Global South Day 2 – Carthage and the Valley of Dry Bones

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October 4, 2016

Cairo, Egypt

On the first full day of the sixth Anglican Global South conference, delegates met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and began private deliberations for the eventual “trumpet”, the concluding communique.

Archbishop John Chew
Archbishop John Chew

But in preparation they were led in a Bible Study by former Bishop of Singapore John Chew, and given a lecture by former Bishop of North Africa Bill Musk. Each applied the topic at hand to contemporary issues in the Anglican Global South.

Chew began by emotionally recalling his participation in the initial Global South gathering in Nigeria in 1994, then called the South-South Encounter. It helped us get to know each other, he said, and whether the way we did it was right or wrong, it clearly led to what followed.

That meeting was followed up by the 1997 conference in Malaysia, which galvanized the conservative primates of the Global South to achieve Resolution 110 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture.

Building on this history, he asked the delegates to reflect with him on Ezekiel 37’s valley of dry bones. “Can these bones live?” asked God to the prophet, to which Ezekiel wisely responded, “Lord, you know.”

Chew suggested that similarly, in light of the crises in the Anglican Communion, a proper response is to be silent and wait on God. When division is deep-seated, action cannot overcome action, but only God’s transformation of hearts.

But God did not leave Ezekiel to be silent, said Chew. God told him to “join the stick of Judah with the stick of Israel, and I will make them one stick.” Chew noted that perhaps many in Judah were pleased to see the compromising Israelites scattered in exile, but the heart of God, indeed the vindication of his holiness, is in bringing them back together.

Chew left the implication of this teaching to weigh on the delegates without direct application, but asked them if this was their orientation: To let God achieve it, rather than their own activism.

Afterwards, Musk led the delegates in exploration of the history of the church in Carthage, Tunisia, guiding them through the Donatist controversy and the religio-political shifts in the Latin-Berber, Vandal, and Byzantine eras.

The early church was divided along cultural lines, he said, between a foreign Latin elite that favored a compassionate response to Christians who denied their faith under persecution. The indigenous Berbers, however, held to a standard of purity that insisted upon faithfulness until death.

Various church fathers responded in different ways under different circumstances, Musk explained. But he esteemed the Council of Carthage which affirmed the right of a diocese to regulate its own affairs, rejecting the right of one to discipline leaders in another.

Similarly, Musk asked delegates if they could also create a mutually supportive Global South despite differences of viewpoint, while at the same time speaking the truth as they understand it on the important issues of the day.

Like the Christians of North Africa then, Christians of North Africa and elsewhere are persecuted now. Musk urged the lesson be learned of the dangers of a divided Christian community. The Arab invasions eventually overwhelmed the church, but the seeds of its demise were sown long before. Alongside apostolic gifts, a patient, longsuffering pastoral ministry is also of vital importance.

Anglican delegates closed the day by self-selecting themselves into four taskforce groups on the topics of theological education and leadership development, economic empowerment, evangelism, discipleship, and missions, and ecumenical and interfaith relations. Their practical recommendations were forwarded to the primates for further deliberation and planning.

The full text of Archbishop Mouneer Anis’ opening address is also now available.

One of the major challenges we face as a church is the false teachings which some churches are now adopting and propagating. These teachings undermine the authority of the Scripture, the majority interpretation of the texts and the tradition of the church. An example of this is the redefining of marriage by either permitting same-sex marriage or by indirect approval of it through prayers of blessing. This was described by the Primates at their meeting in Canterbury last January as “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage.” Lambeth Conference resolution 1:10 represents this standard teaching that is held by the majority of the Provinces of the Anglican Church, which recognizes marriage only between man and woman.

It is important here to say that this does not mean we are homophobic when we reject the unbiblical views on human sexuality. Similarly, it does not mean that we are heterophobic when we reject polygamy. We should love, embrace, and pastorally care for everyone but without compromising the teaching which is accepted by the majority in the Church. It is said that the whole truth is revealed to the whole church. Unfortunately, unilateral decisions taken by a few provinces have torn the fabric of the communion over the last 13 years. We made every effort to save the communion but sadly some provinces went on their own way without any regard to warnings from the rest of the communion. My brothers and sisters, I want to weep as Jesus did over Jerusalem.

It is sad indeed that some western churches and organizations use their wealth and influence to push their own agendas in the Global South. I see this as a new form of ideological slavery. We need to be aware of this, and resist all kinds of slavery, whether financial or ideological.

images Michael Adel

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