[Episcopal News Service – Auckland, New Zealand] Much happens each day during the Anglican Consultative Council’s (ACC) 15th meeting. In addition to Episcopal News Service’s other coverage, here’s some of what else went on Nov. 2 (local time), the seventh day of the Oct. 27-Nov. 7 gathering.
Bible project aims for ‘wider and fuller biblical literacy’
The three-year-old Bible in the Life of the Church project has found “some decline in biblical literacy” around the Anglican Communion but “above all encountered the sense of excitement, discovery and challenge that comes from reading the scriptures together,” according to a report discussed on Nov. 2.
“Deep Engagement, Fresh Discovery” explores the way engagement with and interpretation of Scripture looks like in different parts of the Anglican Communion. The ACC asked for the project at its 14th meeting in 2009 via Resolution 14.06. The report, with resources for Bible studies, is available here.
The project created a network of regional groups across the communion to explore how different regions engaged with and interpreted the Bible. It reviewed what the Anglican Communion has already said about Scripture through Lambeth Conference resolutions, official reports and reports of ecumenical conversations. It commissioned research based on a number of existing studies exploring how “ordinary Anglicans” view and understand the Bible, and it collected a range of resources for engaging more deeply with Scripture.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wrote in the project’s report that he hopes it will bring to the communion a “wider and fuller biblical literacy, in which the outlines of the one great story of creation and redemption will be clear.”
“To be a biblical church is surely to be a community that lives out this great story day by day and commends it to people everywhere as the most comprehensive truth possible about the nature of God and God’s world,” he wrote.
Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia Archbishop David Moxon, who chaired the steering committee, said the project is the first time in the history of the Anglican Communion that the churches have taken a deliberate look at “how Anglicans around the world approach the Bible.”
Moxon noted that a summary of the project describes a “perhaps unnerving” major finding “that how Anglicans engage with the Bible turns out to be just as important as its content.”
The claim, the summary says, “does not contest the unique place and authority which the scriptures have in Anglican life, but it does point up the significance, perhaps thus far overlooked, of the contexts in which and processes by which they are heard and read.”
Project coordinator Stephen Lyon asked the members to distribute the report widely “so that we might find ways of getting it into the bloodstream of the Anglican Communion.”
“Our hope is that this becomes a workbook rather than simply a report” that gets shelved and forgotten, he said.
ACC member and Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas called the project “one of the most exciting and important developments in our life in the last few decades.”
After the presentation of the report, the ACC member discussed sections of it at their tables. Episcopal Church ACC member Josephine Hicks later told the plenary that her group realized if individuals come to different interpretations after reading the same Bible passage “it doesn’t make my interpretation right and your interpretation wrong; we can both be enriched by each other’s interpretations.”
The council is still debating a resolution about the project’s work and its future direction.
‘Christian Zionism’ report ‘noted,’ council asks for revisions
A 33,000-word report with the admittedly “very messy title” of “Land of Promise? An Anglican exploration of Christian attitudes to the Holy Land, with special reference to ‘Christian Zionism’” stirred debate during the council’s afternoon session.
Christian Zionism is defined in the report as a belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with biblical prophecy … and thus deserving of political, financial and religious support.”
The report comes from a working group of the communion’s Network for Inter Faith Concerns.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that in the context of the United States where “these issues are immensely divisive and politicized, a report like this will be of immense help in trying to pull together both political divisions within the United States … and struggles we have in our ecumenical relations in the United States.”
She noted that many other Christian denominations in the U.S. have come down firmly on one side or the other, and “our struggles are really about trying to hold together the culpability of all parties involved including the United States government,” to support the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and to “call people to the active work of reconciliation.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams wrote in an afterword to the report that it “will not sit comfortably with those who see no argument about the issues involved in the Holy Land today, those for whom the basic questions are crystal clear.”
However, he added, “this report rightly asks the fundamental question of what will be lastingly just for everyone.”
The portions that caused the most concern with some council members come in the final chapter called “Mapping Our Views.”
Tony Fitchett, ACC member from Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, said the section labeled “We agree that all Anglicans can and should affirm the following” is “suspiciously close” to the sort of “confession of faith” that most Anglicans shy away from. He added he doubted that all Anglicans would agree with the subsequent list.
Its 25 statements of suggested agreement range from “God is equally concerned for all peoples and all lands” to “the State of Israel is an established national state, and its citizens have the right to live in security, peace and freedom” and “Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have a right to live in freedom, peace and security without military occupation of appropriation of land, and to self-determination.”
