Why the Global South Bishops are not weaponising the Eucharist

Yesterday the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans (GSFA) issued a press release at the Lambeth Conference which states that:  

‘…. At the two Conference’ Eucharists at Canterbury Cathedral, orthodox bishops will not receive Holy Communion alongside gay-partnered bishops, and those who endorse same-sex unions in the Church’s faith and order. They shall remain seated.’ [1]

This statement has caused a storm of protest on social media with the accusation being made that GSFA is ‘weaponising the Eucharist.’ For example, the liberal English Anglican Giles Fraser tweeted ‘Disgraceful. This weaponisation of the Eucharist shames the whole Communion.’  Fraser and others don’t say exactly what they mean by the ‘weaponisation of the Eucharist,’ but what they seem to mean is that GSFA is misusing the Eucharist to try to win a political power struggle for control of the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Communion as a whole.

In this short paper I shall argue that the claim that the GSFA are illegitimately weaponsising the Eucharist in this way is misplaced. The reason I say this is that, as someone who was engaged in Faith and Order work for the Church of England for a decade and a half, I can say with absolute confidence that what GFSA are proposing is in strict accordance with established Anglican ecclesiology and Catholic ecclesiology more widely.

To understand why this is the case a good place to start is with the confession made by Anglican and other Christians week by week as they recite the Apostles Creed that they believe in ‘The Communion of Saints.’

It is generally accepted by those who have studied the Creed that the phrase ‘Communion of Saints’ (‘Communio Sanctorum’) has a double meaning. It means both the communion of holy persons and the sharing of holy things.  As Charles Cranfield notes in his commentary on the Creed:

‘….both meanings make good theological sense. The members of Christ’s Church share the holy things, that is, all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us in Jesus Christ, all the benefits and obligations  that come from God’s actions. Therefore, they are bound together in fellowship with one another as holy persons, made holy by the holy things that they share.’ [2]

If we ask what distinguishes the persons who share in the holy things from those who do not, the answer is that they are the people who have been baptised, who accept the apostolic faith, and who accept the obligation to live out the apostolic faith in the way they behave in accordance with the teaching contained in Holy Scripture (see Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 2:37-47).

When Christians come together to celebrate the Eucharist they come together as the members of the Communion of Saints. Celebrating the Eucharist together with other Christians is an outward sign of being a member of the Communion of Saints. However, this outward sign needs to reflect inward reality.

That is why, for example, in the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer the answer to the question ‘ What is required of them who come to the Lord’s Supper?’ is:

‘To examine themselves, whether they repent them truly of their former sins, steadfastly purposing to lead a new life; have a lively faith in God’s mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of his death, and be in charity with all men.’

The converse of this is that those who are not repentant, who do not believe, and who are not in a state of love and charity with their neighbours should not come to the Lord’s table. It is for this reason that down the centuries Anglican churches, and the Catholic Church in general, have guarded the Lord’s table by having a discipline which has refused access to the Lord’s table to unbelievers, heretics, and those known to be in a serious state of unrepentant sin.  

This same principle which has been applied to individual Christians has then logically been applied to churches as well. It has been held that, in the words of the Church of England House of Bishops’ paper The Eucharist Sacrament of Unity, there is an ‘inseparable connection between sacramental and ecclesial communion.’[3]  What this means is that for members of different churches to rightly celebrate the Eucharist together both churches need to belong to the Communion of Saints, which means that they both need to adhere to apostolic faith and practice. Where such joint adherence does not exist then sharing together in  Holy Communion is not legitimate.

The fact that during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Anglican churches have been willing to celebrate the Eucharist together with an increasing number of other churches does not mean that Anglican churches have abandoned the principles set out in the previous paragraphs. What it means is that ecumenical dialogue with the churches concerned has led Anglicans to believe that these churches do adhere to the essential elements of apostolic faith and practice and that therefore sharing the Eucharist together would be legitimate. [4]

Bishops are both individuals and the official representatives of their churches (they ‘carry their churches with them’ as the saying goes). In the history of the Church the application of the principles already outlined has been seen to mean two things in regard to bishops and the Eucharist,

First, as individuals, bishops who have become heretical or who are in a serious state of unrepentant sin should be barred from the Lord’s table (to use the technical term they should be ‘excommunicated’). For example, Nestorius, the Bishop of Constantinople, was excommunicated for Christological heresy at the Council of Ephesus in 431.

Secondly, because bishops are the representatives of their churches it would not be right to share communion with them if their churches have departed from apostolic faith and practice since to do so would violate the principle that churches sharing Communion both need to adhere to it.

What is now proposed by the GSFA adheres strictly to the two points just made.

It would be wrong to receive Communion alongside ‘gay-partnered bishops.’ Such bishops are in a state of unrepentant sin since they are living in a way that contravenes the clear biblical teaching that Christians should either be a married to a member of the opposite sex or should be single and therefore sexually abstinent ( Genesis 2:18-24, Matthew 19:10-12, 1 Corinthians 7:1-40). Ideally such bishops should be excluded from Communion, but if this does not happen refusing to receive alongside them is the correct thing to do as a witness against both their participation and their way of life.

