|The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby|
THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury has said that the Church should not fear conflict. The comments by the Most Rev Justin Welby were made at the Faith in Conflict Conference which took place at Coventry Cathedral last week. The conference offered ways to address disagreement in the local church and more widely without one party seeking to eliminate the other: to prevent disagreement becoming destructive.
The Archbishop told delegates that conflict was normal but should not be definitive. This differs somewhat from earlier complaints that the roof was falling in on the Anglican Communion. “Our fear of it [conflict], 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.” He also drew on his experiences in visits to Africa and spoke in personal conversations of how he owed his faith to the Kenyan Church.
What enables people to be resilient in conflict is to be part of a supportive community said the Rev Dr Jo Bailey Wells, announced at the conference as the chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She expounded the twin message of Jeremiah that the exiles should seek the good of Babylon, which at the same time was under and would experience the judgment of God. She described her experience at the Anglican Study Centre at Duke University, which had students from both ACNA and TEC.
Lord Alderdice from Northern Ireland, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Lords told how he studied medicine and psychiatry in order to understand why a population with so many Christians and Christian values had become self-destructive. Did the answer lie in investigating the pathology of self-destructive individuals? People turn to violence not because of disagreement but because they feel disrespected and humiliated. Mediation helps to redress the balance and ensure people are listened to.
Interviewed alongside Bishop Shannon Johnson of Virginia, the Rev Tory Baucum, who had presented the case for the Anglican Church in North America at a General Synod Fringe Meeting in 2009, was clear that he was not preparing a way to go back to TEC. Their two years of conversations, he told me, had achieved a longer period for Truro Church to find and develop a new property in which to move. He said that the consecration of Gene Robinson was a schismatic act, and that Bishop Johnson was a brother who had taken a wrong turn and should repent. But is the kindness, not the wrath of God that leads to repentance, he said.
The conference addressed the question of whether mediation and reconciliation assume that issues of principle and truth can be negotiated away. Reconciliation, in its biblical sense, may be too strong a word for a process whose goal is that people might live at the highest degree of Christian unity possible given their disagreements.
The appointment of Justin Welby to Canterbury and of Canon David Porter as Director of Reconciliation, both with extensive experience of such mediation in Nigeria, Burundi and Northern Ireland, shows there is a wind behind this. A mediation process sought to establish some common ground in the February Discussions of the Women Bishops issues.
The Cathedral and local “budget hotels” were used in an imaginative way. The 300 participants met in main sessions in the spectacular nave. Lunch and dinner was taken at tables at the “west end”. Sessions were framed in worship. Senior figures including General Synod’s Secretary General William Fittall, Bishop Christopher Cocksworth and Archbishop Welby, at his first public church engagement as Archbishop, attended throughout.