Tuesday 30 December 2008

Statement on Hostilities in Gaza

Statement from Archbishop Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has added his voice to those calling for an immediate end to hostilities in Gaza.

"Watching the news, I could not help but join in the tears of Jesus, who wept over the land of his birth, and prayed for peace to reign," the Archbishop of Cape Town said.

"Christmas reminds us that God took human form in Jesus Christ, vividly demonstrating the sanctity of all human life. This is not negotiable, and must be respected by all sides through an immediate end to violence.

"My prayer is that the tragic events of recent days will spur everyone in the region, and in the international community, to intensify efforts towards establishing a just and lasting peace in the land of our Saviour's birth."

He added, "Christians who believe that Jesus came to be 'Prince of Peace', and all people of good will, must work and pray for true peace to come not only to Gaza and Israel, but to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to Somalia, and to everywhere where there is conflict."

Sunday 21 December 2008

To the People of God – To the Laos - Christmas 2008

Dear People of God

How do you like to spend Christmas? For many of us, Christmas among other things means time on the beach, with a plastic bucket and spade. So imagine that you are with me, on your favourite beach, on a perfect sunny summer’s day. Pick up your bucket, and come with me to the water’s edge. Dip your bucket into the sea, and fill it to the brim. Then bring your bucket, and sit beside me.

Tell me about the sea you have in your bucket. There’s so much we can learn about the sea, just from one bucketful. We can smell the ozone, taste its tang, and see how it dries leaving a salty crust on our skin. We can tell how it stings in a cut, and smarts in our eyes. If we take the bucketful to a laboratory, we can discover all the chemicals that are in the water. We can test its density and specific gravity. We can investigate its molecular structure, its pH value, and even how polluted it is. But there is an awful lot about the sea that we cannot tell from just one bucketful. We cannot understand its depths, or its variations in temperature, or how its currents flow. We cannot calculate its tides. We cannot see how its waves rise during storms. We cannot feel its immense power, though even a bucketful thrown straight at us can sometimes knock us off our feet.

Jesus is like a ‘bucketful of God’. We can learn an awful lot about God from looking at Jesus. Of course, one person, in one place and one time, is not identical to the fullness of God, eternal, beyond all time and space. But in Jesus we see what God is really about, in ways we can comprehend. We see the love of God in his care for every individual he met, especially those who were in need, or hurting, or struggling with the burdens of life. We see him spending time with those whom society thought were worth very little – as well as debating with the leading thinkers of his community. We see someone who stands up for the truth, for what is right; who tells it as it is, and has no time for hypocrisy or corruption or exploitation, or for those who live at the expense of others.

We also see in Jesus real opportunities for new beginnings, for dealing with old wounds to our souls, our anger and resentments, and being set free from the way they often hurt us more than they hurt anyone else. We see someone who’ll stand with us, and help us be the best that we can be. We see someone to whom we can safely bring our worst fears, as well as our greatest hopes. We see someone we can really talk to about everything in our lives and know that he’ll understand what we’re going through, because he’s been there – he’s lived the human life, and he knows what it can throw at us.

We find in Jesus the certain promise of peacemaker wherever there is conflict – between nations, within communities, in families, even inside ourselves. Remember this, especially when you hear the news on the radio, when you watch the news, when you open a newspaper. Remember this, as you continue to pray for difficult situations in our continent, especially Congo and Zimbabwe. (And we offer our congratulations to Bishop Sebastian Bakare, who returned from retirement to care for the diocese of Harare, who has been awarded a major Swedish human rights prize, for ‘having given voice to the fight against oppression,’ and for promoting ‘freedom of speech and of opinion in a difficult political situation.’)

In Jesus, this bucketful of God, we see as much of God as we can grasp. We also see as much of what it means to be fully human as we can grasp. Jesus wants us to be brimful of him – he wants to help us become a ‘bucketful of Jesus’, so that our lives overflow with that same love and caring, with that same passion for truth, with that same encouragement for others that we find in him.

This is why one of the names of Jesus is ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God with us’. As Christmas approaches, many of us will sing the hymn ‘O come, o come, Emmanuel’ because we know that the world and its inhabitants, with all our struggles and conflicts, needs God to step in and bring his peace (for Jesus also comes as the Prince of Peace), his joy, his love, his reconciliation, his new beginnings of harmony and cooperation.

But we also know that Jesus has come, and his sure promise is to be with us always, if we are ready to welcome him. This is why the refrain of that hymn tells us ‘Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel has come to you …’

May you rejoice at the coming of Jesus, Emmanuel, the bucketful of God, in your life this Christmas. And may you always know him with you, and with all those you love, in the year ahead.

I am going to take a break from letter-writing in January, so I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you again in February. But if you want to know what I am up to in the interim, or read some of my sermons or lectures (including last month’s Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture on ‘Constitution and Covenant’), use this blog or keep an eye on the Provincial website.

May I end with a big thank you to the many of you who have sent in Diocesan and Parish vision and mission statements to the Provincial Executive Office. If you have not yet done so, it is still not too late. We will be happy to continue receiving them, passing them on to the committee working on the Provincial vision statement.

Yours in the service of Christ,

+Thabo Cape Town

Friday 5 December 2008

Statement on Zimbabwe

Statement by the Most Revd Thabo Makgoba, Archbishop of Cape Town

I am deeply pained by the terrible deterioration, disease and despair we are seeing in Zimbabwe.

I welcome yesterday's signs that the South African government is alive to the implications of the total collapse of governance in Zimbabwe, of which we see new evidence daily.

But the silence of SADC leaders in general is disgraceful. Why throughout this crisis have we seen no evidence of public leadership from King Mswati III, chairperson of SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation? He should not only be taking high-profile action on Zimbabwe, but needs to show that peace and democracy are possible in his own country.

Are SADC's leaders not moved by the terrible human suffering in Zimbabwe? Where is their ubuntu? Must people be massacred in Zimbabwe's streets before SADC will take firm, decisive and public action? Will they even then?

No, SADC has failed and is morally bankrupt. President Mugabe has demonstrated again and again that he will not share power. He is no longer fit to rule. I appeal to the chair of the African Union, President Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania to step in and declare publicly that Mugabe's rule is now illegitimate and that he must step aside, and for the AU to work speedily with the United Nations to set up a transitional government to take control.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

To the People of God - To the Laos

November 2008

Dear People of God

This has been a momentous week. The election of Barack Obama to the White House is not only a first for African Americans. It has also brought a surge of joyful hope and eager anticipation, across the United States and the world. We must pray for him as he prepares to take office, remembering that all those who hold authority have potential to be 'God's servant for our good' (Rom 13:4).

Our God is certainly the God of new beginnings, who redeems the past, and tells us to hope and trust with certainty, as we look to the future. At times like these, and during South Africa's elections in 1994 with their repercussions that spread far beyond our borders, it is easy to believe that we can see God's hand at work in events around us. And we may feel we can do so in other events such as the recent peaceful elections in Angola. But perhaps we are not so good at discerning God's redemptive finger prints at a smaller-scale level.

Yet the message of the incarnation is that the God who transcends time and space, is also Emmanuel, God with us, who numbers the hairs on our heads. All the promises of the gospel - of salvation and redemption, healing and wholeness, forgiveness and reconciliation, liberation from all that oppresses - are for us to know and experience at every level from the grand sweep of history through to communities, families and individuals, as we put our trust in Jesus.

One way of becoming more aware of God's active presence in our lives is to cultivate what I like to call 'an attitude of gratitude'. This habit is one of the most powerful ways I know of learning to recognise God at work, to become aware of his promptings in our lives, and to walk more closely with him.

