Welby: Time to Act on Climate, Violence

By Mark Michael

Photo Credit: Gavin Drake / ACNS

LUSAKA, Zambia — Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby used his presidential address to urge Anglicans to look outwards, “seeking to serve the work and mission of God in the world.” He called for decisive action on religiously motivated violence and climate change, which he described as “major, global conflicts with a very clear religious content.” The address followed Choral Evensong at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Lusaka, as delegates began to turn their attention to a series of resolutions that will guide the Communion’s life and work for the next three years.

As a worldwide network sharing a “coherent structure,” Welby said that Anglicans are uniquely positioned to make an impact on these two pressing issues, which he described as “actors [that] dominate the world stage.” The archbishop continued,

Both these characters — religiously motivated violence and climate change — are global. Both these issues are generational, they can’t be solved in two, three, four years; they will take a generation or more. And both — and this is where most of the world forgets this — both characters can only be confronted with a theological and ideological approach and with a story, with a narrative, that is sufficiently powerful to overcome the natural selfishness of one generation, or the selfishness of countries which are more secure.

At its heart, these challenges are theological and it requires a deepening of our theological resources. We can only confront them by bringing them face-to-face to the reality of a God we study, worship, engage with, theologically.

But, for me, the single vision is to ensure that these two powerful characters in our play — in the play of our world today in the theatre in which we live – these two characters, religiously motivated violence and climate change, find that in the next generation their parts are reduced in the story of our world and their roles are eliminated before the final curtain comes down. Because if they are not eliminated, they themselves will bring down the curtain.

It is our call, I suggest, as Anglicans to be at the heart of those who re-write the play; who bring a new ending.

Hospitality Overcomes Disintegration

Welby described this theological narrative, the “beautiful story” that Anglicans are called to share as “a story of relationship, of mutual protection, of order and human flourishing which overwhelms the demonic narrative of disintegration and demonisation of the other which faces us.” This story should be interpreted to the world, he explained, through “practices of love, hospitality and generosity” which are integral to following Christ in “intentional discipleship.”

A Christian response to religiously motivated violence, the Archbishop said, should be simple. The Christian Gospel centers on reconciliation, he said. “To be Christian we must include; we must be reconciled.”

Welby celebrated the work of Anglican communities which have welcomed some of the 60 million people who are living as refugees and internally displaced persons, many of whom are fleeing religiously motivated violence. Churches provide these vulnerable people with a sense of identity and stability, and can help give them a voice. “Religious communities,” he said, “can be the safe channel to express legitimate grievance and the starting point for the building of bridges between opposing sides.”

Our deep commitment to reconciliation should also be shown in a generous hospitality, he urged, as well as a willingness to listen and work with those who seem to be natural enemies.

“Heroes of peace become the victims of their own people. They shake hands with the enemy – whether a violent enemy, or the company that pollutes, or the nation that rejects climate science. And to do so is seen as the ultimate disloyalty. Fear is the greatest enemy of any dialogue, hospitality attracts suspicion.

May Anglicans become deeply suspicious to everyone else because they are full of hospitality.”

Resources to Resist Violence Growing

Archbishop Welby also highlighted the important theological work being led by the Rt. Rev. Graham Kings, the Anglican Communion’s Mission Theologian, in responding to this challenge. Kings is working, he said, to enhance the “visibility of the hugely deep and important theological resources” being developed by Anglicans in the Global South, and to provide new opportunities for training theological leaders.

Kings was the leader of a group that produced Out of the Depths, a resource for Christians experiencing religiously motivated violence that was shared with ACC delegates during a workshop earlier in the week. “There were more recognised martyrs in the 20th century than in the whole of previous Christian history,” Kings said. “‘Out of the Depths’ is significant, I believe, because it provides a range of theological resources – from Scripture, Tradition and Reason – to help those who are undergoing persecution.”

Kings noted that he had been encouraged by the response to the resource at the ACC meeting, especially by the offer of ACC delegate Bishop Alwin Samuel, of Sialkot, Pakistan, to arrange immediately for its translation into Urdu. After leaving Lusaka, Kings presented the resource in Cairo as part of the first Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion Conference. Because the resource was seen as unquestionably relevant and important, Kings said that the Alexandria School of Theology had also agreed to translate it into Arabic.

