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Lambeth 2022: There are lions to fear and to tame, Welby tells bishops. ‘We must look out, not in’

30 July 2022

Neil Turner/Lambeth Conference

Archbishop Welby’s keynote speech, in front of a graphic of a lion

Archbishop Welby’s keynote speech, in front of a graphic of a lion

THE Lambeth Conference was meeting in a time of world crisis, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in his first keynote address on Friday evening. The Communion would not be forgiven if it was “another gathering that focused on ourselves”.

He continued: “Too often the Anglican Communion has been known best — where it is known at all as a communion — for looking inwards and struggling with its own disagreement. These questions, especially on the Christian and Anglican approach to human identity and sexuality, will not be solved at this conference.”

He urged: “We must look outwards. The Conference calls for a fresh start towards the goal of being the Church that God calls into being, for the mission God prepares.

“The world crisis is complicated. It is a crisis of economics, of war and savagery, of climate change, of international relations, and of culture and belief. It is no surprise that this is the moment of decision.”

Many of the bishops had come from places of suffering, he said. “Many of us come aware of what [St] Peter called ‘the roaring lions’: the sense — and often reality — of attack, hostility, danger. and uncertainty. . . The fears, apprehensions, pressures, and burdens we carry can make the lions seem more important and powerful than the great and freely given love of God in Jesus Christ which we seek, desire, long for — and can find in these days together.”

He spoke of the impact of the collapse of Western banking systems, the end of globalisation of trade, COVID-19, the catastrophe over world food prices and availability, a major war involving a nuclear power, and with growing force, the impact of climate change.

He went on to talk about the culture wars: “the rejection by many of the old ways of settling belief, faith or ethics. . . The shock waves of these changes are felt across the Communion.”

Some of the change was good, he acknowledged: “the profound and passionate commitment to justice, equality, and freedom, a deep hatred of hypocrisy, a real commitment to the most vulnerable. There is genuine energy in seeking to ensure that the planet on which we live avoids climate disaster in the next 20 to 100 years.”

And yes, internal differences mattered, especially those of sexuality. “But they are not everything. . . To someone without food, or caught up in war, or persecuted, or suffering from intense poverty, their daily struggle is uppermost in their minds.”

This Conference will see the launch of the global Communion network on Science and Technology. The next 40 years were expected to see the greatest changes in science and technology, Archbishop Welby said, noting, among other extraordinary advances in disease and immunology, “We already have more power in our phones than NASA had to send astronauts to the moon.”

Those changes provided the Communion with different paths to take. One would be “the pathway where the benefits of knowledge are shared and the ethical questions thought through” — for example, the use of drones and good surveillance to stop wars and to warn of natural disasters.

“The second is the path of power and wealth. The rich gain the benefits of the new advances, and they do as they choose. The poor are shut out of the gains and live as they can. The wealthy have choice, the poor suffer the consequences.” This was a pathway in which “competing power groups will use the supply of weapons to wage proxy wars”

A Church that refused or was unable to engage in the world of science and technology would have nothing to say to a world whose future was being decided by changes in science and technology. “This lion can be domesticated and made to serve.”

He gave sobering figures on the number of refugees: 25 million in 1945, around 90 million now. “The impact of climate change means that by 2050, or soon after, there will be around 800 million to 1.2 billion. Most of them will come from countries present here.

“Climate change is seen too often as a matter of future concern for people in this country. For those in the tropical areas and low-lying countries, it is already a matter of life and death,” he said. “It will become much more threatening. It is not peripheral, it is the fuel for the four horses of the apocalypse.”

The answers would be found in leading and influencing. “As those who lead the flocks we must seek to ensure that the nations of the world face their responsibilities squarely and act decisively. This lion cannot be domesticated and tamed to serve. It must be slain.”

He described religious extremism as a disease that had pervaded all the world faiths, and economic injustice as “not only greater than it has ever been but also more obvious. . . This is not the way of the Kingdom of God.”

The Archbishop described his last lion as “one which comes stealthily. Its bite is so gentle that we are not always even aware that we are in its jaws. But it is as much a killer of the sheep, a destroyer of the flocks, as any other.

“It is the culture around us that seeks to construct itself apart from God. Whether it is the loss of even the memory of Christianity among so many of the youth of the West, or the acceptance of the violence of war, and violence against women, or the access to pornography around the world, the culture that spreads more and more in the world is opposed to the values of the Kingdom.”

The Archbishop described his visit to residential-school survivors in Canada in April, to apologise for the past acts of the Church of England. “What happened was terrible,” he said. “But what is worse is that no leading Christians ever stood up against it. They accepted the cultural presupposition that some human beings were more civilised, were better, and had a right to do these things.

“This has been part of the history of the Church in many times and places. It is always a cause for shame and an urgent call on us all to repentance and commitment to justice.”

He urged: “Let us begin this Conference with the promise of honesty and love that enables and supports each other to hear the lions, understand them, and be a global Church that will face and defeat their empty and powerless threats. Because at the end, Christ is the conqueror, redeemer, and saviour of all.”

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