What I have in mind is this: to set aside time - 10 minutes daily, if you can - and to be conscious of coming to sit quietly before the Lord. As you breathe gently, remember that you are in the presence of the God who loves you more than you can ever fully grasp. Perhaps you want to close your eyes, and say to yourself 'God loves me.' Now, slowly and gently, ask Jesus to bring to your awareness the moments of the day for which you are most grateful.

Of course, sometimes large events dominate our consciousness. When the aeroplane on which I was travelling to Bishop David's funeral last month came in to land, we had to make an emergency evasion, because there was another plane on the runway. If it had not been for the pilot's skill, there would have been terrible tragedy - I was aware of the fragility of life, and yet also of being held safe in the palm of God's hand.

But when I reflect on today, or on the past few days, I find that the Lord brings to mind all manner of memories. These span the joy of family jokes at the breakfast table, or finding that the lectionary readings leap out of the page and speak into some circumstance with which I am dealing. Sometimes a complex problem falls easily into place. Someone I need to speak with just happens to phone. A need I have is met so effortlessly I take it for granted. Or coincidences occur. Perhaps some event didn't go as badly as I had been fearing! Or, especially when I see a beautiful sunset, or am struck afresh by the miracle of parenthood, I am just overwhelmed by the wonder of life itself.

By taking time to recall such moments - brought to mind in prayer by the prompting of the Spirit - I am drawn to recognise God's care, God's love, at work in my life in ways I did not always notice at the time. I am now finding this meditative process is helping me become more aware of his presence actually in each present moment - and, I hope, to respond as he would have me do. This is something on which I have been deliberately and specifically reflecting in recent months, and I feel myself profoundly touched by God as I have done so.

More than this, I find I am drawn to live out of a spirit of thankfulness. 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,' writes St Paul (1 Thess 5:16-18). Taking up the role of Archbishop has been hugely daunting, but living with gratitude helps me recognise and acknowledge how much I am dependent on God, and, more than this, how much he equips us and directs us, as we rely on him.

So even when we see great turmoil around - perhaps in the international credit crunch and looming recession, or in political turbulence, and in the effects these have on our lives - we should not be daunted. Living with an attitude of gratitude helps us become aware of how much God really does take care of us.

There is something else for which I am grateful. In London at the beginning of this month, the Archbishop of Canterbury awarded me, and all the members of the Lambeth Conference Design Group, the Cross of St Augustine - the highest honour of the Anglican Communion. In receiving this, I also want to pay tribute, and give thanks, to all the people of ACSA, for the support you have given to me, to my predecessors, and to all the Bishops and the leaders of our church. It is your prayers, encouragement, and other help that has enabled our Province over many years to contribute so much to the life of our Communion.

In my last letter, I mentioned that at Provincial Standing Committee we had discussed the development of a Vision Statement. This is a process that we began in 2002 Resolution 44 when Provincial Synod passed a motion asking us to do this. However, what we do as a Province must also reflect the realities of life at the grass roots level, and the specific expressions of the gospel to which we are called. So as we continue to 'seek afresh to discover what is it to be the body of Christ in our time, and who God is in Jesus Christ, for us here and now' (our key calling, as I said in my charge, and have mentioned before in these letters), can I please ask all of you who have Diocesan or Parish Mission or Vision Statements to forward a copy to the Provincial Executive Office at Bishopscourt, or to peoadmin@anglicanchurchsa.org.za. Thank you.

Yours in the service of Christ

Archbishop Thabo

Cape Town

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Harold Wolpe Memorial Lecture: ‘Constitution and Covenant’

November 7, 2008

Ladies and Gentlemen, distinguished guests, it is an honour to be here this evening. Thank you for your invitation.

It is a privilege to contribute to critical debate around key issues within contemporary South Africa; and I am grateful to The Harold Wolpe Memorial Trust for all that it does in promoting such open discussion. And it is a particular privilege to receive this invitation when fundamental questions around our constitution, our democracy, are so much in the spotlight.

Now, if you invite an archbishop to speak, you must not be surprised if he begins by quoting the Bible.

‘Be Subject to the Governing Authority’

St Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, instructed, ‘Let every person be subject to the governing authority’ (Rom 13:1). Given the nature of our past governing authority, this has not always been an easy verse to handle! But fortunately, any good Bible expositor knows the saying that ‘a text without a context is a pretext’. Therefore we understood that this verse must be seen within the wider context of the full sweep of Scripture. We concluded that apartheid had to be rejected – and, more than this, that any attempt to justify it theologically was, frankly, nothing more than heresy. So we sat light to this verse, and strove to bring about a governing authority which reflected what subsequent verses went on to describe – rule that could be seen as God’s servant for our good.

The Governing Authority that is Constitutional Democracy

Now, thanks be to God, we have a very different governing authority. This evening I want to explore what it might mean for us to take to heart St Paul’s admonition ‘to be subject to the governing authority’ when our authority is constitutional democracy, and why such subjection can bring blessing, for ourselves, and for others.

However, before I go any further, let me make it entirely clear that I am not at all advocating submissiveness before a particular President, nor before any particular political party. Absolutely not. Indeed, an important aspect of my address is the changing relationship between the various actors on the contemporary stage – particularly that between the churches and the governing party. In the past, the churches shared with the ANC – and, of course, with many others – the burning desire to replace apartheid with constitutional democracy. After liberation in 1994, many of us in the churches advocated the adoption of a concept drawn from Latin American liberation theology, that of critical solidarity with the government. According to this principle, we believed we should stand in solidarity with a democratically-elected government which represented the will of the people, but we should reserve the right to criticize it when it failed to live up to the values of the Gospel.

It has recently been argued – notably by the President of the South African Council of Churches and Unisa theologian and commentator, Professor Tinyiko Maluleke – that in practice critical solidarity has, broadly speaking, entailed too much solidarity and not enough criticism. Well I can’t speak for other denominations and faith groups, but I don’t think the Anglican Church has been short on criticism. Indeed, within three months of Nelson Mandela’s election, he and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were at public odds over the new government’s decision to continue manufacturing weapons and over the parliamentary ‘gravy train’ – and the Arch has hardly remained silent since, on almost any issue you care to mention! Though less flamboyantly, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane has been equally outspoken, particularly on poverty, HIV and AIDS, and the arms deal. Other Anglican leaders have been sharply outspoken in their own dioceses, for example the now-retired Bishop David Russell in the Eastern Cape. As for solidarity, I believe our synods and bishops have praised the government where praise is due.

And, as an aside, since they don’t take marching orders from the church, let me mention there is no shortage of Anglicans in public life – they inhabit – even infest – the political life of this country at every level, and in every party: among them President Kgalema Motlanthe; Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of the IFP; the Vice-Chancellor of UNISA, Barney Pityana (a keynote speaker at last weekend’s convention); Athol Trollip of the DA; and, in times past, the PAC leader Zeph Mothopeng, and Steve Biko. My point is this: as the former UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan has said, ‘No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime.’

In South Africa, we have to learn how to become a democracy, and all of us who stood together in the past, are still feeling our ways into the new relationships appropriate to constitutional democracy. Government, political parties, the private sector, academia, the media, civil society, faith communities and so forth, now each have our distinctive and separate contributions to make to the life of the nation as a whole. We are still learning where we should stand in solidarity, and where we should be critical. We are still learning what it means to hold and to exchange legitimately diverse perspectives. We are still learning both how to deliver and how to receive criticism that is constructive. The way to pursue such maturing democracy is to abide by – or, in the words of St Paul, be subject to – our Constitution.

