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February 28, 2013


Justin Welby at Coventry Cathedral: The Crooked, Straight Path of Reconciliation

Here is Archbishop Welby’s address to the “Faith in Conflict” Conference at Coventry this week.

Notice, as you read, the assertions he makes, namely:

1. There is no mention of false teaching and true teaching. Instead there is only “diversity” of belief
2. Diversity is a necessary and good thing in the “family” of the church…and everyone in the church (visible) is, apparently, part of the family.
3. The refusal to accept diversity and the conflict that attends to it is a “circle the wagons approach” that is born of “fear.”
4. Reconciliation involves conflict…but the struggle must be aimed toward remaining unified.

The New Testament truth that those who promote false teaching are not “members of the family” but like wolves in the midst of the flock is wholly absent.

The Crooked, Straight Path of Reconciliation
Ruth 1:15-18 Luke 10:29-37

It is a pleasure beyond description to be back in this wonderful Cathedral where I have fallen asleep so often. The worst time was when leading Evensong, which is very visible. I slipped over sideways, and woke as the Magnificat ended. As I woke I wondered if I could pretend that this was merely an unusual position for prayer, but the stifled laughter by the verger soon stopped any pretence.

As usual each time I come in, the breath-taking and austere beauty of structure ruined and rebuilt catches my imagination afresh. In the golden anniversary service last year Rowan Williams preached memorably on the concrete text around us. And yet there is an irony, for the symbol stands as one of the greatest Cathedrals an age for Christian churches that appears too often to think the words “Father forgive” are mere formality. In blunt terms, we have this conference because conflict is so much part of our lives.

That is all wrong. I do not mean that conflict is wrong, but that our fear of it, our sense of it being wasted time and effort, is wrong. So often we seek like mindedness so that we can get on with the job of worship, of making disciples, of serving other human beings. Because conflict in the church is time consuming and destructive, we turn from facing it and instead seek those with whom we agree.

In Indiana there is a town called New Harmony. It is the rebuilt Harmony, which fell into disrepair when the original Harmonists fell out and left. It is the spirit of much Christianity: make a new frontier when things don’t work out with everyone, move on with those who agree - and again and again.

Conflict arises from the diversity in which we have been created. When we seek to find a way of life that avoids it we deny the three realities of our fallenness, our present diversity, and the tension between the realised present and anticipated salvation of our futures.

Reality is lived as part of a people united by the fact that they call on God. Ruth and Naomi were exiles, first one then the other, economic migrants whose suffering is matched by many of those who seek new lives today. Caught up in famine and war, families destroyed by disease, they come to a cross roads. Ruth’s unity with Naomi is established by the words “your God will be my God”. From that moment on, a moment of choice in love, responding to love, they are one far more deeply than as family in Moab.

That is passive unity, being part of the one family. But when we call on God he “calls us to his side as heralds of reconciliation”[1]. There is active co-operation with the life of God in our lives now. We live and we serve. The recognition by the Samaritan of the other as his neighbour leads to action, not mere existence. He becomes a herald of reconciliation.

In the old expression, we can choose our friends but we are stuck with our family. And so, by calling on God we are bound into a fellowship of being heralds of the reconciliation we have received. We had better get used to it because it lasts for ever.

In 1980 and 1981 Caroline and I were involved in taking bibles to Eastern Europe, then under Communist and Soviet domination. The two trips we made were remarkable, because through them we met Christians of all denominations and all sorts and personalities. Very often we spoke neither their language nor shared their assumptions about the world. But we found ourselves amongst family. I still recall clearly an evening of total non-comprehension and profound fellowship on the sixth floor of a tower block with a woman and her friends who were working with youth in the local church. For this crime they were made to suffer. We feasted on family reunion as we responded to the Spirit of God in each of us.

Reconciliation is recognition of diversity and a transformation of destructive conflict to creativity. It holds the tensions and challenges of difference and confronts us with them, forcing us to a new way of life that accepts the power and depth and radicality of the work of the Holy Spirit in our conversions.

