By George Sumner and Stephen Andrews
Nearly 100 Anglicans from across the world gathered in Bangkok, Thailand for the Global South Conference on the Decade of Mission and Networking. Photo: www.scribd.com
THERE IS NOTHING like a Global South conference to challenge Minority World assumptions about the Majority World. Such a conference met July 16-21 in Bangkok on the theme “Be Transformed by the Renewing of the Mind to Obedience of Faith for Holistic Mission in a Radically Changing Global Landscape.” The post-colonial reality of the church in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and South America is indeed mind-transforming. Anyone who thinks that the non-Western church is lacking in intellectual rigour, strategic planning, ethical debate or spiritual substance should take a peek at the Global South. It will alter their definition of impoverishment. We who have repented of our colonial ways may just discover that we have simply exchanged one colonial outfit for another of a smaller size.
The term ‘missionary’ was once one of lionization. Following the mid to late-20th century a period of vilification ensued. But newer African church historians, led by figures like Lamin Sanneh and including such Anglicans as John Karanja from Kenya, Cyril Okorocha from Nigeria, and Mwita Akiri of Tanzania, observe that both attitudes keep the Westerner at the centre of attention. In fact, the central human actors in the coming of faith to Africa were the African evangelist and catechist. They had to make the key, on-the-ground decisions.
Something similar is afoot today, more than a century and a half later, as we look at global Anglican leadership. It would be easy to fit an Anglican Global South event onto the grid of agreement or conflict with the West over contemporary contentious issues. And to be sure, a vast preponderance of those present at the conference agreed that Western consumerist ideologies and the recent actions of the [American] Episcopal Church were harmful to the cause of the Gospel. An Asian bishop said: “It is often claimed in the West that ‘what we do does not affect Hong Kong.’ Never say that! It does affect us! Liberal theological teaching is widely reported in the East, and it makes our job much more difficult.” And yet the bishop’s comments were part of a casual lunchtime discussion. Frankly, this meeting was not about the West’s agenda, in support or dissent. Leadership on discerning the issues of greatest import has passed to the South as well, and they seemed intent on getting on with business.
Foremost was concern about the rising challenge of Islam. A number of the delegates come from countries dealing with militant or resurgent Islam. There was a desire for education, conversation, and amity, while remaining realistic about the situation on the ground. Obviously the problem of conducting one’s ministry under conditions of poverty was discussed – where might one find resources? And how can evangelism proceed in their absence? Participants openly discussed the problem of dependency, but a growing sense of stewardship and self-sufficiency was evident in the announcement that the conference was entirely funded from the Global South. Before too long, churches in North America may need to look to the Global South for lessons here.
It would be a mistake to draw the conclusion from what we have said that Global South leaders imagine going their own way without concern for the whole Church. There is an openness to partnerships where opportunities arise and where the lead remains with the South. Professor Hwa Yung, Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia and Chair of the Council for the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies, said: “The key question is: How can the vast material, theological and human resources, found especially in the North on the one hand, and the spiritual vitality and dynamism, found abundantly especially in the South on the other, be fused together into a powerful synergistic whole?” The final communiqué from the conference affirms that “The nature of the global Anglican Church affords us an opportunity to serve, work and learn together.”
This vision of a global Anglican church gave us hope for efforts designed to protect and enhance the Communion. There was a surprising degree of affinity for the Covenant, in spite of its setbacks, as well as a perception that leadership here too may be moving to the South. Most importantly, there was a palpable sense of the reality of communion, of the catholicity of the Church not as a theory but as a lived fact. All we who gathered simply were connected as limbs of one Body. Being global Anglicans is of prime importance to those who gathered in Bangkok. It was hard not to be moved by the remarkable fact of being in communion with leaders from so many places, with so many remarkable paths to this place. One had a ready sense of how precious this was, as an integral part of our faith in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Such a profession is not addendum – or adiaphoron. TAP
The Rev. Canon George Sumner is the principal and Helliwell Professor of World Mission at Wycliffe College, Toronto. The Rt. Rev. Stephen Andrews is Bishop of Algoma and a member of the Living Church Foundation.
–Reprinted with permission of The Living Church (livingchurch.org).