Therefore this evening, I want to look at what this means for all of us – whether we live in Groote Schuur or Guglethu; whether we are from Luthuli House or Langa, from Bishopscourt of Bronkhorstspruit, from the University of Stellenbosch or the ‘university of life’. I want to explore how we can abide by, uphold and promote our Constitution as individuals, as members of civil society, and as political participants.

In other words, I want to address how we can make our Constitution ‘God’s servant for good’; that is, a vehicle for the genuine well-being and flourishing of every South African. To do this, I will use the paradigm of covenant.

Covenanting and Flourishing

Covenants have a long history, rooted in the political treaties of the Fertile Crescent of 3- to 4-thousand years ago, and their Biblical parallels. The earliest Biblical Covenant is found in the well-known story of Noah. The Book of Genesis tells how God regrets he ever created wicked and degenerate humankind – with the exception of faithful Noah. God tells Noah to make an ark, a great boat, in which Noah’s family and two of every kind of animal take refuge. A flood then destroys all other living things. After the flood subsides, God warns Noah and his sons not to shed human life – for humanity bears the image of God – and God adds, ‘I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendents, and with every living creature … never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth … and this is the sign of my covenant: the rainbow.’

This is a covenant for all of humanity, and for all of creation. It is a covenant about the sanctity of human life, about the integrity of the created world, and about the dignity of difference, symbolised by the rainbow. God says that people matter. God cares that his beloved children should have adequate food, clothing, shelter and so forth. God cares that everyone should be treated with complete respect by everyone else, with no-one marginalised, excluded, voiceless in the ordering of our common lives (which is, of course what democracy is all about).

God also cares that we do not destroy our environment out of short term greed. And God cares that we should each be able freely to become our best selves, neither unduly exalted nor unfairly diminished because of how he created us. These three elements – sanctity of life, the integrity of the created world, the dignity of difference – taken together, are for me the touchstone of human flourishing, as God intended us to be. If my ministry as priest, bishop and now archbishop, is about nothing else, I hope it is about caring for every single human being, for all God’s people, as God – the God who is love – cares for them.

Therefore I am in solidarity with whatever promotes these three elements; and I am critical of whatever hinders them. I am prepared to be in solidarity with any party that, in actions as well as words, promotes them. But I will be critical of those who pay lip-service to the neediest in their electioneering, but who fail to deliver. And I will be critical of those who make undeliverable promises merely to gain votes.

I am in solidarity with the needs of the poorest, the most vulnerable, the most marginalised; including the strangers, the foreigners, in our midst. I am in solidarity with available, affordable health-care for all. I am in solidarity with effective rural development. I am in solidarity with, why not, a Basic Income Grant. I am in solidarity with education for all, that truly equips our young people to be responsible citizens, able to face the challenges of adulthood. And my prayers are with all those who began their Matric exams this week.

On the other hand, I am critical of a response to crime that leads to escalating deaths among both police and suspects. I am critical of complacency and incompetence in housing programmes, such that Irene Grootboom died before receiving her home, despite the Constitutional court ruling. I am critical of inadequate social support, and of continuing delays faced by too many of the most needy, especially paperless orphans and pensioners – though I recognise that there are some improvements. In all this, it seems to me that I can be in solidarity with whatever upholds and implements the Constitution, because it can serve as a covenant for human flourishing.

Contract and Covenant

It is important to recognise that a covenant is far more than a contract. In contracts, parties give legal undertakings to effect transactions for reciprocal benefit. In covenants, people bind themselves together, in pledges of faithfulness and loyalty, to promote mutual well-being.

The Chief Rabbi of Great Britain spoke about Covenants to the international gathering of Anglican Bishops, the Lambeth Conference, earlier this year. He summed up the differences between covenant and contract in four succinct points. · Contracts concern our interests, while covenants concern our identities. · Contracts deal in transactions, while covenants deal in relationships. · Contracts benefit, while covenants transform. · Contracts are about competition – if I win, you lose; while covenants are about cooperation – if I win, you also win.

Constitution as Covenant

We should see life under constitutional democracy as considerably more like covenant than contract. We, the people of South Africa, have covenanted together through our Constitution, for the well-being of us all. This is clear from the Constitution’s Preamble. Let me remind you what it says:

We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to · Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights; · Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law; · Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and · Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. May God protect our people.

Now, of course the Constitution is a legal document, and its contents and their interpretation are to be debated within the Constitutional Court. But the Preamble makes it abundantly clear that the life of our nation and people extends far wider than legal argument alone. We are concerned with honour and respect, with freedom, with unity and diversity, with healing, with democratic values and social justice; with human rights, with quality of life and liberating potential, for every single one of us. It is for this that we covenant together. To be subject to our Constitution means to breathe life into these covenant promises to one another.

Covenant and Identity

As Rabbi Sacks reminds us, first of all, covenants concern our identities. This is where the Constitution begins: ‘We, the people of South Africa’. We are the people of this land, which ‘belongs to all who live in it’. We belong to this nation; and we belong to each other, through a common South African citizenship, of which no-one may be deprived. This is who we are, and we are in this together. For better or for worse, we have a common history, with all its pains. We all have to live honestly with this legacy – and we have to find a shared way forward.

Covenant and Transformation

To go forward, we have covenanted together for transformation – Rabbi Sack’s second point. In our Constitution, we acknowledge our past, with all its injustices, and then pledge to heal its divisions. We cannot change the past – but we need not be trapped by it. Therefore, we have chosen new foundations, of democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. We have covenanted for a new beginning and a better future. Even ancient covenants between military victors and defeated opponents were meant to signal a new beginning, to the benefit of all. There was, after conflict, the chance for a settled, peaceful life – even if it came with obligations of tax-paying and obedience to the ruler. Ours is not a covenant of victors over vanquished – but our nation building also requires everyone to pay their taxes and abide by the rule of law: everyone, without exception. Even St Paul tells us to pay our taxes and keep the law, if we want a sustainable, peaceful, society!

God’s promises are far more transformative than human pledges alone. The prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel write of new covenants: covenants of peace, of everlasting blessing, of forgiveness, of new hearts and transformed spirits. Christians understand Jesus as the fulfilment and guarantee of these promises: through his life and death and resurrection, making possible redemption from our past and hope for the future. Yes, covenants should be vehicles of redemption and hope – and in our Constitution we dare to live with hope, and we dare to pursue redemption, for ourselves, for our whole nation. ‘May God protect our people,’ the Constitution’s preamble prays. Amen to this.

Covenant and Relationship

Thirdly, constitution as covenant underlines the fact that human society cannot be reduced to matters of money and litigation. It is about people and relationship. This relationship is first of all, a covenant between equals. The Constitution says we should all enjoy not only equal status, dignity, and protection before the law; but also freedom from discrimination on grounds that include ‘race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth’. The fact that we spell out such a long list indicates that, though equal, we are by no means the same. Yet our Constitution insists that we are ‘united in diversity’. To covenant, is to commit to one another, in mutual loyalty, whatever our differences.

One goal of the Constitution is to ‘improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person’. For this to happen, mutual loyalty must extend across not only race, culture and so forth, but also across what Nobel Prize Winning Economist Amartya Sen terms ‘agency’ – our differing ability to participate in the mechanisms of our society. Thus, the powerful must recognise that they covenant in loyalty to the powerless, the strong to the weak, the persuasive to the voiceless, and the rich to the poor – whether economically rich or rich in skills, in experience, in abilities, or any other aspect of what it means to live with quality and potential. Only if we do this will we overcome the debilitating inequalities of the past, whose legacies remain with us.

