Posted by: Titus Presler | January 27, 2011

Mission prominent as Anglican primates begin meeting

Mission has a significant place in the meeting of Anglican primates being held in Dublin, Ireland, according to the first news briefing to come out of the gathering of the prime bishops of the 38 provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Mission is listed first among the topics discussed in plenary session, and it is defined as “how to best share the gospel with the world.”  This is a good baseline understanding of mission, putting it in terms of the projection of the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ.  Some might fault this understanding as being too evangelistic in its orientation.  I would respond in two ways.  First, sharing the message is in fact where mission should begin, for the Christian movement has always been centered in “good news,” the very meaning of the word “gospel.”  Second, the critique would itself express a pigeon-holing instinct, for sharing the gospel has always been in deed as well as word.  Thus “how best to share the gospel with the world” is an open formulation that embraces potentially, the full breadth of Christian mission, both historically and today as Anglicans embody mission around the world.

The second topic cited is “diversity – how Communion members could hold different positions but still work together.”  I initially did a double take, thinking the primates were talking about mission in a world of diversity, a theme close to my heart, as in the subtitle of my recent book, “Reconciling mission in a world of difference.”  I do trust that the missional discussion was premised on the fact of our living in a world of difference.

In fact, however, the second topic was the internal diversity of the Anglican Communion, obviously focusing on the now long running but continuously heated debate about the place of homosexuality in Christian life.  This is the issue that has prompted a number of primates to absent themselves from the meeting on account of the presence of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, the church they regard as the prime offender on the issue.  The way the topic is put – “how Communion members could hold different positions but still work together” – clearly calls for inviting the contribution of the Anglican Indaba Project, which is directed precisely to that concern.  Anglican Indaba tends to put the issue in terms of mission, how we can continue in mission together amid disagreements – currently about sexuality, but in the future other disagreements could be equally rending.

The fourth topic listed is missional in highlighting particular challenges faced in various parts of the communion: “need for the Communion to better address Provincial matters,” which were instantiated as “HIV infection; anti-conversion and blasphemy laws; persecution of minorities and situations of national division, as demonstrated in Korea.”  It was clear during my recent visit to Pakistan that the issue of blasphemy laws is regarded widely, by many Muslims as well as by Christians, as a crisis issue there.  Anti-conversion laws are an important issue in India, where a number of states have laws against conversion between religions, with conversion to Christianity a particular target in practice.  Certainly persecution of religious minorities is an issue on the Indian subcontinent as a whole.

Missional concern was made more vivid by this particular practice for the meeting: “At the start of Wednesday morning Eucharist, Primates placed, at the foot of the altar, symbols (including photos, food, pictures and other objects) that represented the major missional challenges of their Province. This was so that these local issues are front of mind at any act of worship throughout the week.”  Presumably the primates had been invited in advance to bring such objects.  So I would guess that this expression of concern and devotion is quite profound for all concerned during the week of worship and discussion.

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