We speak often in foreign policy of failed states, or failing states. Their common characteristic is the inability to manage diversity and grow with it, enabling it to change them significantly into better places. The core of the American sense of exclusivism is often found within that vocation of being a diverse and thriving nation.

If the Church is not a place of reconciliation it is not merely hindering its mission and evangelism, appalling as such hindrance is, but it is a failing or failed church. It has ceased to be the miracle of diversity in unity, of the grace of God breaking down walls.

But how do we escape the reach of these demons? Because by the grace of God we are defined as family with a call to action in reconciliation, then we have to find not only the call but also the means of being reconcilers, when our instincts and passions often lead us in the opposite direction. Circling the wagons and self-defining as those who are of one mind against the rest of the world has a noble feeling. Hollywood inspired, it gives us the feeling that this is a good day to die hard - hard of heart and hard in action. By contrast the process of reconciliation seems weak and unprincipled, alienating us from everyone involved in quarrel. It is a real work of grace, with all the absence of gratitude for grace that God Himself has experienced. I find myself often doubting myself deeply: have I become totally woolly, taken in by the niceness of bad people, trapped in an endless quest for illusory peace rather than tough answers. That is a question that all involved in reconciliation should be asked, and held accountable to, but it is also part of the process. Bonhoeffer, reflecting on the Good Samaritan, speaks of “the crooked yet straight path of reconciliation”[2]. The Priest and the Levite travelled straight on, the Samaritan turned aside. His path to the neighbour was straight to God.

Grace filled reconciliation begins with hospitality. Hospitality is a many faceted virtue, which reflects the doctrine of Catholic social teaching of the universal destination of goods. Because God offers enough for all, in our compassion we share what we have received as stewards of a great gift. It is not a matter of calculation of potential return but of gratuity, of grace. “To understand another’s distress as one’s own is to recognise that other as a neighbour, whether they are family, a friend or a stranger”[3]. Grace is lived in lavish recognition of our common receiving. The Samaritan turns aside, recognises the stranger, tends and nurses him at risk and cost, and provides.

Reconciliation is painful; grace is something that is squeezed out of our mixed motives. A church with which I worked had come near to absolute division. The challenge was to find a means of speaking truth safely to each other. The vicar and those who opposed him were in many cases truly heroic in being willing to listen and willing to change. They saw the distress of the other, recognised the call of God and the demands of grace and responded. But it was neither quick, nor universal. Grace crept into the cracks of the church and began to heal them, and the space for grace was opened by their own knowledge of the love of God. Pope Benedict XVI wrote:

“Awareness of God’s undying love sustains us in our laborious and stimulating work for justice and the development of peoples, amid successes and failures, in the ceaseless pursuit of a just ordering of human affairs. God’s love calls us to move beyond the limited and the ephemeral, it gives us the courage to continue seeking and working for the benefit of all,”[4].

The failing church fails because it is not open to the love of God. Success has many faces, but all of them are rooted in finding the love of God at work in us and seeing it in others.

The complexities of grace are experienced not only in our inner resistance and desire to circle the wagons, but also in grace having to be expressed as we journey. The Samaritan moved on, and came back. His journey and business continued, and yet he found the crooked, straight path. Journeys are periods of changing context. For me the journey to parts of Africa, often made, is always a time of tension. The context will shift so rapidly between boarding the aircraft and arriving that I feel fear and weakness, not of what I will find but of the challenge of adapting. A South African Islamic scholar reflecting on the ways of understanding texts in times of oppression wrote, “People’s lives are not shaped by a text as much as shaped by the context”[5]. The church is called to express reconciliation on the road together, in common journeying. We come to our texts, and find massive differences in understanding, but as the recent “Bible in the Life of the Church” report shows, context deeply affects how we understand. Ruth does not speak of understanding but of journey, “where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God, my God.”