Wendell Wilkie, the US lawyer and politician of the first half of the 20th century, said that the US constitution ‘does not provide for first and second class citizens’. Neither does ours. But have we understood that democracy does not mean the replacement of one unjustly privileged, self-serving, elite, with another unjustly privileged, self-serving, elite – who revel in conspicuous consumption while the rest of the population struggle with rising bread prices?

This challenge is for all of us, as individuals as well as for government. There is a particular challenge to the private sector to contribute to reversing economic inequalities. The Acts of the Apostles, in the New Testament, records how in the early church ‘There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold’ (Acts 4:34). We in our turn must work out how to share our country’s economic gains so that no-one has too much, no-one has too little. If we fail to enact mutual loyalty across our nation, our society, then we will fail to achieve the quality of life, the liberation of potential, for everyone, which is our goal.

So we should each ask ourselves: Does mutual loyalty provide the lens through which we see our neighbours, our colleagues, our employers and our employees? Do we feel ourselves bound in covenant mutuality with those we pass at robots; with those whose faces we see on the TV news; with our business competitors; to say nothing of our political opponents?!

Covenant and Cooperation

Of course politics inevitable entails competition. But we have covenanted together to pursue politics by democratic means. This is our fourth emphasis – cooperation trumps competition.

In the past, many of us across a broad spectrum of interests, cooperated for the downfall – thankfully, peaceful – of apartheid, and its replacement by constitutional democracy, participative democracy.

Now we are having to learn what it means to participate together in democratic life, from all our different – our legitimately different – perspectives.

This returns me to the question of balancing criticism and solidarity. How are political movements, NGOs, faith communities, academia, the media, business, and so on and so forth, who cooperated in the struggle years, now to cooperate for the strengthening of constitutional democracy?

Well, governments must govern. But it is not the government’s role to do the job of business, of civil society, of the media, or of anyone else.

However, it is the government’s job to listen, and to take account of, everyone’s perspectives, and to promote a climate in which each can fully do what they are called to do, and so contribute to the life of the nation as a whole.

Therefore it is government’s job to promote · an independent media; · and a space for business that is free from corruption and undue interference; · and a society in which the rule of law is upheld; · and a climate for effective dialogue with all, especially with NGOs and civil society bodies, including faith communities.

Similarly, it is both the right, and the responsibility of the media, academia, professional bodies, business, civil society, faith communities, to speak without reservation from our own perspective. So too can any individual. Our constitution invites us to do so, and to speak from the particularity of our own cultural, linguistic, faith, and other identities. What it does not allow us is intolerance, nor the denigration of others. Racialism, tribalism, gender discrimination … you name it – it is all out!

So for all of us, when we think government has got it right, we should applaud them; and when we think they have got it wrong, we will not be afraid to say so. Our commitment must be only, and always, to the flourishing of all South Africans, through the covenantal promises of our Constitution. Therefore, for example, civil society and religious communities must not be shy to take the opportunities provided by the 16 Days of Action Against Violence Against Women later this month, and World AIDS Day on December 1st. Speaking up, speaking out, contributes to the furtherance of our Constitutional aims of a better life for all.

Democracy, Participation and Accountability

When our governing authority is participative democracy, to be subject means to promote the effective participation of all, at every level.

Participation may take many forms. All adult South Africans have the right, and the responsibility, to vote – but only some will find themselves called to high office. Yet all manner of opportunities for participation exist, and must be exercised, between the two levels – and between elections. For participative democracy entails accountability – as Chapter 3 of our Constitution stipulates. Accountability not only comes through the ballot box – though it certainly comes here. Accountability also comes through continuing open debate, and through strengthening the effective functioning of robust and independent civil society and private sectors.

Government must also promote debate about effective accountability, including through the electoral system. We have seen how party lists undermine the links between electorate and elected. Some form of constituency arrangement could improve this. But we must also uphold minority representation, and not all constituency systems safeguard this.

In practice, democracy comes in many forms: some better than others, and none without flaws. So we must strive to ensure that our democracy delivers the goals of our Constitution. We must do what we can to help our pursuit of democracy grow in wisdom and maturity. We should not be surprised if this takes time, and has some ups and downs along the way. I am the father of teenagers – and I know that to be 14 years old is to face all the traumas of adolescence, where aspirations to adulthood run up against the limitations of experience.

But, whatever the limitations of experience, mature democracy requires mutual acknowledgement that political opponents seek the good of the country and its people, however great the policy disagreement on the best means for achieving this. We must accord everyone freedom of speech: freedom to debate issues, to put differing arguments, to propose alternative policies, and to persuade – but never to coerce. Anyone who threatens, or intimidates – or stands by while their supporters do so – is not worthy to be a leader. Anyone who incites violence, or advocates harm to their political opponents – or allows others to do so – is a disgrace to democracy and deserves only our contempt. Anyone who pursues power to further their own interests, or the interests of those around them, is unfit to hold office.

Let there be no misunderstanding: the competition of constitutional politics is very different from the struggle for liberation. Given our past, there can be no excuse for militaristic metaphors or the vocabulary of violence. Given the history of our struggle, and the implications of being branded a ‘counter-revolutionary’ in the past, I do not believe this is an appropriate way for ANC leaders to describe their opponents today. Nor was Terror Lekota wise in recently highlighting the possibility of violence, even if against his supporters. Such warnings can too easily become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Nor do we live under a system where the winner takes all. After elections, whichever party governs, must govern for the good of everyone. Its representatives must sit in parliament together with the opposition – acknowledging them as the loyal opposition. For we all share the constitutional goal of ‘a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights’.

Covenant and Diversity

Democratic life – as the briefest glance around the world will show – is endlessly full of complicated, complexly interrelated, and evolving, questions. No-one, no matter what their parliamentary majority, can have all the solutions. This is why every voice matters. We must all contribute from our own perspective, so that we ensure decision makers can take into account the fullest possible picture. Within political parties too, the debate must always go on, as circumstances unfold.

In 2003, at a joint sitting of parliament to mark ten years of democracy, Nelson Mandela said, ‘A guiding principle in our search for, and establishment of, a non-racial, inclusive democracy in our country, has been that there are good men and women to be found in all groups and from all sectors of society; and that in an open and free society those South Africans will come together to jointly and cooperatively realise the common good.’

Democracy and Ubuntu

Let me put this in other words. Effective democracy needs ubuntu. Ubuntu says, ‘I am because we are.’ Ubuntu says ‘My full humanity is dependent on your full humanity.’ Ubuntu is shared covenantal living – living through loving and caring, honesty and respect, compassion and trust. Ubuntu is upholding good morals. Ubuntu is helping those in need. Ubuntu is saying that if any other person is diminished, then I too am diminished.

It is easy enough to speak of ubuntu, and our politicians love to commend it. I wish they would practice it, in their conduct of political debate – both within and between parties! Is it in accordance with the values of ubuntu to call opponents ‘dogs’, or to brand former President Thabo Mbeki as a ‘dead snake’, and leaders of the new party as ‘dangerous snakes’? Surely not! Ubuntu says politicians should criticise policies, not other politicians.

Ubuntu says that personal attacks devalue and demean the attacker.

