[Episcopal News Service – Lusaka, Zambia] When members of the Anglican Consultative Council meeting here April 9 discussed the most pressing issues facing the world, the challenges presented by the migration of peoples, violence in all its forms, climate change, evangelism and discipleship, and income inequality emerged as the major themes.
Those themes were seen as calls to Anglicans to preach the good news and work for the coming of the kingdom of God in their contexts. They will also no doubt inform much of the work the council does between now and the end of its April 8-19 gathering.
Council members had been asked to arrive in Lusaka prepared to discuss the crucial issues facing their provinces and churches. They were also asked in advance to consider the shape of discipleship in their provinces in the context of the Five Marks of Mission and what it means to live in a world of differences.
Meeting in table groups inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross where the gathering is being held, each member described his or her context, and the table as a whole reported to the Rev. Canon Phil Groves of the Anglican Communion Office staff. Later in the day he read out a summary of the table reports. There was, he said, a remarkable commonality to the issues the members reported.
What Groves called the “mass movement of peoples” – be they refugees, migrants, internally displaced persons or those who have been trafficked – faces nearly every one of the Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces. Many countries are experiencing such movement for the first time, while others are coping with an increase in the volume of migrating people and others are the source of people forced to leave their homes, he said.
“Cultures of violence” are found across the communion, Groves said. Certain countries are at war and others live in fear of war breaking out. Some members described violence brought on by racism, especially in what Groves described as countries that are perceived as peaceful. Reports of gun violence came from places as disparate as South Sudan and the United States, he said. There is great concern about violence against women.
Climate change was another common concern, with some churches facing the need to resettle people whose island homes are submerged by rising sea levels and others worry about floods and droughts. Groves noted that wealthy people might have more protection against the effects of climate change but the people on the margins are most vulnerable. Many of the vulnerable are indigenous people and many of those are Anglicans, he said.
“They are us; they’re our body of Christ,” he said. “We’re not talking about ‘them’ being affected; we are being affected.”
The disparity of wealth around the world was noted by many members, Groves said, and not just in terms of how to help the poor but how to respond to the growing gulf being rich and poor.
While issues such as migration, climate change, violence and income inequality raise the question of how the church can change the society in which it lives, Groves acknowledged that to some the answer might “seem perhaps like the social gospel.”
However, many ACC members pointed to evangelism as the answer. “We have to talk about evangelism not as in competition to the social gospel” but rather, using the Five Marks of Mission as a lens, turning towards forming disciples. Groves said one member wrote that the challenge is about “changing the Sunday contract” and others asked “how are we going to proclaim the gospel in a culture of indifference.”
Connected to changing the Sunday contract, Groves said a member from South Africa reported that “when things are bad in our country people look to the Anglican Church for leadership.” Another member, he said, suggested that the church “has to lead counter-cultural revolution” in countries with poor political situations.
In many of those poor political situations, corruption is rampant and one member said it leads to poverty and poverty leads to violence. “Our political leaders are corrupt but 60 percent of them are Anglican,” Groves said one member reported. “They come to worship on a Sunday and then on a Monday they go out and do bad things.”
Other issues that arose in the table discussions, according to Groves, were ecumenical and interfaith relations; the problems faced by minorities and youth; the problems cause by tribalism; urbanization and secularization of societies; educating and resourcing clergy; and the need to train church leaders about how to safeguard their people against sexual harassment and assault.
The communion’s differences over issues of human sexuality were named, but much less frequently than the other issues, Groves said. “But they are there and they are not only about LGBTI people; also raised were issues of polygamy and also, I suspect, about the sanctity of marriage.”
– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.