Accepting we belong to God together because of His action, determined to express the common gift of grace and the universal goodness of what we have received, we journey together with much difficulty. We are many tribes, but one people. For that to have any possibility of success the journeying must be in truth, responding to the Spirit of God in us calling to the Spirit of God in each other. In journeying we must speak to each other. Silence is not peace. The Quaker Faith and Practice[6] book says “by their silence the progress of world peace has stood still”, there is a need to name issues, to listen and to let go of fear. A German Quaker in 1958, speaking with the experience of a defeated and divided nation said “the secret lies in the way in which truth is spoken”[7].

But speaking is not endless discussion.

“Care for the sick and the poor, hospitality to strangers, educational initiatives and peace-making endeavours are all examples of ways in which the church hosts the life together of its neighbours and enables that life to bear witness to its eschatological possibilities”.[8]

We are in a very demanding common journey and fear is an ever present reality. Fear is the opposite of trust[9] and our context is one of fear, a context which infiltrates the church. We do not trust the sciences on earth science, or the politicians, or the journalists or the Bishops or the bankers. The absence of trust renders all decision making a matter of law and all laws an attempt to cover every possible contingency, a complete impossibility in a world of change and journey.

The possibilities open to a church of reconciled reconcilers are more than we can imagine. Reconciliation touches every aspect of our lives and society, and every aspect of our creation and living in our world. We can be reconcilers of the environment and natural order, of families and communities, of economies and financial services, of families and nations. We will weather the issues of politics and flourish in the storms of societal change.

If we can name and listen, be in conflict but not destruction, take the crooked straight path of reconciliation, we can establish a pattern and model of trust filled living drawing on the grace of God, a model that changes the world. Captured by the grace of God the church has done it before, many times. Different yet feasting together we must be gluttons of the grace of God, like children at a grand birthday party sharing messily what we have been given. Gluttony and grace go together in worship to create trust, and the grace of the Eucharist is where we begin.


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17 comments

I am so pleased that all of this is being made so crystal clear—Archbishop Welby’s theology—early in his tenure as ABC.  It provides greatly needed clarity and closure for all of us.

I pray that those Primates who cherish the Gospel will read all of the information provided here at SF and T19 so that they can make informed and faithful decisions about their engagement with and trust of Archbishop Welby and his agenda.

[1] Posted by Sarah on 2-28-2013 at 12:34 PM · [top]

Some pertinent quotes from ++Welby

“Reconciliation is recognition of diversity and a transformation of destructive conflict to creativity. It holds the tensions and challenges of difference and confronts us with them, forcing us to a new way of life that accepts the power and depth and radicality of the work of the Holy Spirit in our conversions. …

“If the Church is not a place of reconciliation it is not merely hindering its mission and evangelism, appalling as such hindrance is, but it is a failing or failed church. It has ceased to be the miracle of diversity in unity, of the grace of God breaking down walls.”

[2] Posted by Robert Lundy on 2-28-2013 at 01:08 PM · [top]

Good quotes, Robert—and both of them apply solely to adiaphora!

The good news is that those Anglicans who believe the Gospel within and without TEC are well able to recognize [adiaphoric] diversity and transform that conflict to creativity—while never indulging in collusion and faux “reconciliation” with those false teachers and leaders who do not believe the Gospel within TEC.

[3] Posted by Sarah on 2-28-2013 at 01:16 PM · [top]

That there is no contemplation of repentance, or consequence for failure to do so, tells me all I need to know.  I hear the ABC making demands solely on the side seeking a biblical approach.

Revisionist clergy have never had any problem ‘staying at the table’ for dialogue, happy to enjoy the air of credibility provided by participation.

The profusion of words used here, in the avoidance of addressing the basic biblical principles, causes me some concern.  Gen. 3:1

Is there a marshwiggle willing to step on this smouldering fire?

[4] Posted by tired on 2-28-2013 at 01:38 PM · [top]

Sarah,
“I am so pleased that all of this is being made so crystal clear.” It is crystal clear because we had ten years of preconditioning. We woke up during the Rowan Williams tenure and have refused to be lulled back to sleep with the same language and intent. If God did have a hand in his selection then it was to provide further clarity to the orthodox Anglicans. I hope none of the orthodox Anglicans show up for his enthronement.

