Tuesday 16 February 2010

Statement from the Synod of Bishops, 8-11 February 2010

The Synod of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA) gathered with the Diocese of Swaziland in the blessing of their new Conference Suite at Thokoza (Joy), the Anglican Conference Centre in Swaziland. We then continued our meeting in that tranquil setting, giving thanks for the spirit of joy and fraternal charity that undergirded all our proceedings and which enabled us to conduct our work in an atmosphere of prayer.

As we met, we wrestled together with Scripture and listened to scholars speak on the authority of Scripture and its interpretation – that is, questions of hermeneutics. The problem of interpretation is crucial in a world of growing fundamentalism and we will continue to explore different hermeneutical ways of studying and interpreting Scripture. We believe that the prayerful study of Scripture should be central in all parish life, and encourage parishes to promote such study.

We listened too to scholars speaking on the spirituality of traditional African religion and its relationship with Christian spirituality. We recognise that we have only begun to scratch the surface of a deep and complex subject, and that there is still much that needs to be done in this regard. We have formed a Task team to explore in greater detail the implications of African traditional customs and rites being incorporated into Christian liturgical practice. But, because we are concerned that certain aspects of the two spiritualities might well be incompatible, we believe that, at least for the present, we must discourage any syncretism between the two.

As we sought to hear what the Scriptures are saying to us at this present moment, at the same time we listened to stories both from the Bishops and from civil society about what is happening in the nations within our Province. There are clear signs of spiritual growth and much that is happening for which we give thanks to God.

However, we have also been disturbed by some of the reports we have received, that suggest that there are common threads running through all the countries within our Province, threads that appear to be unravelling in worrying ways.

We believe that those in power are called by God to wise leadership and exemplary lifestyle, exercised on behalf of all God’s people and for their upliftment and betterment – as St Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. Of particular importance within God’s economy are the poor, and those who live on the margins of society. It is our observation that, though lip-service is widely paid to the notion of social upliftment, the reality is that most of the leaders of our respective nations seem more committed to self enrichment than poverty eradication.

We have listened to accounts of unbridled greed, a greed that is not simply limited to those in political power. Nevertheless, we are especially concerned at the levels of greed of those in power, and at the manner in which political processes are manipulated and co-opted in the pursuit of self enrichment. This has resulted in a serious undermining of democratic values to the point where, in some places, such values are non-existent. We were distressed to hear of people living below the poverty datum line in the oil rich country of Angola, and of the huge number of people struggling to exist on less than $2 a day in Swaziland, where the average per capita income is over $5,000 per annum. In some of the nations within our Province, this quest for self enrichment has given rise to blatant abuses of power to the point where, in Swaziland, for example, political leaders stifle all attempts at dialogue and silence opposition, preferring instead to rule by threats and intimidation.

We have also been concerned at reports regarding the moral degeneration within our societies and among their leadership. The almost unprecedented levels of alleged corruption among those in positions of power within the Republic of South Africa, the seeming inability or unwillingness of the State to hold anyone accountable, and the recent revelations of the sexual misconduct of the President of that country do not bode well for the future and are cause for serious concern. The people in our pews look at what is happening there and elsewhere within our Province, and ask who they can respect and look up to as role models in the political leadership of our nations.

Much of this moral decay seems to disregard and undermine fundamental human rights. Certainly some of the corruption allegations referred to above appear to have been at the expense of the poorest of the poor, and show scant regard for what are seen by many as basic human rights. In the same way, the sexual indiscretions mentioned highlight the way women more widely face exploitation and abuse, and, in the case of Swaziland, are reduced to the status of the possession of a male through the denial of basic human, political and economic rights.

In response to the overarching call of God on all our lives, we therefore call upon the leaders of all the nations within our Province to covenant with us in a process of moral, spiritual and economic regeneration, in which we seek to model our lives and our societies more closely on God’s principles and purposes for humanity, as they are held in common by the great majority of faith groupings. Through doing so, may we be servants of his blessing upon all his people.

Romans 13: 1-4 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgement. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive its approval; for it is God’s servant for your good. But if you do what is wrong, you should be afraid, for the authority does not bear the sword in vain! It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.

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