It’s easy to mock the communiqués that come out of the recent Primates’ meeting.
There is a call for a ‘season of prayer of repentance and reconciliation’, and one might ask when is not a season of prayer of repentance and reconciliation?
There are bits that sound like a conflated discussion of security in Northern Ireland and Harvey Weinstein when it speaks ‘deliberate non-consensual cross-border activity’. Then there is the shocking news that actions (the Scots allowing same-sex marriage in church) have ‘consequences’, expect that these ‘consequences’ are imposed on the Scots (‘no more meetings for you, then’) and not just happy couples being married.
But apart from the silly name these bishops give themselves (which always give rise to pictures of Jane Goodall at work), and the arcane language in which everything is put (it’s not clear to me what ‘total gospel’ might mean), there was some hope to be found in this meeting. By all accounts, Archbishop Jackson Sapit of Kenya, spoke for them all when he said,
The main thing for the Church is to be a witness and to go out there and not focus too much on narrow, probably internal differences.
A far cry from so-called ‘GAFCON’, which lamented that the meeting didn’t focus more on the ‘false teaching’ that was ‘putting souls in danger’ (they seem obsessed by sex).
The really important part of what Archbishop Sapit said was in the form of a question to which he gave a response:
What are the weighty issues facing the world? We can’t allow ourselves not to listen to what is happening in the world around us.
What is happening in the world around us happens within the life and love of God – no person and no thing stands outside God’s love for God’s creation. The job of the churches (and it is far from being just the job of church leaders) is to discern what, amid the jumble of competing voices we hear in the world and even inside ourselves, is of God and what is not.
And it’s not guess work. We can start by asking ‘what is the loving thing to do/think?' Loving as God loves, after all, is what we are called to do. And we know from the teachings of God incarnate, that we will know who is with us as we seek to do God’s will and be God’s people by the fruits of love they bear (not by the ‘i’s they dot and the ‘t’s they cross). The Devil, St James reminds us, is a pretty good and orthodox theologian.
We can be like religious leaders of old and be ready, even anxious to stone those who do or say the ‘wrong’ things, or we can follow the example of God incarnate and offer everyone unconditional love, the love that leads to human flourishing, and not just on the terms given to us by those who assume the mantle of speaking for God. The great point of the Reformation, as we celebrate its 500th anniversary, is that we don’t need – ordinary Christians do not need – intermediaries to read and discern the will of God in Scripture or in the work of God’s Spirit in the world. All we need is being open to the love of God at work in us, the love of God at work in the world and the love of God at work in ‘those who are not against us’ to understand and do God’s purposes in our discipleship.