Ubuntu teaches instead, that as we debate the difficult social, political and economic issues of the day, we are enriched by hearing every side of the question, every point of view, and reaching conclusions that reflect everybody’s need. As Madiba stressed, this means not only politicians talking with other politicians, but that policies should evolve through continuing substantive dialogue that embraces all of society. For democracy insists that politics – which is, by definition, all that concerns the life of the polis and the polites, of society and citizens – is far too important to be left solely to politicians! Business; NGOs; faith communities; media; academia; unions; professional bodies such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, and engineers; community organisations; faith groups; and all other stakeholders, must be included.

Ubuntu says that if we take everyone into account, we will avoid the worst excesses of individualism that undermine western democratic life.

Covenant and Economics

The whole world needs ubuntu – the whole world needs covenantal living. Our current international economic turmoil shows us the dangers of untrammelled capitalism – of unfettered individualistic greed – of contract without covenant. We have allowed greed to race ahead, until, like a cartoon character, it finds itself running in thin air, facing nothing but a long, long, drop into the void below. Cartoon characters bounce with a lot more resilience than the real live individuals whose pensions, whose savings, whose livelihoods, have come crashing down.

My challenge to Trevor Manuel, and Tito Mboweni, is to bring concepts of ubuntu, covenant, cooperation, and mutual loyalty into the international economic arena – so that the interests of the weakest, the poorest, are safeguarded, rather than allowing those with the greatest greed to make the greatest gains at the expense of those in greatest need. I call on the private sector to come to the party too.

And to the new and inspirational President of the United States, I would like to say this. Dare to lead the world into a new economic era; dare to call us into global covenanting together for the integrity of creation, the well-being of the planet, and the flourishing of every human person.

The Role of Individuals

Let me return to my contention that God’s call to be subject to a governing authority which is participative democracy, means to participate democratically.

Every South African therefore has the responsibility first of all to register as a voter. This very weekend, 8 and 9 November, voting stations across the country will be open for registration. Having moved house earlier this year, my wife Lunghi and I will be going along to ensure we are registered as electors.

The second responsibility that everyone should exercise, is to go and vote, once the elections come.

But political parties have to earn our vote. It cannot be taken for granted. If politicians behave badly, they should expect supporters to withdraw their backing: in the way that Archbishop Tutu suggested last month – in answer to a hypothetical question – expressing how appalled he was at the personalisation and acrimony dominating political debate. He has worked tirelessly for dignity, tolerance and respect for all, as intrinsic to the democracy for which he strove. He, and we all, have a right to see such dignity, tolerance and respect shown in the behaviour of our politicians – as those who most embody our democratic life. Instead of accusing Archbishop Emeritus of ‘vomiting on the graves of liberation heroes’, politicians from all parties ought instead to reflect on the challenges posed by his comments.

The Responsibility to Vote

How, then, should we vote? What should we look for in a political party? The Covenant with Noah suggests we might usefully ask: ‘Who most promotes the sanctity of life, the integrity of creation, and the dignity of difference, as desired by God, and as expressed through our Constitution?’

Take care! I am not asking which party – new or otherwise! – proclaims most loudly that it upholds the Constitution! Instead I am asking, which party, not only in its words, but by its actions, will best deliver the true heart of the Constitution: understood as the blessing of our country and the flourishing of its people, for today and for tomorrow. Both short and long term matter. God’s covenant with Noah was for all his descendants. We too must act with the best interests of future generations in mind.

And if political parties want to claim they have the support of God (now I am really stepping into a minefield!), then let them demonstrate both that their past track record, in words and action, and their current and future commitments, accord with God’s standards. For both St Paul, and Jesus himself, warn that we must persistently abide in God’s ways – and if we do not, we risk being pruned, cut out, uprooted.

This is why service delivery matters. Having the right vision, and saying the right thing, means nothing, if we do not put it into practice. We must be honest in recognising that it is not easy to turn the vision of a new South Africa, prosperity for all, into concrete reality. It is also difficult to take broad sweeping ideals and turn them into specific policy solutions that can meet all vastly differing needs of our population. But we must not use the enormity of the challenge as an excuse for complacency, for inefficiency, for incompetence, for settling for second best. Nor can we give up half way – last week’s Conference here in Cape Town underlined the need to follow through on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and to take seriously the implementation of its recommendations. Do we really want to undermine the progress we have achieved so far?


It was for good reason that ancient covenants, political and biblical, often concluded with blessings and curses. In essence, they say, if you abide, and abide fully, by this covenant, all will go well with you. If you disregard its provisions, you will suffer dire consequences. We must also recognise that if we fail to uphold our Constitution, if we fail to promote the effective maturing of democracy, if we fail to ensure the equality of all persons before the law, if we fail to uphold tolerance, if we fail to celebrate our diversity and tap the potential contribution of all, if we fail to promote the quality of life of all citizens, if we fail to deliver the services we promise, if we fail to make our vision of a better life for all concrete reality for all South Africa’s people – then the consequences for us will indeed be dire.

Let me end, not with scripture, but with a quotation from Thomas Paine, the English political theorist of the 18th century.

He said this:

‘When it can be said in any country in the world, “My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want; the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness’ – when these things can be said, then may that country boast of its constitution and its government.’

Whoever we are, whatever our role within democratic life, let us participate, and play our part, and never falter in our covenant of mutual loyalty, until we can boast this of South Africa.


Thursday 30 October 2008

To the People of God – To the Laos

October 2008

Dear People of God

So much has happened since I last wrote. But my memories of the Synod of Bishops and the Provincial Standing Committee, and the consecration of the new Bishop of Grahamstown, Ebenezer Ntlali, are overshadowed by the sudden death, barely a week later, of Bishop David Beetge, dear colleague, friend, priest, pastor, and father in God to so many of us. Dean of the Province since 2003, David was an outstanding leader of our church, a man of deep spirituality and prayer, for whose life we are enormously grateful to God, even as we grieve his death. Our love and prayers are with Carol, his widow.

I first met Bishop David in 1987, when he lead a retreat for seminarians at St Paul's College, of whom I was one. For the next few years he was my spiritual director and a wise guide through the turbulence of the early 90s. More than anything else, David would advise me to pray – and I could see that this was the best possible option in every area of life, because I could see the effect of prayer in David’s own life. He persistently deepened his relationship with the God who is love, daring to open himself to receive in love whatever the Lord had in store for him, no matter how easy.

In this way, Bishop David’s response to his illness is a lesson, and an encouragement, to us all. Let me quote some inspiring words that he wrote to a friend a couple of months ago:

‘My prayers are only for God’s will to be done. If that will is for healing I will embrace it fully, but if it is not, I look forward to the vision of God that I have known and will see more clearly; and to being caught up in the wonder of that Trinitarian love that Jesus makes possible for us. We must not pray as though we fear death.’

David loved to speak of the experience once on retreat, when he felt he had been caught up, in Christ, into the very fullness of the dynamic love that flows between Father, Son and Spirit. That love, reaching out unconditionally to everyone flowed through David, similarly unconstrained.

Such love fuelled his unstinting work within his Diocese; and within the Province in everything from the Pension Fund to HIV and AIDS. Here he was conscious that the church has too often stigmatised and excluded those who are infected or affected, instead of extending God’s welcoming arms. He also played a significant role within the Anglican Communion, including in the Lambeth Commission that produced the Windsor report, and in ecumenical work, especially in relations with the Roman Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Canterbury sent a moving personal message, which you can read on our website, www.anglicanchurchsa.org.

All this we remembered at his funeral, as we heard St Paul’s reassurance that ‘nothing – neither life nor death – can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (from Romans 8:38-9). It was typical of Bishop David that he had told some of us that, should he die soon, he wanted his funeral to speak not so much of him, but of his Lord, and the gospel promise, the sure and certain promise, of the resurrection to new life.

