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ACC: The powerful should not impose values or culture on others, says Archbishop of Canterbury

13 February 2023

Neil Turner

Archbishop Welby giving his address to the ACC on Sunday

Archbishop Welby giving his address to the ACC on Sunday

THE Anglican Communion has to find visible signs of unity that do not result in “the imposition of one powerful group’s values coming from their culture nor from scripture on another position”, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) meeting in Accra on Saturday.

The Provinces of the Communion — “made up of remote parishes in Papua New Guinea and huge churches on Wall Street” — were both interdependent and autonomous, he reflected. “There is no good reason why one group in one part of the world should order the life and culture of another. . . Any submission to the will of those outside our own Province must be voluntary, never compelled.”

He dwelt on the key part played by laity in the ACC, and of the local church, “where profound transformation happens every day. . . It is there that prophetic voices speak to the Church every day. It is there that people are affected by the decisions made by political leaders for good and ill, and where Christians serve in their communities.

“And it is at local level that intentional discipleship is necessarily lived differently in each place because of different cultures. For we are not the same although we are one.”

The Archbishop spoke of the perceived unity implicit in the joint peace pilgrimage to South Sudan he had undertaken with the Pope and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland (News, 10 February): the “enormous sense of the spirit of God being released” on a visit he described as “rough, tough stuff”.

He warned: “When times change, so must the Instruments of Communion.” [The four Instruments of Communion are the Lambeth Conference, the ACC, the Primates’ Meeting, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.]

”If we have another world war, of which many are talking, the Instruments must be capable of keeping us linked and seeking peace. If climate change brings natural terror, after terror, the Instruments must be effective in promoting mutual hope and advocacy for those who suffer most.

“If one part of the world — the richest part — seeks to keep the rest at bay, behind fences and wires and walls, and refuses those who need to move to survive the hope of asylum, the Instruments must give us the tools for mutual help. Tools which mean that we consciously, explicitly say that obedience to God comes ahead of loyalty to country.”

He reiterated his willingness to relinquish the authority that the Archbishop of Canterbury currently has in the Communion. “The role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the see of Canterbury, is an historic one. The Instruments must change with the times.

“I will not cling to place or position. I hold it very lightly, provided that the other Instruments of Communion choose the new shape, that we are not dictated to by people, blackmailed, bribed to do what others want us to do, but since we act in good conscience before God, seeking a judge that is not for our power but exists for the new world with its extraordinary and terrifying threats. To proclaim Christ and turn our opportunities into realities to bless the world.”

He described the culture of today as one where community and mutual responsibility had almost been eliminated philosophically over the past 75 years. He dwelt on the individualism that did not accept outside authority, and that had resulted in the majority of people having no faith at all. The greatest danger was the secular “nones”: “those who when asked about their faith, say, ‘None. I have no faith.’”

This was his springboard to speaking about the sexuality debate in the General Synod, where he told the ACC he had “talked about our interdependence with all Christians, not just Anglicans, particularly those in the global South with other faith majorities.

“As a result, I was summoned twice to Parliament and threatened with parliamentary action to force same-sex marriage on us, called in England ‘equal marriage’. When I speak of the impact that actions by the Church of England will have on those abroad in the Anglican Communion, those concerns are dismissed by many. Not all, but by many in the General Synod.

“And remember that, in the Church of England, Archbishops do not chair the General Synod, and do not organise its business and it debates.”

He had earlier reflected: “The Instruments of Communion have grown and changed over the years. They’ve responded to changes caused by wars, colonialism, decolonising, corruption and failure, heresies and schisms, technological and scientific advance. They have never had the character of Synods with either doctrinal or ethical authority over the Communion, but they do have moral force.”

He concluded: “The Instruments may change. Sin is to be condemned. We are to seek Christ and obey.

“But that is where we find our difficulty, because, as the well-mannered but extremely rough, English General Synod joked this last week, we are deeply in disagreement, not through lack of integrity, corruption, lying or surrendering to the culture, but because we do interpret scripture differently, we understand the work of the Spirit differently, and we look at these things with different cultural lenses. And are therefore all always wrong to some degree.”

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