CTE’s Senior Communications Manager, Sarah Ball (SB), spoke to Archbishop Justin (ABC) about the main themes of his presentation…
SB: The theme of our conference is reconciling hope for a broken church, for a broken world. Where do you think the church is broken in England?
ABC: Division, scandal, inward-looking. I think those are three. And obsession with human sexuality, which is hugely important, I don’t doubt that for a moment. But it’s channeling the world’s obsession with identity. And human sexuality is one of, a number of immensely important areas of life. But if we go back to the Bible, there are also areas like injustice, inequality, the dominance by the powerful and so on.
SB: What do you think our priority should be then to reconcile?
ABC: I have said a number of times and I think it’s the most important. The first priority is to ask who we follow, not what we believe, that’s…what we believe is indispensable, it’s absolutely hugely important. But, the priority question is who do we follow? “Follow me”, says Jesus. And if we answer that question, it begins to reshape the whole agenda. Secondly, I would say, we need to learn to disagree well. And we are never going to agree. I don’t always agree with myself. So, how do we disagree? And that takes us back to the first question, how we disagree is shaped by who we follow.
SB: We’re in a particularly difficult situation at the moment with the war in Ukraine. How are we going to reconcile with President Putin?
ABC: Well, the honest answer is, I don’t know, because the first part of that answer must be to do with conduct. One of the first rules of working in violent conflict is reconciliation doesn’t happen, can’t begin when the guns are firing because they drown out the voice of reconciliation. And so, a ceasefire and a withdrawal are absolutely essential to have any serious beginnings to reconciliation. Secondly, a week of fighting can cause a decade of time needed to reconcile, which mean we’re running at about 25 years at the moment. It’s a long process because if your dad was killed by a shell, if your brother was killed in the front line, you know you pass that on to your kids, they pass that on, you know, your great uncle, your great grand uncle was killed in ‘The War’. We still talk in this country about ‘The War’. It takes a very, very, very long time. So, when the moment to being the lengthy process, is the moment that there is ceasefire and withdrawal. And we must then sow the seeds of the tree of reconciliation, and not sow the seeds of the tree of hatred which will lead to fresh war in due course.
SB: What would you say is the role of churches across England in helping that reconciliation, sowing those seeds?
ABC: I’m absolutely convinced and even more convinced after 9 years as Archbishop and after over 20 years involved in reconciliation. I’m absolutely convinced that prayer the first priority. We call out to God. We cry out to God for peace, for people to forgive, to find, for God do the miracle of forgiveness which is so hard and so difficult to deal with. And then we welcome, at the same time, we welcome those who have been most harmed by the war – the refugee, the stranger, the alien – who in biblical terms you are meant to welcome the alien and the stranger. And then we reach out with clarity and holiness but not with hatred and the sense of wanting to make people feel their failure. I was reading the Prodigal Son this morning in Luke 15. And I was struck again that in that parable, the father reaches out to both his boys who have both really failed him in one way or another. And puts up with letting the time for facing the reality of what they did come a bit later, the first thing is to re-establish some kind of relationship.
“the habit of division”
SB: We very much appreciate you making time for the CTE Forum in what is a particularly busy year. How will you be helping your colleagues at Lambeth this summer to disagree well and to reconcile? What’s your hope for that?
Well, we have the Lambeth Conference, and there will be bishops coming in person and online from all over the world. At the moment, around 35-36 of our 41 provinces, we have people coming from. And our 5 extra-provincial churches, I think there is someone coming from all of those, a bishop coming from each of those. There’s going to be a huge number. I mean, it will be hundreds and hundreds with their spouses. And I think we want to do a number of things. First of all, turn the church outwards, the Anglican Communion, look outwards, look at our world. Secondly, look at ourselves, and see what is necessary to change, what repentance and change is needed. Third, to commit ourselves to work in the world, but in faithfulness to Christ. We’ve got to face some of the issues that continue to divide us and find a way not of agreeing or forcing anyone else to agree, but of living together in disagreement and love because we are loved by Christ and that is the first priority. So, there is the question, who do we follow?
SB: And, thinking about ecumenism in England in 2022, do you see particular challenges, particular opportunities for us?
ABC: The challenge I see is the habit of division, we are just so used to it. This is how the world is and has been in many cases since the Reformation in the 16th century. That’s the first and biggest challenge, we are accustomed to this. Second, the opportunity is on occasions like this in our meeting together at the CTE Forum. But I think also, there is always the opportunity for repentance for saying, “Why are we disobeying Christ?”. Why do we say that disobeying Christ in our divisions is somehow a sin that is tolerable? There is…and repentance will mean sacrifice. It means giving up power, it means giving up autonomy, it means not always doing thing the way we want to do them for the sake of Christ. And then everything will change.