The ways of life and death remain so much beyond our comprehension – so often illness and death seem unfair, and we come to God in confusion and deep grief. Yet in Jesus we find a place to weep for our dear friend, remembering that Jesus himself wept at the grave of his own dear friend Lazarus even though he knew he would be raised. Therefore we trust in this same hope, for David and for ourselves, so wonderfully expressed in the words of St Peter:

‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed...’ (1 Pet 1:3-5)

So let us not be afraid to mourn our loss, even as we hold fast to our faith – for, as our Lord assured us, ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’

What, then, of our Synod, and the Provincial Standing Committee? The Bishops issued a statement about all we discussed, that is also on our website. One particular decision was to send a delegation to express our solidarity with the Diocese of Swaziland and the people of that country as, 40 years after independence, they work for a more democratic society. We gave thanks for the recent elections in Angola. Within the Province, our decisions included the formation of the new Diocese of Ukhahlamba in the northern part of the Diocese of Grahamstown.

Among the matters PSC addressed (in part through small groups – we wanted to capture some of the strengths of the indaba style of the Lambeth Conference) were the budget, xenophobia, gender, the environment, ecumenism, social development, and youth. We also heard reports on the Lambeth and GAFCON meetings, and in discussion noted the Synod’s view that ’We agreed to continue working for the unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion through the current instruments of communion and dialogue, including the proposed Anglican Covenant, the Windsor Continuation Group and a possible Pastoral Forum. We agreed to continue to work with all parties in the current debates particularly on our own continent and to share South Africa’s experience of a reconciliation which embraces all.’

We also spent time at PSC talking together about consultations across the Province, to produce a ‘vision statement’, but I will save further comment on this for my next letter.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

Thursday 18 September 2008

Statement of the Synod of Bishops

A regular meeting of the Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa in Gauteng this week reviewed the ongoing mission, ministry and witness of the Church and some of the challenges of the context in which we live.

We voiced our renewed concern at the extreme poverty suffered by many in southern Africa, and at the wide gap between those who have excessive wealth and those who are poor. We remain deeply concerned at the prevalence of malaria and HIV and Aids, and we acknowledge anew the brokenness of the nations which we represent. We pledged to continue modelling values in our societies which build integrity, love, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation.

As bishops of a church which spans six nations, we acknowledge also that we have been too quiet recently on issues of social justice, and need to take a stronger prophetic stance towards our governments. Xenophobia continues to strike at the heart of our identity as a church, and in South Africa we need to work with the rest of civil society in holding all of society’s structures accountable both for combatting ethnic hostility and for overcoming the failures of service delivery which contribute to tensions within communities. We call on Anglicans to continue to pray for refugees and economic migrants. We are deeply concerned at the situation in Swaziland and have resolved to send a delegation to express our solidarity with our Diocese of Swaziland and the people of that country as they work for a more democratic society. The 40th year of Swaziland’s independence sharply focusses this concern. At the same time, we give thanks for the recent elections in Angola, and we affirm the role of President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa in mediating a settlement in Zimbabwe.

Dealing with domestic issues within the Church, the Synod:

* Endorsed the formation of a new diocese, to be known as the Diocese of Ukhahlamba, in the northern part of the current Diocese of Grahamstown;

* Affirmed the key role of theological education in building the church, endorsed a formal collaboration with the University of KwaZulu/Natal for theological training, and appointed a new director of the Anglican House of Studies in Pietermaritzburg, all in a bid to foster ecumenical theological education;

* Decided to have the Archbishop’s Charge from the March installation service in Cape Town translated into Portuguese for the benefit of the Dioceses of Lebombo, Niassa and Angola. The Charge will also be the basis of a study series for Lent 2009;

* Agreed to new and/or alternative Collects for the Church;

* Examined the administration and leadership of our Province; and

* Encouraged Anglicans to sign up with the South African Bone Marrow Registry as bone marrow donors.

The bishops also reflected on the implications of the recent meetings of the Lambeth Conference and of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). We agreed to continue working for the unity of the worldwide Anglican Communion through the current instruments of communion and dialogue, including the proposed Anglican Covenant, the Windsor Continuation Group and a possible Pastoral Forum. We agreed to continue to work with all parties in the current debates particularly on our own continent and to share South Africa’s experience of a reconciliation which embraces all.

The Most Revd Thabo Makgoba

Archbishop and Metropolitan

Anglican Church of Southern Africa

Monday 15 September 2008

To the People of God – To the Laos

September 2008

Dear People of God

This is my first spring in Cape Town, and, though the weather can change in moments from warm sunshine to chilly downpour, strong winds to complete calm, I am enjoying the tremendous privilege of living in Bishopscourt, where there is almost immeasurable beauty and diversity, in plant and animal and insect life, in and beyond our grounds.

This makes me very aware of the miracle of creation, and of its fragility. Just as we groan with the burdens of our humanity – longing to become our best selves, always falling short of what we aspire to – so too creation groans, for it bears the consequences of our skewed humanity, demonstrated in thoughtless waste, neglectful pollution, greedy consumption, economic injustices, and selfish abuse of resources (see Romans 8).

But we have a choice: to be part of the problem or to be part of the solution. God’s eternal invitation of generous love calls us to walk the way of promise, of redemption, of fullness of life for humanity and for all of creation.

In adopting the ‘Season of Creation’ we are affirming that we are choosing the option of flourishing humanity within flourishing creation! I hope that many of you will have the opportunity to use the excellent resource book, either now or at some later point (perhaps Lent – and I acknowledge that there have been problems with distribution). The Provincial Liturgical Committee and Synod of Bishops have approved the material produced by an inter-diocesan task team, which can be used for Sunday services and in discussion groups, around the six themes of: Biodiversity, Land, Water, Climate Change, Need not Greed, and Stewardship.

My prayer is that this may enhance our worship of God, deepen our comprehension of God as creator, and broaden our understanding of what it means to be stewards of creation.

The Anglican commitment ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and to sustain and renew the life of the earth’ is nothing new. For almost a quarter of a century, this has been part of what the Communion considers its ‘Five Marks of Mission’. It was also an important theme at the Lambeth Conference.

Province, Dioceses and Parishes can honour God, and the glorious mystery of his creation, through prioritising environmental responsibility in all spheres of life and witness, for example, insisting that internationally, nationally, at provincial and local government level, we do better: on CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions, on clean and sustainable energy production and consumption, and in legislation that promotes best practice – and penalises those who abuse our world. We can also ensure our churches are environmentally conscious, and press our places of work to act responsibly.

Let me turn to another aspect of human flourishing that is concerning many of us at present – the ability of our countries to mature in the practices of constitutional democracy. Earlier this week I was reflecting on how our circumstances differ from those of the early church, where St Paul, for example, directs the Thessalonians to ‘live quietly and mind your own affairs’ (1 Thess 4:11). We do not face a potentially hostile Roman Empire, but enjoy the opportunities and responsibilities that constitutional democracy affords.

Therefore we must uphold and strengthen the space for and role of civil society, including faith communities, ensuring we maximise the scope available to us to be constructive contributors to the shaping and developing of our society. Within the wider political culture that we are attempting to nurture, it must be understood by all that there is a vital function to be performed: that of a critical friend to the other organs of national life – including both government and private sector.

