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Focus on peace-making

06 March 2015

Michael Doe commends a study that is Southwark Cathedral's Lent book

Living Reconciliation
Phil Groves and Angharad Parry Jones
SPCK £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT656 )

THE 2008 Lambeth Conference was different. Out went the quasi-parliamentary and potentially adversarial procedures that still dominate our own synodical processes, although we, too, are now learning that there are other and better ways to govern a Church. In came new ways for people to meet, talk, and - if they had the courage - face differences, and even conflict. Some of these ways came from other cultures, and especially the concept of Indaba, "gathering for purposeful discussion", from Southern Africa.

This book traces the Continuing Indaba journeys taken by some Anglican Churches, now reinforced by the emphasis on reconciliation that Archbishop Justin has placed at the centre of his ministry. The authors are two staff members of the Anglican Communion Office. They write well, at times beautifully, interweaving the experience of cross-cultural meetings with considering how the New Testament addresses similar issues of diversity and conflict. Each chapter concludes with questions for individual or group study.

The authors suggest that the Christian search for reconciliation must encompass trusting in God rather than old securities; seeing others as companions on a journey, rather than as enemies or antagonists; valuing people who are different, especially when there is inequality of status; taking risks; facing up to the reality of conflict, and, it is hoped, transforming it, learning to see others and ourselves in new ways.

This book will not be without its critics. They will include more conservative readers who would restrict reconciliation, and its roots in scripture, to the individual's relationship with Christ. Others from both conservative and liberal positions will be anxious that (their) truth is being over-ridden in the pursuit of unity, and that honouring of others who also claim to be "in Christ" should not take priority over addressing either injustice (imprisoning gay people in Africa) or heresy (accepting gay marriage in North America).

More generally, some of us will worry that Christian ethics is increasingly presented as the product of personal discipleship, which, though leading to significant public statements on contemporary issues, especially by our two Archbishops, ultimately weakens our ability to speak to society as a whole.

Nevertheless, in a world in which people either retreat into the comfort of their own certainties, or seek to force those certainties on to others, Christians need to be practising and proclaiming the reconciliation that we see in Christ. And, dare we say, despite our recent history, Anglicanism ought to be at the forefront of this endeavour.

The Rt Revd Michael Doe is Preacher to Gray's Inn, and a former General Secretary of USPG (now Us.).

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