CHURCH leaders in the global South cannot continue to focus on the faults of others while neglecting the needs of their own people, the President-Bishop of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Dr Mouneer Anis, said last week.
Addressing 16 Primates, gathered in Cairo for the sixth Global South Anglican Conference, Dr Anis said that they had spent “almost two decades reacting to the unilateral decisions and the changes in the theology and practice made by some Churches in the West. But now it is time for us to also give needful attention to the challenges that are before us in the Global South. We cannot continue to focus on the faults of others while neglecting the needs of our own people.”
He listed the 40 million people living with HIV/AIDS, and 1.1 billion who did not have access to clean water, as evidence of the need to confront the Church: “We have to be involved in peacemaking where there is conflict, provide health where there is sickness, bring hope where there is despair.” He also listed failings in the Global South Churches, including corruption, tribalism, polygamy, poor treatment of women, and the prosperity gospel.
Teaching on sexuality remained a “major challenge”, he said. “Unilateral decisions” taken by some Churches had left him wanting to “weep as Jesus did over Jerusalem”. He warned that some Western Churches and organisations “use their wealth and influence to push their own agendas in the global South”. This was a “new form of ideological slavery”, he said, that Churches must resist. The diocese of Egypt with North of Africa & the Horn of Africa does not accept money from the Episcopal Church in the US (News, 4 March).
The final communiqué from the gathering, issued on Sunday, criticised the authorisation of liturgies, and the making of pastoral provisions for the blessing of same-sex couples, and the consecration of bishops and ordination of priests living with same-sex partners.
“We are deeply concerned that there appears to be a potential move towards the acceptance of blessing of same-sex union by C of E,” the Primates wrote. “This would have serious implications for us should it occur.”
Noting the “inability of existing Communion instruments to discern truth and error and take binding ecclesiastical action”, the communiqué states that a task force will be formed to address this deficit.
A joint statement on same-sex relationships by the Global South Primates and GAFCON Primates Council was presented at the gathering. It warns against providing pastoral provision for a same-sex couple in the form of a liturgy for a blessing, recommending instead a “sensitive and compassionate ministry to those who are sexually broken in the area of same-sex attractions and unions. Our pastoral approach is to accept people for who they are, just as God accepted us for who we were. We oppose the vilification or demeaning of those who do not follow God’s ways. We affirm that every person is loved by God, so we too must love as God loves. Our role is to restore them to God’s divine patterns by inviting them to receive the transforming love of Christ that gives them the power to repent and walk in newness of life.”
The Episcopalian Bishop of Albany in the US, the Rt Revd William Love, also present at the gathering, described this as “the most pastorally sensitive statement on human sexuality that I have ever read”.
End the focus on faults of others: Dr Mouneer Anis
Credit: Diocese of Egypt
End the focus on faults of others: Dr Mouneer Anis
Bishop Love was one of several Anglican leaders from outside the global South who joined the Cairo meeting. They included the Bishops of Durham, Winchester, Birkenhead, and Blackburn.
A report by Anglican Mainstream says that the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, addressing the gathering, thanked the Bishop of Birkenhead, the Rt Revd Keith Sinclair, who wrote a statement dissenting from the Pilling report on sexuality: “He bore a great deal of pain and went through tough times for his stand.” According to the report, Bishop Butler said that the recently established Bishops’ reflection group on human sexuality (News, 15 September) was set up to ensure that “we are not scuppered by people bringing antagonistic things to General Synod. We are determined that this issue shall be episcopally led.”
Bishop Butler is currently on study leave, and so is unable to respond to a request for clarification.
Anglican Mainstream reports that the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, said “that the Bishops were present with the full knowledge of the Archbishop of Canterbury and also that not everyone has bowed the knee in the Church of England”. It quotes him as saying: “Many of us intend to remain faithful.”
On Wednesday, Bishop Dakin clarified: “I was speaking from a context in which the Shared Conversations have encouraged us, with good grace, to remain open and committed to discussion and to understanding one another even when there are deep disagreements. In this diocese we are linked with five other Provinces across the global South, with their own profound cultural differences, but we are united by our shared mission, history, theology and our worship of God through Christ. We must make space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, but we must remain faithful to the scriptural revelation of Jesus Christ, which we hold together as his worldwide Church.”
The Cairo communiqué refers to the “warm welcome” given by the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, to the Primates, who were “encouraged by his commitment to affirm common citizenship and promote freedom of religion”.