It would also be wrong to receive Communion alongside bishops who ‘endorse same-sex unions in the Church’s faith and order,’ or who represent churches who have officially endorsed such unions, because such bishops are either heretical themselves  (because they have rejected the biblical teaching just mentioned), or they represent churches that have become heretical for the same reason.[5]

What GSFA are proposing is therefore entirely justified. The situation they are addressing should not exist because the bishops with whom they will not share Communion should not have been invited to Lambeth in the first place. Appropriate discipline should have already been applied by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Communion as a whole. However, since this has not happened the bishops of the GSFA have to take appropriate unilateral action. They are not weaponising communion but simply proposing to act as faithful Anglican bishops should.

If it is asked why they are proposing to attend the two Eucharists if they are not going to receive Communion the answer is that by so doing they are making the point that they have not left, nor do they intend to leave , the Anglican Communion. As their press release states:

‘…they have no intention of being a ‘breakaway group’ from the Anglican Communion. The Fellowship sees itself, and seeks to be part of, the ‘holy remnant’ that God has preserved in the Anglican Communion.’

The bishops of the GSFA want to receive Communion alongside their fellow Anglican bishops. It is simply that the circumstances which they did not create, but in which they now find themselves, render this impossible.

[1] Press Release issued by the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, 29 July 2022 at

[2] Charles Cranfield, The Apostles Creed (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1998), p.64.

[3] House of Bishops, The Eucharist Sacrament of Unity (London: Church House Publishing, 2001), p. 21.

[4] ‘Anglicans permit eucharistic sharing with other churches where there is sufficient agreement in faith andcommitment to shared life.’ Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, Growing Togeth in Unity and Mission (London: SPCK, 2007), p. 28.  

[5] The question has, of course been raised, ‘What about the case of an orthodox bishop in a heretical church?’ The answer would be that it would be right to share Communion with them provided they had publicly repudiated the heresy involved, as, for instance, Bishop Bill Love of Albany did before he was deposed from office by TEC.   

A review of the Lambeth Calls Guidance and Study Document

The Lambeth Calls Guidance and Study Document, which has now been made public, sets out the topics that the bishops will be discussing at the forthcoming Lambeth Conference and what form this discussion will take.

These topics are referred to as ‘Lambeth Calls’ and there are eleven of them:

  • Mission and Evangelism
  • Safe Church
  • Anglican Identity
  • Reconciliation
  • Human Dignity
  • The Environment and Sustainable Development
  • Sustainable Development
  • Christian Unity
  • Inter faith  Relations
  • Discipleship
  • Science and Faith

In the Guidance and Study Document there is a section on each of these eleven Calls with each section having a common structure:

‘A link with the First Epistle of Peter – this may include a quote from the letter and indication how it relates to the topic or issue being discussed.

Declaration – A section which declares what the Church Catholic wider teaches on this matter.

Affirmation – A section which gives a summary of what Anglican churches have taught about it and sets out what the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered in Canterbury in 2022 want to say about this topic or issue now.

Specific Calls or Requests – A series of calls arising from the previous two sections which call upon bishops or Christians or the wider world to reflect or pray or take some action on this topic or issue.’ [1]

The section on each Call in the Guidance and Study Document will form the basis for the discussion of that Call by the bishops. According to the document the process for approving the Lambeth Calls will be as follows:

‘The Lambeth Call session will go through the Call section by section. At each section there will be a chance for each Bishop to indicate their view.

 For those in venue at the event, there will be an electronic device for each Bishop. They can use this to express their level of support for a call.

A similar process will be available for those online. In case of any electronic failure there will be cards to use instead.

For each decision there will be two choices for each bishop to make:

This Call speaks for me. I add my voice to it and commit myself to take the action I can to implement it.

This Call requires further discernment. I commit my voice to the ongoing process.

During the Calls session there will be time for discussion and clarification of the Call. The lead author and drafting groups will be present to answer questions if needed. The aim in each session will be to consider if the Call can be issued publicly or not.’ [2]

What is said in this section of the document raises the question of whether there will be the opportunity for the Calls to be amended by the bishops during the Conference. In the section of the document just quoted the bishops’ only choice would appear to be to indicate what ‘level of support’ they are willing to give each Call as it stands.  However, elsewhere the document talks about bishops sharing their views of each Call before a decision is made whether to ‘adopt or adapt’ it. This would seem to indicate that the Calls will be able to be amended and in order for the outcome of the Lambeth Conference to properly reflect their views the bishops will need to insist on having the opportunity to do this.

In addition, there is nothing said in the document about the possibility of the bishops being able to issue additional or alternative Calls. However, as before,  for the outcome of the Lambeth Conference to properly reflect the views of the bishops who are taking part they need to have the opportunity to do this, and they should therefore insist that this is the case.

Moving on to look at each of the Calls in turn, the Call on Mission and Evangelism is an unexceptionable statement on the need to proclaim the good news of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ.

The only issue with this Call is the call to ‘pray that through their witness each one might see one person come to faith in one year.’[3]  Why only one person? 