‘Critical friend’ is an important concept – we are friends, on the side of all those who serve the best interests of our countries and people, and on the side of a strong constitutional democracy as a means of building up the life of our nations. But we must also be critical, in the right sense of the word. For hard truths are often best heard from those who are friends. We must not be shy of telling the truths of our communities, nor the truths of our perspectives and our priorities – which are of necessity, and by definition, different from the perspectives and priorities of those who govern and hold power. Mature democracy understands the place of civil society and such critical friends, just as it understands the place of a loyal opposition – the friendship, the loyalty, provide the constructive context for engaging with one another, through which we can all reach a fuller picture.

So, unlike the Thessalonians, we should be ready to be outspoken, and to take our full and rightful place within public debate and policy making. We must grasp the opportunities we have to address the causes of poverty and the means by which these might be alleviated. We must keep on pressing for best possible practices, for transparency, openness, consultation, and communication on the part of governments, business, civil society, and all with whom we deal.

We must be unhesitating in reject all forms of corruption, inefficiency or carelessness by those whose responsibility it is to make and deliver effective policies, programmes and services. We must be equally unwavering in condemning any attempts to weaken our constitutions and the just rule of law we now enjoy. This should go without saying, but these are priorities of which it is good to remind ourselves from time to time – especially when, as today, the full and free operation of every organ of society, and the functioning of robust and honest debate, can seem open to question.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Thank You For Reading About Lambeth On This Blog

Thanks for reading about the 2008 Lambeth Conference experience on this blog.

The full texts of my letters "To the Laos" (the People of God) will continue to be published here, but the blog will be updated much less frequently than during Lambeth.

If you would like to join a list of people to be e-mailed when the blog is updated, please send an e-mail to:


Please continue to send personal correspondence to my usual Bishopscourt e-mail address.

God bless you,


To the People of God – To the Laos

August 2008

Dear People of God

It is good to be home! Our dog, Toffee, is completely delighted that Lungi and I are back from the Lambeth Conference, and greets us with particular enthusiasm each morning!

My heart and mind are still overflowing with memories of our time in Canterbury, where we exchanged Cape Town’s cold wet winter for hot summer weather. I think of the beauty of the Cathedral; and the wonderfully uplifting worship we enjoyed there and in the ‘Big Tent’ on the university campus where we were based. Here, as all of us, bishops and spouses together, shared in morning Eucharists and evening prayers led by the various Provinces, we were drawn closer to God and one another, even in tense moments: the morning we were to discuss human sexuality, the service was infused with a profound sense of the Lord’s grace and love among us. I think too of the long, but inspiring, day in London, beginning with a walk of witness together with other religious leaders, highlighting the Millennium Development goals and calling on world leaders to meet them, and to form better partnerships with faith communities for overcoming poverty. After lunch in the beautiful grounds of Lambeth Palace, the home of Archbishop Rowan and Jane Williams, we then went to a Buckingham Palace tea party hosted by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip – an event we shall never forget!

But when I look back, I realise that most of all Lambeth was about relationships – with Jesus, with one another in Christ, and with the world.

From beginning to end, Jesus as Saviour, incarnate in our contexts, was at the very heart of our time together. We started our time together with a wonderful 3-day retreat led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, where he asked us to consider what it means for every believer to be called to be a place where God’s Son is revealed to others. He challenged us to reflect on where we find Jesus revealed, whether through others, through encounters and conversations and circumstances. Many of us were nervous, defensive, or even a bit aggressive, about the disagreements within the Anglican Communion. Our retreat helped us to start by ‘finding ourselves’ in Jesus Christ, and so to be ready to find one another, as brothers and sisters also in Jesus Christ.

We then moved from Retreat to Conference. After Eucharist and breakfast, each day proceeded with Bible Studies in which the same eight of us looked at John’s Gospel, focussing on the person of Jesus, and his ‘I am’ sayings – I am the bread of life; the light of the world; the gate for the sheep; the good shepherd; the resurrection and the life; the way, the truth and the life; the true vine. These Bible Studies were marvellous. As we met morning by morning we were surprised with joy and delight at the extent to which we found Christ in one another, and found one another in Christ.

We were very different in our backgrounds and views, but we learnt to share our faith journeys, the joys and pains of ministry, and our hopes and fears for the Anglican Communion, with ever deepening trust and honesty, openness and vulnerability. It was intensely moving to build relationships in Christ that were far more profound than the differences with which we find ourselves labelled.

After a coffee break our Indaba groups, each comprising five Bible Study Groups, then tackled various aspects of Anglican Identity, and of Equipping Bishops as Leaders in Mission – the twin themes of the Conference. These too became places of deep trust, even as we exchanged very divided opinions and sharp disagreements – but we learnt we could be honest, and held in love and respect by one another. Some people were afraid the Indaba approach was a tactic for avoiding difficult questions. But the reverse was true. We created a safe space where everyone could have their say. We could peel the layers off the onions, so to speak, getting beneath the surface, and grappling with what really mattered. Some members of The Episcopal Church (TEC) in my indaba group, for example, discovered how ignorant they were of the situations in other parts of the world, and of how their actions affected the lives of Bishops and ordinary Christians far away. Other Bishops came to realise that the accounts of the American church that are beamed round the world on television and internet are often not accurate, and certainly don’t tell the whole story.

We also enjoyed many other opportunities to encounter one another and exchange views on important subjects: through optional afternoon seminars on a huge range of topics, through meetings with inspiring speakers, even through conversations in queues at mealtimes!

What then, did we achieve out of all this? Well, one thing we did not do was produce reports and recommendations that were put up for debate and vote, as past Conferences have done. Those of us on the Conference Design Group were conscious that this time we needed something different. The problem with voting is that it means having to take sides, yes or no, for or against, and there has been far too much taking sides, or trying to force people to take sides, within Anglicanism in the last few years. This approach also privileged those who were fluent in English, and practiced and confident at taking the microphone and addressing huge plenary sessions.

For this meeting of the Lambeth Conference, we felt we most needed an opportunity to involve everyone in exploring deeply together both the life of faith to which we are called, and called as leaders of the Anglican Church, and how we are to share that faith through participating in God’s mission to his world. These two objective became encapsulated in our twin themes I’ve already mentioned, of Anglican identity and Bishops as leaders in mission, and we structured the programme far more around small groups, Bible Studies and Indabas – acknowledging also that at previous Lambeth Conferences bishops themselves had generally referred to the fellowship they shared in small groups as what they had valued most.

I think that, to a very considerable extent, we achieved our objective of deep exploration together. What we concluded was this: we do have big differences, and we don’t easily know how to deal with them – but, more than this, we all belong to Jesus Christ, and therefore we belong to each other, and we must, we must, keep on debating and discussing, in mutual care, respect and trust. As several bishops said, the indaba must go on! Of course, it will not be easy. Some bishops stayed away, and we were diminished by their absence. Their perspective would have enriched our sharing, and challenged us more sharply over our disagreements, forcing us to draw even more deeply on the reserves of our common life in Christ.

Therefore, our commitment – as we said in the ‘Reflections’ document that recorded our discussions – is that we should now ‘build bridges, to look for opportunities to share with them the experience we have had in Canterbury and to find ways of moving forward together in our witness to the Lord Jesus Christ,’ and that in the interim, the recommendations of the Windsor report must be upheld – that is, moratoria on the ordination of persons living in a same gender union to the episcopate, on the blessing of same-sex unions, and on cross-border incursions by bishops. In the Reflections, it is suggested that perhaps this might be seen as a ‘season of gracious restraint’. And in the meantime, debate and discussion around these questions will continue – including within our own Province.

