THE struggle in the Anglican Communion is not about sexuality. It is a symptom of something deeper: it is about biblical authority, the Archbishop of South Sudan, the Most Revd Justin Badi, told me on Friday.
“You can’t have differing minds and be a Church,” he said. “You must have the mind of Christ as policy. You teach one message and you help people expound, make simple what the scriptures say. That is it.
“You can’t say you don’t like it ‘but we are one now’. That’s only possible in secular organisations. You can’t say: ‘We have one thing that brings us together, but for the rest, we do what we want.’”
Our conversation perfectly illustrates the impasse of that faces the Anglican Communion. I tell him that I have just come from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s press conference, where the language, passion, hope, and drive had been around reconciliation and the pressing needs of the world. Now I am hearing only the language of confrontation and division. How does he square that?
Reconciliation is based on the Bible, Archbishop Badi says, “on the Lord Jesus who came, shed his blood to bring us together. That togetherness cannot be a reality without repentance, and without returning to the authority of scripture. That’s what we seek and that’s what we are struggling with — to bring back the authority of the scriptures to the Communion.
“So when we just leave that, there will be no reconciliation, no unity. I say that because Nigeria has gone, and shortly after, Uganda pulled [out] and then Rwanda pulled [out], and Kenya.” (In fact, Kenyan bishops took communion during the Lambeth retreat.) “And we will all fall one by one if we don’t treat the wound, which is the absence and respect for biblical authority.”
I tell him that, for the last quarter-century at least, in reporting Primates’ Meetings, Anglican Consultative Council meetings, Lambeth Conferences, and the rest, I have heard the hope held out that this time, this time, something will be sorted that resolves the Communion’s differences. Does he see this as such a moment?
“My hope is that all Provinces will come back from where they have gone astray, that they follow the biblical teaching. That’s when we shall come out of it,” he repeats. “If not, the Communion will continue to be sick and suffer, and many will follow out of [it].”
What about an Anglican Communion that held these differences in tension, I suggest: acknowledge that, as Archbishop Welby had reiterated that morning, “We are a messy family. But families live with mess”?
There are “certain things we cannot live with, which are central, or paramount, which unite us all, and that is the biblical truth,” Archbishop Badi says. “I am an African in Africa: we have our own culture, but that should be out[side] of the Church. You are European or American and have your own culture that is yours. But what brings us together is the biblical truth.
“So our struggle here is [around] bringing culture into the Church, trying to say that, since we are autonomous, this can be there. But this should not happen. This cannot happen.”
How would he advise Archbishop Welby, I ask, who is trying to hold in balance a Communion that includes the US Episcopal Church and the Church of Nigeria?
“He is a man of God, whom I very much respect, and the first thing is just to pray for him — that God encourages and strengthens him to continue to stand on the truth, one day, one time, [that] all those who have gone astray will find him on the road.”
Sexuality appears to be the line in the sand, the litmus test for the conservatives, I suggest, but how much is sexuality really the focus in his own ministry and the concerns of his flock? Are there not other issues of more importance to them?
The sin isn’t sexuality, he counters. “There are many other sins that are committed. But the authority of the Bible is what we are trying to correct. The Bible says from the beginning God created them, male and female, and gave them the mandate to go and produce.
“So if we are now saying ‘God was wrong. We have discovered the truth,’ then where is it written in the Bible? Being a Christian, you go according to what the Bible teaches.”
But day to day, what is he dealing with at home? What are his big concerns, I persist?
It is “helping people understand the word of God,” he says, “and leading their life according to the teachings from the scriptures — that’s the main thing I do as a pastor and a bishop. And trying to persuade those who go against the word of God to repent and come back to the biblical truth. That’s the main thing. I don‘t say: ‘No, it’s your right — go ahead, to mess up.’”
How the conservative faction propose to put the re-affirmation of Lambeth 1.10 back on the agenda won’t emerge until after the weekend, he says. “The Global South bishops will discuss the detail. What we are after is that it should be brought back from where it is hidden and and [be made] public. It’s a measuring line. Some of my brothers and sisters have said: ‘No, it’s already dead.’ But it’s not dead. No.”
Can he really not break bread with fellow members of the Body of Christ, I ask? “Sacrament according to our liturgy, is an outward sign of something deeper. So how can I do that, when I know my brothers have gone wrong. . .? I have criticised them and they have not yet repented. . . Coming to spiritual things, there is no union there. [The eucharist] is not just food.
“The priest stands up and says some words, and then you measure yourself according to those words: ‘If you repent of your sins and intend to lead a new life, then come.’ Later the priest says: ‘Although we are many, we are one body.’ Fine. But you are doing your own culture. That’s why Global South have decided we put these things right. You can’t have differing minds and be a Church. That cannot happen.
“We cannot just deceive ourselves, saying: ‘Fine, we are together.’ We are not really together. This is hypocrisy.”