By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

The Anglican Communion’s first mission theologian got an early jump during General Convention on his task of identifying “new Augustines” in the Global South.

The Rt. Rev. Graham Kings, formerly Bishop of Sherborne, began in his role as mission theologian in the Anglican Communion on July 15. The new seven-year post is supported by a partnership among Durham University, Church Mission Society, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But even before Bishop Kings began his job in England, he was in the United States outlining his vision for the role and providing a glimpse of what is to come. That meant nudging the primates of Brazil, South Korea, and Pakistan to reflect theologically at a luncheon panel sponsored by Virginia Theological Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies and the Compass Rose Society.

As the panel tackled the sweeping topic of God’s mission and the Anglican Communion’s future, Kings invoked the Church as depicted in Acts, especially the arrival of Gentiles into what had been a Jewish community of believers.

“The Gentiles flooding into the Church produced tensions, changed its character, and renewed its theology,” Kings said. “Something similar is happening in the worldwide church today, with the shift in its center of gravity having moved from the North to the South of the world.”

Kings said he aims to serve rising theologians, including some in the Global South whom God might use as the Augustines of their time, much like the great fifth-century bishop and theologian, Augustine of Hippo.

On a 100-degree day in Salt Lake City, the crowd of 75 at the Hilton Salt Lake City Center got a taste of what a new network of theologians might produce.

The four bishops agreed that God’s mission involves witnessing to liberation found in Christ. It must be lived in and through relational partnerships, including those that are highly challenging. But what the future will require is apt to vary widely from one ministry setting to the next.

The Most Rev. Samuel Robert Azariah, Primate of Pakistan, urged “a theology of tolerance” to guide Christian-Muslim relations in his country, where blasphemy laws put Christians at daily risk of arrest.

“In my context, I see the cross as the mission of God, which brings me life, hope, and resurrection,” Archbishop Azariah said.

The Most Rev. Paul Kim, Primate of Korea, said peacemaking is no mere abstract idea for his people. Koreans are trying to overcome deep-seated resentments against the Japanese, who occupied their peninsula for most of the first half of the 20th century.

“It’s important that we have respect for each other, that we will be able to meet and talk and listen to each other,” Archbishop Kim said through a translator. When his translator finished, he added in English: “We be patient.”

Beyond making peace with persecutors, the Church also has a God-given mission to stand with those who suffer the brunt of unjust systems, both economic and political, said the Most Rev. Francisco De Assis da Silva, Primate of Brazil.

“The charisma is to be beside, aside, or on the side of the people who are suffering too much from unjust structures in politics and in economics,” Archbishop da Silva said. He said a theology of liberation has weakened over time in Latin America as a more conservative, confessional theology gained traction in recent decades. But the time is right for another shift in theological discourse, in his view.

“We have a unique opportunity to change from a confessional position to a more engaged, a more incarnational, theological reflection,” da Silva said.

For his part, Kings said the Anglican Communion’s calling “is to be Catholic, evangelical, and ecumenical.” In practice, that involves the disciplines of meeting together as Anglicans. It also involves remembering how the Church, like the Trinity, is inherently interconnected.

Bishop Kings quoted from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s foreword to Living Reconciliation: “I am eager to encourage each of us to take full account of the way in which decisions of one province echo around the world. The impact of their echoes is something to which we must listen in the course of our decision-making, if we are not to narrow our horizons and reject the breadth of our global family.”

Image by Matt Townsend

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