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The Archbishop of Canterbury’s first keynote address to the Lambeth Conference

The Archbishop of Canterbury

By the Archbishop of Canterbury

 

My prayer for this Conference is very simple.

It is that everyone here, whoever you are,  wherever you’ve come from, and whatever hopes and fears you may bring with you, may leave with a greater desire for friendship with Jesus Christ.
To desire Jesus is to desire God. To desire Jesus is to desire to be filled with love for God and love for His people.

Whatever else we do over the next two weeks, the one thing that is essential is that we learn afresh to hunger and thirst for God.

As 1 Peter says: “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls: (I Peter 1: 8-9).

Peter writes to churches that hunger and thirst for God, that rejoice with indescribable joy. And yet they experience suffering. Many – perhaps most – come here from places of suffering.  All of us will have personal experience of suffering. Some may come feeling that they are failing, or doubting God. Some may come with hidden sins of which they are ashamed. Peter, around whose letter we gather, knew fear and failure, sin and questioning.

Yet Jesus Christ stands among us by His Spirit and offers to bear our burdens, renew our hopes and faith, forgive our sins and feed us with heavenly food of word and sacrament.

Many of us come aware of  what Peter calls the roaring lions; the sense – and often reality – of attack, hostility, danger and uncertainty.

That is the main subject of this address. Although we can know joy and love Jesus Christ, the distractions and realities of our fallen world – 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.

Lions roar, I am told, when they search for prey or when they seek to drive prey into a trap. But when they are close they are silent.

As shepherds, overseers of God’s flock, we are commanded to be aware of the roaring lions to keep our flock safe. Sometimes that is easy. At other times the lions are roaring so much that we see and hear danger all around us.

In these three Presidential addresses, I shall look first at God’s world, then at God’s church, and then at the vocation we have, as Bishops, in leading God’s church which exists for the sake of the salvation of God’s world.

Let me say first something about the detailed agenda for this Lambeth Conference.

For many years churches, Provinces and Dioceses have continued to work superbly in their own areas. But 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 disagreements.

Those questions, especially on the Christian and Anglican approach to human identity and sexuality, will not be solved at this Conference. However, my prayer is that while keeping them in mind, we also look outwards to the entirety of the world that God loves so much that God sent his Son to die for its salvation.

We must look outwards because we meet in a time of world crisis. God heard the cry of the enslaved Hebrews. God rescued Israel under the Judges. God brought them back from exile. God supremely has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept in heaven for you who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (I Peter 1: 3-4).

In times of crisis, we depend on God’s power, not our own. Whatever the crisis may be – internal to the church or external in the world – this 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 a moment of decision.

Christians believe in a fallen world, where sin and self-seeking, our rebellion against God, open the way to all the many evils that surround us and always have surrounded us. Crises in both world and church will be normal wherever there are human beings, for crises come from sin.

For those here who came in 2008, we have seen since then the impact of the collapse of the western banking system, the end of globalisation of trade, Covid-19, the catastrophe over world food prices and availability, a major war involving a nuclear-armed power, as well as hundreds of other conflicts impacting so many, and with growing force and spread, the impact of climate change.

On top of those global changes, there has been a great roaring of lions in so many of our own countries. Wars, persecution, civil disorder, and poverty have struck hard at the weakest and the poorest in the flock, killing thousands who put their trust in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.

In many parts of the world, especially those of the global north, culture is also changing immensely rapidly. What is often called the culture wars – the rejection by many of the old ways of settling belief, faith, or ethics – find their roots in philosophical changes in the understanding of identity and of being human. The shock waves of these changes are felt across the Communion.

Some of the change is good. There is a profound and passionate commitment to justice, equality, to freedom. There is a deep hatred of hypocrisy – a prizing of integrity. There is 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 20-100 years.

In many cases, we must recognise that God is holding a plumbline against us as we have been and against our societies.

There is nothing unusual about crises. For those who are faithful, they call us to deeper discipleship, to new directions of obedience and holiness. They are transformative. But the church that fails to look at them, to hear the roaring of the lions, is going to fail.