At the level of Communion, we will continue to work with the Windsor Report, the draft Covenant, a Pastoral Forum, a possible gathering of the Primates next February, and the planned meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council next July. And we will aim to do so with generosity of spirit. Not everyone is going to agree – but I think for the great majority of us at Lambeth, what matters is relationship more than rules, and this is summed up in our affirmation that ‘The Lord Jesus Christ is the centre of our common life.’

And I hope that we will also take some of these lessons of the Lambeth Conference into the life of this Province and its Dioceses too – especially what we learnt from the indaba processes, and how we must not just be driven by agendas and decisions and outcomes. We will take this to heart at the Synod of Bishops and Provincial Standing Committee meeting in September. Please pray for us as we take all this forward.

More than this, every one of us needs to be conscious of building our lives on our relationship with Jesus, and the relationship that we have with others in him, and in sharing his gospel with his world. This must be the engine of our lives. If we go forward on this basis, the Lambeth Conference was surely a success.

From a personal point of view, it was particularly good to meet my colleagues from the Global South and the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa, CAPA, many of them for the first time, and begin building relationships with them. Lungi too made many new friends and shared deeply through the Spouses’ Conference, where they also spent a significant and intensely moving time together. They committed themselves to plant a tree each, on their return home, so it might be a prayerful reminder of their rootedness and connectedness – a rootedness and connectedness to one another both through Jesus, and through each being part of God’s creation. They also decided that every spouse will maintain a relationship with one other spouse from somewhere else in the Communion; and that the spouses of our Province should also meet together annually. In addition, they will each take up the challenge to empower and encourage two other women, in order that these in turn can empower and encourage others in witnessing positively to Christ and in community building, as tangible signs of participating in God’s mission, wherever we find ourselves.

There is so much more I could say about our time in Canterbury. Within our discussions, the questions of poverty, of the environment and climate change, of the co-epidemic of TB and HIV and AIDS, and of malaria, were absolutely vital and should not be overshadowed by concerns about human sexuality. Bishops and spouses also grappled together with the hard issues of abuse, especially abuse against women and children, that permeate all our societies and churches. You can read about these, and everything else we considered, in the Reflections document, which is available on-line at http://www.lambethconference.org/vault/Reflections_Document_(final).pdf.

Southern Africa was well represented at the Conference. Congratulations to Bishop Dinis Sengulane, who was the longest serving Bishop present – at his fourth Conference! Our Province, guided by Bishop Merwyn Castle, our liaison bishop for liturgical matters, led Evening Prayer on one occasion, with a good multi-lingual service featuring English, isiXhosa and Afrikaans (though I acknowledge that it was more ‘South’ than truly ‘Southern’ African, with apologies to Dioceses in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland and St Helena). Several of our bishops also participated in a Sunday service at St Dunstan’s, Canterbury, which was broadcast live on BBC radio (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/programmes/sunday_worship/ and link to 27 July), and at which Archbishop Rowan Williams preached the sermon (http://www.lambethconference.org/daily/news.cfm/2008/7/28/ACNS4477). I must say that in this, his retreat homilies, his Presidential Addresses, his other sermons, and in the way he led us, he demonstrated his remarkable gifts – not only as a great theologian and teacher and pastor, all that a bishop should be, but as a humble man of great prayer, profound spiritual depths, and a radical and unconditional commitment to personal holiness of life. We are more than blessed to have him as our Archbishop of Canterbury. Do keep him (and Jane who gives him marvellous support and who is a significant Christian leader in her own right), fervently in your prayers, for the times ahead will continue to be more than challenging.

All in all, it was an unforgettable three weeks, though which the Lord blessed us all richly, as we had hoped, and in ways we could never have imagined. Thank you for your prayers – we were very conscious of being carried by the intercessions of God’s faithful people all around the world, as we met.

Let me end this long, long letter (for once the subject warrants it!), with an apology to all those whose nerves were, rightly, jarred by our hybrid mix of Latin and Greek in entitling these ‘Ad Laos’! As you will see, we have amended this slightly, but I do want to retain the word ‘Laos’, as it is used so beautifully in Scripture, for example, when Peter writes of us being ‘God’s own people’ or, in other translations, ‘a people for his own possession’ (1 Pet 2:9). Let us never forget that this is who we are.

And finally, I pass on greetings to you all from our former Archbishop, Philip Russell, who telephoned me before I set off for Lambeth with words of encouragement, especially about the role that we, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, are called to play as reconciler, given our own profound experiences of the God who reconciles.

Yours in the service of Christ

+Thabo Cape Town

Sunday 10 August 2008

The Indaba Must Go On

To conclude my reflections on the Lambeth Conference, an extract from the comment that I have sent to Southern Anglican (photo: a scene from the closing Eucharist):

The Indaba groups became places of deep trust, even as we exchanged very divided opinions and sharp disagreements – but we learnt we could be honest, and held in love and trust by one another. Some people were afraid the Indaba approach was a tactic for avoiding difficult questions. But the reverse was true. We created a safe space where everyone could have their say.

We could peel the layers off the onions, so to speak, getting beneath the surface, and grappling with what really mattered. Some members of the Episcopal Church in the United States in my indaba group, for example, discovered how ignorant they were of the situations in other parts of the world, and of how their actions affected the lives of Bishops and ordinary Christians far away. Other Bishops came to realise that the accounts of the American church that are beamed round the world on television and internet, are often not accurate, and certainly don’t tell the whole story.

What we concluded was this. We do have big differences, and we don’t easily know how to deal with them – but, more than this, we all belong to Jesus Christ, and therefore we belong to each other, and we must, we must, keep on debating and discussing, in mutual care, respect and trust. As several bishops said, the indaba must go on! Of course, it will not be easy. Some bishops stayed away, and we were diminished by their absence. Their perspective would have enriched our sharing, and challenged us more sharply over our disagreements, forcing us to draw even more deeply on the reserves of our common life in Christ.

But our conclusion was – as we said in the Reflections document that recorded our discussions – that we should now ‘build bridges, to look for opportunities to share with them the experience we have had in Canterbury and to find ways of moving forward together in our witness to the Lord Jesus Christ,’ and that in the interim, the recommendations of the Windsor report must be upheld – that is, moratoria on the consecration of actively homosexual bishops, on formal rites of blessing for same sex unions, and on bishops and archbishops trespassing into dioceses and provinces not their own.

God bless,


Thursday 31 July 2008

Emotion, Rationality and Generosity

The conference is heading towards the end now, the Indaba process went ahead amidst challenges, enthusiasm and at times frustration. These are appropriate effects when people really talk and encounter one another. The Indaba Reflection group has produced a third draft of the process so far. You should find it on the website soon - when this entry was posted, the second draft was available there (in PDF form).

Today was full of emotion, rationality and a spirit of generosity as we discussed the issue of the bishop and sexuality. As I write, I am preparing to go for an interactive media training workshop run by Trinity Wall Street's TV and communications department - I am looking forward to it, something different.

Last night I attended my first Global South and CAPA (Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa) meetings. It was good to meet and see my colleagues whom I have read and heard so much about. The meetings were in the evening following a reception hosted by Virginia Theological Seminary. The fatigue was obvious at our Design Group meeting this morning and carried through to our Indaba. I had a bit of rest around lunchtime and am feeling ready for the next phase.

The Windsor Continuation group, Covenant process and Reflections, as well as the Archbishop of Canterbury's closing text are now the conference “instruments” to which we look to articulate what we were about. Please pray for these processes.

I spoke to +Rubin and Mrs Glover yesterday morning; pray for both families and +Rubin and +Paddy’s recovery.

God bless you,