Equally, the chapter lists 12 “beliefs and attitudes” that are “unacceptable within the boundaries of an Anglican interpretation of Christian faith.” They include the notion that God has given the Holy Land or Jerusalem to any one community. There is also a list of “significantly different views,” including the “moral duty of Christians to support the State of Israel in light of the history of anti-Judaism and the Holocaust” and “the call for direct action for Palestinian advocacy as an overriding imperative for Christians.”
Diocese of Connecticut Bishop Ian Douglas suggested that “conspiracy theories could be generated by the fact that the names [of the working group members] don’t appear in the report” and called for them to be added.
The report is “a direct result of the conversations that were had at Jamaica” at the 14th meeting of the ACC, said Sue Parks, the Anglican Communion Office’s coordinator for theological studies assigned to assist the working group that wrote the report. The report’s introduction says the network suggested to the Standing Committee that it could report on the topic to this 15th meeting.
“This report is trying to chart a course where it runs the possibility of offending absolutely both sides,” she said in response to the concerns voiced, adding that “some of the most trenchant criticism on it we have had so far is from the Jewish community.”
She noted that the working group consulted Anglicans in the Diocese of Jerusalem, as well as members of the Palestinian and Jewish communities there.
In the end, the council passed an edited version of the resolution proposed to it about the report. Council members agreed to “note” the report rather than “welcome” it in the original language of the resolution. They also asked the working group to revise certain language and return it to the Anglican Communion Standing Committee, which would then be authorized to commend it to the provinces for study and feedback.
Meanwhile, a version of the report was released to the public in Dublin by NIFCON chair and Dublin Archbishop Michael Jackson a day before the ACC discussed it, and so the new version (which is anticipated to be released in March) will be different from what some people have already begun to read and study.
Council continues to consider environmental responses
Following on from an evening forum Nov. 1 (local time), the Anglican Consultative Council spent time Nov. 2 discussing in reflection groups how the communion might continue to address environmental concerns.
At that forum, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Southern Africa, as well as Fiji’s Bishop Apimeleki Qiliho, challenged listeners to consider addressing environmental damage as part of their Christian duty.
On Nov. 2, Makgoba, Anglican Communion Environmental Network convener, told the members that the communion has been paying attention to environmental concerns but, “we need to do much more, not as NGOs but as people of faith.”
“The enormity of these issues can lead us to inertia” but we must be led to action, he said.
Later at a press briefing, Makgoba explained that as a faith community the communion brings “a sense of a biblical mandate from God that we need to care for the earth” and work for “justice for those who are touched by the environmental crisis.”
He said that the moral issues raised by that crisis are also, for Anglicans, sacramental. “As an Anglican Christian … when one does not have water and proper sanitation and I go and celebrate the Eucharist and we mix water and wine, do I step back and ask how many people get their water from a bore hole and how many women are raped on the way to get water?”
The issues of clean water and proper sanitation are crucial because of the host of illnesses caused by the lack of both, said Makgoba, who noted that he is becoming known in his country as “the archbishop for latrines and toilets.”
Diocese of Peru Bishop Bill Godfrey, the ACC member from the Province of the Southern Cone, contrasted the current state of the environment of that with the image of close communion with God and creation in the early chapters of Genesis.
“The situation that we are in [is] because of our sin and our separation from God,” he said. “We seem to be divided from the creation, divided from each other and we’re in a sense divided from – separated from – God.”
Godfrey suggested “it’s part of our being Christian to be concerned about the creation,” adding that God cares as much about our concern for creation as God cares about our work of reconciliation.
His diocese hosted the network’s meeting in Lima Aug. 4-10, 2011, that produced the Lima Statement and Action Plan.
In his diocese there is “kilometer after kilometer of abject poverty, people living in hovels … there’s no sanitation, there’s no running water, there are no lavatories,” Godfrey said. “People sometimes ask me do you work among the poor. No, the church is the poor. Ninety-five percent of the Diocese of Peru is poor.”
Qiliho said at the briefing that his diocese in Fiji is faced with issues connected with the need to resettle people away from land being inundated by rising sea levels. “We are calling for fairness” in that process, he said, and a remembrance that “it is our faith, our belief that will get us through.”
Makgoba asked that every province designate a liaison with the network “so we are fully present and visible” in every province and Godfrey encouraged all members of the communion and of the ACC to “be aware and allow the news of what [the network is] about to come into each of our dioceses in the years to come.”
The first resolution the ACC passed at this meeting on Oct. 30 (local time) came from the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. It commends the Lima statement, asks provinces to “celebrate, support and encourage ongoing and new ministries in sustainable food/agriculture, fresh-water conservation and renewable energy,” consider including a season of creation in their liturgical year and encourage environmental action at all levels of the communion.
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.