In the 5th Century, North Africa was the heart of world Christianity. In 200 years it was gone, and the church was almost wiped out. The same can or could happen today where the shepherds of the church ignore the lions.

Why do these things matter? Should we not be focused on our internal differences, especially those of sexuality, as has been argued by some?

Our differences matter greatly, they are at the heart of people’s sense of who they are. We shall look at them both in the context of the Call on Human Dignity on Tuesday, in the second Presidential Address, and in the context of our studies of 1 Peter. But they are not everything. We cannot wait until everything is fixed to be God’s church FOR God’s world. We will not quickly be forgiven if this is another gathering focussing on ourselves mainly.

To someone without food, caught up in war, persecuted, or suffering from intense poverty, their daily struggle is uppermost in their minds.

As shepherds, we must, as Pope Francis said, “smell of the sheep”, tending to their wounds, guiding them to water, and protecting them from the lions. Unless we understand what is happening in the world, we cannot prepare for the opportunities or threats it brings. We cannot teach the people of God properly about how to face the crises they experience.

So in the rest of this address, I will look at the near and further future, and speak of some of the roars that will reverberate around the world.

The next 40 years are expected to see the greatest changes in science and technology in the shortest period in history.

In the biological and medical sciences, we are already seeing extraordinary advances in the treatments of diseases from cancer to malaria. The Covid-19 vaccine was developed in less than 18 months. 20 years ago it would have taken 10 years. We already have more power in our phones than NASA had to send astronauts to the moon. Self-driving cars are already a reality. With Artificial Intelligence, machines are already producing conversations that sound convincingly ‘human’. Wars are now won and lost because of drones and autonomous weapons. Robotics is advancing rapidly.

The list is endless. And these changes provide us with different paths to take.

First, is the path of gratitude to the Lord who gives us brains to think with and scientific advances to help change lives. In this pathway, the benefits of knowledge are shared. The ethical questions are thought through. Skills in crop adaptation are spread throughout the world so that countries affected by global warming can still feed their populations. Clean water is made available to countries suffering from drought, and diseases that cause so much suffering and death are eradicated. Drones and good surveillance are used to stop wars, bandits, and poaching, 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 a choice, and the poor suffer the consequences.

In the 1890s, at the Battle of Omdurman, the British won because they had machine guns and their opponents mainly had spears and muskets. That difference will be as nothing to the clash of forces where one fights remotely from their homeland and the other faces fearless and merciless machines. Competing power groups will use the supply of weapons to wage proxy wars.

Medicine will be no better in this path. We see the reluctance of the rich countries to share the advantages of the Covid vaccine. That will be repeated with many diseases, leaving the poor to live short lives serving the powerful. Empires of territory may not re-emerge, but Empires of Financial and Economic, Scientific, and Technological power will. The gifts of God in these areas will be seized for a personal and powerful advantage.

That is why we are having a Call to support the creation of a fully funded global Communion network on Science and Technology. Its role will be to enable our schools and universities to become centres for the new knowledge, to enable Anglicans to be scientifically thoughtful, to contribute well to ethical debate.

Above all, we will be those who see the wonders of the world of technology and science that are the gift of God and use them for His Glory, and for the good of all the earth.

A church that refuses to or is not able to engage in this area will have nothing to say to a world whose future is being decided by changes in science and technology.

This lion can be domesticated and made to serve.

In 1945, at the end of the most terrible war in human history, there were 25 million refugees. Today there are around 90 million. 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.

Migration means people’s movements to other areas. Large people’s movements cause conflict. 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. It will become much more threatening. It is not peripheral, it is the fuel for the 4 Horses of the apocalypse.

It is also the question of science, so the answers will be found in science and technology. For example, in Kew Gardens (a world centre of plant research) they have found a coffee plant that can flourish at higher temperatures than most of those now being grown. That will enable farmers to produce climate-resilient crops, protecting their livelihoods and the global supply chain.

It is a question of campaigning, so the answers will 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. I point you to the very good Call on the Environment and Sustainable Development to be discussed later.

This lion cannot be domesticated and tamed to serve. It must be slain.

Then there are many other lions, with whose roars we are deeply and tragically familiar.

The attacks on the church from religious extremists continue all over the world. Since we last met in 2008, thousands of Anglicans have lost their lives as martyrs.