Climate Change Challenges Present and Future Church

The Archbishop claimed that climate change also presents an urgent challenge. Of the problem’s outlook, Welby said, “It is not potentially bad; it is potentially fatal, for the most fragile countries and regions on earth; and for the billions of people who live in them.” He described himself as a relative latecomer in understanding the true significance of this problem, and said that his conscience had been awakened by the voice of young people.

Welby urged Anglicans to a deeper understanding of solidarity, and a willingness to take action now too prevent harm to future generations. “The church exists in space and time,” he said. “We are joined by baptism to all past and all future Christians. Unless Christ first returns, the fate of those who belong to the church – let alone the rest of humanity – in 2116 matters deeply to us now.”

In facing this crisis, Welby expressed his gratitude to the Green Anglicans movement in the Province of Southern Africa, and the particular leadership shown by Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, primate of that province. Archbishop Makgoba led the Anglican delegation at the COP 21 climate talks in Paris last December.

A Time for Action on Climate Change

Earlier in the day, ACC delegates heard more about work being done throughout the Communion on climate change in a plenary session led by the Rev. Andy Bowerman, co-director of the Anglican Alliance. The Alliance, which coordinates work in relief, development, and advocacy by Anglicans throughout the world, has identified climate change action as one of its major priorities, and helped to coordinate the collection of millions of signatures for a petition calling for urgent action that was presented at the Paris talks.

Delegates were addressed by the Rev. Canon Jeff Golliher, the long serving Program Director for the Environment and Sustainable Communities at the Anglican Office at the United Nations in New York. Golliher said that the time for discernment surrounding this issue has passed, and that urgent action is necessary. Local congregations need to be active in discussing climate change issues and in undertaking projects in their local communities. “Our congregations need to see that this is a place where I can learn something about how to protect the earth.”

The Rt. Rev. Elina Wamukoya, Bishop of Swaziland, spoke about the theological basis for action on climate change, particularly the way Anglicans are called by their liturgy to “remember we are God’s stewards.” She described Genesis 2:15’s call to care for the earth as “the first commandment,” and highlighted the ways in which the prayers of presentation and offering in the Eucharist stress that “humanity and nature are interdependent.”

Christ’s atoning death, Bishop Wamukoya stated, was for the healing and salvation of the natural world as well as for humans. “This Person who came and died for all humans and nature, because His blood on the Cross cleansed you and because it flowed into the ground, cleansed also the ground; He is the very same Person who will open the books and will ask what you do to protect this resource that I gave you to care for.”

Anglican Youth Call for Church to Lead by Example

A closing panel discussion featured representatives from Central and Southern Africa’s Young Green Anglicans movement. According to Ncumisa Magadla, an ACC youth delegate who leads the movement in Southern Africa, the movement began in this region because it is experiencing global warming at twice the worldwide average, with resulting droughts and floods.

Young people in their regions have deep enthusiasm for climate change work, and there has been strong support for tree-planting initiatives in Swaziland. A three-day pilgrimage focused around climate change issues in Zimbabwe helped to change many people’s attitudes about waste disposal.

Catherine Ngangira, an ACC youth delegate from Zimbabwe, said: “As a church, by taking the lead in making the world green, we give others permission to care for the environment and to make the world green.”

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba closed the panel with a prayer, during which ACC delegates committed themselves on behalf of the entire Anglican Communion to “act with a sense of urgency to alter the climate crisis and its resultant social injustices. We ask you to empower us, Lord, to work together with integrity as members of this Communion, in service to you and all creation and one another.”

At the close of the session, it was announced that Archbishop Welby had agreed to serve as the honorary chairman and patron of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s new role highlights the issue’s importance on the Communion’s overall agenda.

A more enhanced role for the Environmental Network is also reflected in a draft resolution presented to ACC delegates, which calls for each province to send a representative to the network. The resolution also encourages actions including days of prayer and fasting, prioritizing environmentally sustainable investments, making church buildings and projects more energy efficient, and advocating for sustainable water, food, and agricultural practices.


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