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Leader comment: Reconciliation, an ongoing need for Anglicans

10 June 2022

THE transitoriness of the Jubilee harmony has been widely remarked this week. As the costumes from the Mall pageant on Sunday were still being folded up, Conservative MPs were voting to indicate their confidence, or lack of it, in Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. In a political system governed by the carrot of preferment and the stick of constituency disapproval, it was striking how many MPs were ready to vote against the PM. His belief in the healing power of momentum — “We are going to get on with the massive agenda that we were elected to deliver in 2019” — might prove misplaced were a credible alternative to appear.

The country’s political turmoil is only one of the many examples of the need for reconciliation to come to the fore in recent weeks, encouraging the tireless Archbishop Welby (despite pneumonia and until struck by Covid) to embark on a media round that combined book promotion — The Power of Reconciliation (Books, 27 May/3 June) — with international diplomacy. Politics and the Church’s right to engage with it, relationships within the royal family, the war in Ukraine — all contributed material for his argument that there needs to be a radical resetting of the customary approach to conflict resolution which infects every domestic, industrial, national, and global system: the reassertion of one’s own viewpoint through an escalating scale of tactics, the last of which is violence. Indeed, many who swim in these waters ignore the shallows and plunge straight in at the deep end, instantly looking for the best way to harm their opponents.

It would be unkind to suggest that the Archbishop’s credentials as a peacemaker are damaged by the divisions within Anglicanism, although it is probable that he feels this way himself. The letter sent last week to the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda, written jointly with the Secretary-General of the Anglican Communion, contained three elements pertinent to the craft of reconciliation. The most obvious was the open door: “Those who stay away cannot be heard.” As a statement, this was more metaphorical than factual. It would have been more accurate to say that those who stay away cannot listen to the others, but presumably that was not judged a selling point with the Primates. The second element was the correcting of errors: the decision to exclude same-sex partners from the Conference was a costly one and not to be undermined by misreporting. As for the C of E’s unchanged teaching on marriage, many suspect that the lack of progress towards any sort of decision is not unrelated to a desire to get through the Lambeth Conference unscathed.

The final element is not found in the text of the letter, but informs it: rather like the Commonwealth and its countries, the Anglican Communion will exist for just as long as Provinces choose to belong to it. Thus, Archbishop Welby’s success as a reconciler will be judged by how many attend the Conference, something of which the conservative Primates are fully aware — just as they know that the large majority of Anglican bishops intend be in Canterbury at the end of July.

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