Religious extremism is a disease that has pervaded all the world faiths. It is not a theological but a sociological response to the huge changes in the world. In each faith it has the same characteristics: a small group who are violent and who seek to find a place where feel an illusory security inside the walls of their faith, hiding from the challenges of the modern world.

That is not what Christians are called to. Rather we venture out, clad in the armour of God, to ‘proclaim the wonderful works of him who brought us out of darkness into his marvellous light’. The lion might roar to cause us to hide fear filled from the realities of the world, but Anglican theological method, based in scripture, guided by tradition and reason, opens us to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to be engaged, to go out.

We only have to look around this room to see those who live amongst war and Government oppression. One of the themes of this conference is reconciliation. We are a people who have received reconciliation and who are called to be reconcilers. That has been the work of many here. Wars destroy churches, the damage human beings in every way. They make victims of the poorest and least strong.

Economic injustice is not only greater than it has ever been but also more obvious. A person in a refugee camp can find an Internet café and look at the streets of Shanghai or the shops of Mumbai. The apparent but deceitful temporal treasures of wealth are visible to all but unreachable to most.

The world economies are joined up financially. Yet it has never been easier for the rich or corrupt to hide their money in tax havens or to launder money in the great markets of the world. Wealth has come from the very methods that caused climate change, the despoliation of natural resources. The poorest countries are used for their minerals and are then discarded. The only ones who prosper are those who get a share.

There are many exceptions of wealthy people who give and give. But they are exceptions. A world of privileged fortresses of comfort cannot exist in stability with a world of want and suffering. It is not the way of the Kingdom of God.

Inequalities lead people into sin. Banditry, theft, a sense that corruption is acceptable, become normalised. I remember in Nigeria being held overnight by one of the militia leaders in the Delta. He kept us there and said he would decide whether to kill us or let us go in the morning. In the night he was drunk. In the morning he was sober, a politely hospitable man with a gun, showing us around the town. On one horizon was a flow station pumping oil for a major company. There I could see helicopters, lights from good generators. I am sure they had air conditioning, medicine and excellent food and water. Around me, children played in the sewage filled streets.

The militia leader was a very bad man, a killer. But I wondered, if I had grown up in his town, would I have been different?

We are those who have received grace from God. We are called to be those who overflow with grace in the world that God made. Peter calls us to be aware of the lions; but we are not to fear, for are all defeated by the crucified Christ.

My last lion is a hidden one. It comes stealthily. It’s 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 amongst 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.

Culture consumes us so cleverly that we do wrong without even being aware of it. In April I was in Canada at the invitation of the church there, visiting Residential school survivors to apologise for past acts of the Church of England. The schools were set up to take the children of First Nations, indigenous people, away from their homes and ensure that they lost the culture of their people. By eliminating their language, it was hoped that they would forget their culture. These terrible acts were done at the request of the Canadian Government by churches. I met survivors from the schools of the 1970s and 1980s. They had suffered abuse, cruelty and loss. Some died and were buried unmarked, their parents not told. Brothers and sister were separated.

That is terrible. 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.

As pastors we are called to be those who understand the lions. We meet together because we have different views of what a lion is.

Let me tell you a story.

A group of people, all blind, went out walking along paths they knew well. What they did not know was that a large lion had eaten and then fallen asleep in the middle of the path. As they got close they could hear breathing.

“What is it?” they asked. One found its coat and said “it is very warm and cuddly. It will keep me warm on cold nights.”

Another found its tail, “I can use this to keep the flies away”. A third found its mouth. “I think it is very dangerous and is carrying sharp knives”.

They were all right and wrong. None knew the whole story. But then the lion awoke and devoured them all.

We are shepherds and pastors, co-workers with Peter and the apostles. In our vastly different circumstances we all hear lions. Some are common to us all. Some are prowling only in one Province. Some are in parts of the world but not others. But they are all lions. We may not see them clearly, but we can, together grow in capacity to deal with them well.
“God so loved the world.  …” begins John 3:16.

That is because it is God’s world, rejecting its creator and ignoring its Saviour. Let us begin this conference with a 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.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende