all around the world. Extremism is now a feature of every major faith tradition, including our own.

“The conflict is generational; it will see us out; . . . and it is theological and ideological. There will be aspects that may involve the use of armed force in a quasi-policing form. We will differ over whether that is right or wrong.

“Yet, at the heart of this conflict, for the first time in centuries in Western Europe, is theology. . . The task is to overwhelm extremism not by other extremes, but with hope and love. . .

“This present conflict must be won for faith of any kind to have any reputation in the public mind.”

Archbishop Welby urged the Synod to “approach this quinquennium with an attitude of openness to the Holy Spirit, building together as a synodal Church. Let us learn to honour one another, and to love one another as those who bear the name of Christ, and who seek to serve him.”

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