[5] Posted by Fr. Dale on 2-28-2013 at 01:50 PM · [top]

As the Gospel says:

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

And he said, “Cool answers! My work is done.”

[6] Posted by driver8 on 2-28-2013 at 03:32 PM · [top]

This is not theology in its classical sense. There is no reference to the words of scripture as far as how to resolve church conflicts vs other kinds of conflict. Nor is this an evidence based theory of reconciliation. This looks like the path of soothing hurt feelings using a poorly defined theology of love, mission, and relationship.

I am afraid he is creating a new plan for reconciliation and rejecting the guidance of scripture.

[7] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 2-28-2013 at 04:28 PM · [top]

There has been a further development in the Sheffield saga, which is no doubt in the forefront of +Welby’s mind as he preaches sermons focussed on his version of reconciliation.  He is somewhat concerned to bring about “reconciliation” in the Anglican Communion, but he is very concerned about “reconciliation” in his own backyard. 

And now one of his bishops is threatening to talk directly to the Archbishop of Kenya, so the Communion and the backyard perspectives have converged.  It looks like B2P (Bishop to Primate) communication is about to become a reality. 

Last Tuesday, the Diocese of Sheffield issued a public statement in relation to the ordination in Kenya of a deacon to serve an evangelical Anglican (but non-CofE) church plant in Sheffield:  http://www.sheffield.anglican.org/index.php/home/latest-news/29-latest-news/4455-a-statement-from-the-bishop-of-sheffield-on-the-ordination-in-kenya-of-pete-jackson

In the statement, Bishop Steven Croft of Sheffield writes:

“In 2003, Christ Church Fulwood planted a new church, Christ Church Central, in the centre of the city led by the Revd. Tim Davies. Despite extensive discussions, the plant could not be contained within the legal structures of the Church of England.”

Errr not exactly.  In 2003, +Croft’s predecessor (+Jack Nicholls) was “one of the leading proponents of a relaxation of the Church of England’s attitude on sexuality” and he strongly opposed church planting by evangelicals in his diocese.  That is why Christ Church Central was established outside of the Church of England – because the former bishop didn’t want it in his diocese, on any terms.

“Shortly after I became Bishop in 2009, I invited the community of Christ Church Central to explore with me the possibility of making a Bishop’s Mission Order to regularize their life once again within the Diocese of Sheffield and the Church of England.  After careful consideration, this offer was declined by Christ Church Central because of alleged wider differences between Christ Church Central and the Church of England.”

That is fair.  On taking office in 2009, +Croft did attempt to reconcile Christ Church Central to his diocese and to the Church of England.  And yes, this failed because by 2009 the Church of England was obviously and openly pandering to the liberals: Jeffrey John given promotions, Bishop of Southwark sacking an evangelical rector (later overruled) etc.  It was one thing for +Croft to persuade evangelicals to stay within his diocese (which he has largely succeeded in doing); but quite another to persuade evangelicals from outside to join his diocese.

If the Bishop of Sheffield had made such an approach and offer in 2003, it would probably have worked.

“In 2012, Christ Church Central established a new church plant, Christ Church Walkley, with the support of Christ Church, Fulwood. This new plant was established with no consultation with the Diocese or with St. Mary’s Walkley, the local parish.”

Why should the diocese or local parish have been consulted?  Christ Church Central is not and never was in the Church of England.  It is entitled to plant new congregations where it chooses.

“On Sunday 10th February I received a short note informing me that Pete Jackson had been ordained in Kenya the previous day to serve the Church plant in Walkley in Sheffield. This news was a complete surprise.”

Quite.  And as a matter of liaison between denominations its probably nice to know – same as if e.g. the deacon at the Roman Catholic church down the road has been priested – nice to hear about it, send a congratulatory card, that sort of thing.  But if you had known beforehand about the ordination of Deacon Jackson, what practical difference would it have made? 

“As a diocese we are particularly concerned to offer our support and prayers to the parish of St. Mary’s Walkley who quite understandably have found these developments unsettling.”

As you should.  St Mary’s Walkley is part of your flock.  However Christ Church Walkley is not.

“I will be entering into correspondence in the next few weeks with the various parties involved in the decision to ordain Pete Jackson in this way to explore their motives and reasons for acting in the way that they have.  I will also be making contact with the Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Revd. Eliud Wabukala and with Pete himself.

That is fair enough, and it is appropriately expressed – easy enough to see why +Croft is considered one of the rising stars in the CofE House of Bishops.  But I am intrigued – the Bishop of Sheffield will be calling the Primate of Kenya direct.  Normally such an approach would be made via the bishop’s own Primates (Archbishop of York and Archbishop of Canterbury).  Could it be that he thinks he can handle this better himself, direct?  What does that say about ABY and ABC?

[8] Posted by MichaelA on 2-28-2013 at 08:06 PM · [top]

Anyone who is surprised should jump in front of a bus: you’ll be surprised what happens after that!

[9] Posted by paradoxymoron on 2-28-2013 at 09:25 PM · [top]

Like others, I am somewhat disappointed with this sermon. He has many themes in the sermon; diversity, reconcilliation, being open to the love of God, grace, hospitality and so on. What really strikes me is his lack of engagement with scripture on any of these subjects (how can you discuss reconcilliation without mentioning 2 Corinthians 5?).

I don’t wish to deny that there is diversity in God’s Kingdom—the different gifts and service to build up the one church, “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (and I would emphasise the one throne and the one Lamb); but these are not the types of diversity which lead to conflict in our present day church or require reconcilliation, so I don’t think that this can be the type of diversity that the Archbishop is addressing.

Conflict arises from the diversity in which we have been created. When we seek to find a way of life that avoids it we deny the three realities of our fallenness, our present diversity, and the tension between the realised present and anticipated salvation of our futures.

I would rather say “born” instead of created (to avoid attributing the division of sin to God’s creation); but no matter. We may be created diverse; but that is not to which we are called.

1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—
5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

He just does not address anywhere what the focus of unity in the church ought to be, aside from some general comments on being loved by God and showing hospitality.

[10] Posted by Boring Bloke on 2-28-2013 at 09:29 PM · [top]

only one observation at this point. It’s becoming more and more clear to me how Welby was acceptable to the Crown Nominations Committee - something that I had previously simply not understood.

[11] Posted by David Ould on 2-28-2013 at 10:48 PM · [top]

And a great use of Romans 5, particularly Romans 5:6-11!

Disappointing to say the least?

Absolutely!!!!

Surprising?

Absolutely not!!!!

[12] Posted by Josh Bovis on 2-28-2013 at 11:15 PM · [top]

Justin = Rowan 2.0

Crown Nominations Committee = Where being *nice* breaks all the ice…

[13] Posted by Athanasius Returns on 3-1-2013 at 03:20 AM · [top]

Nothing more to say.  Meet the new ABC, same as the last.

[14] Posted by Br. Michael on 3-1-2013 at 06:53 AM · [top]

Complete hogwash.  Just lots of therapeutic sounding hot air.

[15] Posted by evan miller on 3-1-2013 at 09:01 AM · [top]

We need to send some Anglican missionaries to London!

[16] Posted by Looking for Leaders on 3-1-2013 at 10:49 AM · [top]

It’s frustrating to see Welby speak in vague generalities—never directly addressing the real question of how to deal with heresy and those teaching heresy.  Repentance in that context seems far from his thought process.

There’s so much about false teachers I want to hear him to talk about directly.  I want to ask him to explain Jesus being so consumed with zeal for the temple (John 2:14-17) that he turned over tables and chased the money-changers. 

There’s a very valid place for mediation and reconciliation in lots of areas of personal and public conflict.  I am a certified mediator and know how useful it can be in family mediation and civil law disputes.  But to carry that over to areas where the ONLY answer is repentance is foolish and inappropriate.

[17] Posted by hanks on 3-1-2013 at 11:19 AM · [top]

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