It would also have been helpful if something had been said to indicate that Evangelistic work of the Church must present the Gospel as it is set out in the Scriptures. This is because there are versions of the Gospel present in Anglican churches that are not in line with Scripture but suggest, for instance that God affirms and accepts people as they are without the need for repentance and amendment of life, or that accepting the Christian message will automatically lead to health, wealth, and general temporal well-bring. Such distorted versions of the Gospel can do great damage and need to be corrected.

The Call on Safe Church rightly addresses the need for Anglicans to ensure ‘the safety of all persons – especially children, young people and vulnerable adults. ’ [4]

There is no problem with the wording of the Call as it stands, but there are two issues relating to keeping people safe that would ideally also have been addressed.

The first is the issue of sex education. The point that needs to be made is that forms of sex education that encourage children and young people to engage in sex outside marriage, same-sex sexual activity and gender transition are contrary to their temporal and spiritual well-being and so Anglicans need to work for safe forms of education in which these harmful forms of sex education do not exist.

The second is the issue of conversion therapy. In view of the increasing number of countries that are banning so called conversion therapy it would be good for the Lambeth Conference to declare that it is not a form of abuse to engage in non-coercive forms of pastoral care which are designed to help people who are struggling with same-sex sexual desires or who have difficulty accepting their biological sex.

The Call on Anglican Identity is problematic both in what it suggests and it what it fails to address.

It is problematic in what it suggests in that it does not give any reason why it would serve the well -being of the Anglican Communion  to spend resources on an Anglican Congress, or to engage in a review of the current instruments of Communion or the creation of a new one. Without a good reason for engaging in this activity why should the bishops support it?

It is problematic in what it does not address in that it fails to address the issues of Anglican identity that have arisen since Lambeth 1998.

It fails to note that in traditional Anglican ecclesiology the autonomy of each province is constrained by the need to recognise what the Lambeth Conference of 1920 called  ‘the restraints of truth and of love.’[5] What this means is that provinces are not free to act in way which is contrary to Scripture and the orthodox Christian tradition, and they are not free to disregard the rest of the Communion by ignoring decisions arrived at jointly by the bishops of the Communion meeting together at the Lambeth Conference.  

It also fails to note that since 1998 an increasing number of provinces have acted in a way which is contrary to Scripture, the orthodox Christian tradition, and the position agreed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference,  by agreeing to the ordination of those in same-sex relationships, the blessing of same-sex relationships, and the introduction of same-sex marriages.

The bishops at Lambeth 2022 need to have the opportunity to declare that what these provinces have done is unacceptable, and to exercise discipline in response to it. What would be appropriate would be for the bishops to amend the Call to collectively declare that because these provinces have deliberately acted in a way that is incompatible with membership of the Anglican Communion they should be suspended from membership of the Communion until they repent and amend their ways.[6] In addition, it would be appropriate for the bishops to invite the new orthodox Anglican jurisdictions such as ACNA which have emerged in recent years to become part of the Communion.

The Call on Reconciliation is right to highlight the need for Anglicans to engage in reconciliation in situations of conflict. However, the suggestion for using the Archbishop of Canterbury’s work as a basis for Anglican thinking about reconciliation is problematic because at the heart of the Archbishop’s work is the misleading idea that the goal of reconciliation is learning to ‘disagree well’ whereas arguably the goal should instead be to learn to agree well. God does not want people to live in a state of permanent disagreement. He wants them to agree with him and therefore with each other. Such universal agreement will only be perfected in the world to come, but it is the goal for which we must strive even in this world.

In addition, the call to undertake work ‘on deconstructing the historic legacy of colonialism (ACC18) and continued complicity in British and American empire’[7] is problematic because it is not clear what is being called for and why?. What exactly is being called for here and why is it felt to be needed?  Why is the legacy of colonialism seen as entirely negative?[8] What is this ‘British and American empire’ with which people continue to be complicit? Why is colonialism and not other aspects of history such as, for example, historic tribal conflict, singled out for attention?

Finally, the call for ‘the Archbishop of Canterbury and/or the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion to begin a new conversation with the provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda seeking a more full life together as an Anglican family of churches’ [9] would be better phrased in terms of a call to the Archbishop/Standing Committee to listen to and act upon the concerns that these provinces have about the failure of discipline with the Communion.

The Call on Human Dignity is right to declare that ‘acts and attitudes against the dignity of God’s children are sin.’ [10]  However, the Call is also problematic both in what it says and in what it does not say.

It is problematic in what it says because, as before, it takes an entirely negative view of the colonial legacy, failing to acknowledge that there are positive as well as negative aspects to it. It calls for the establishment of a Commission for Redemptive Action to shape the response of the Church Commissioners and the Communion as a whole to the historic issues of colonialism and slavery, but it does not give any explanation of why such a commission is necessary or what it is meant to achieve.

What precisely is ‘redemptive action’?  We are not told. If it means that the Church Commissioners should pay reparations (to whom and on what basis?) then it should say so.  It calls for Anglicans to lobby for ‘social protection measures’[11] but does not explain what these are. It suggests that the work of the ACC on promoting human dignity in relation to gender should be extended to cover sexuality, but it doesn’t say what this would mean in practice and the danger is that this could be used as a cover for encouraging the acceptance of same-sex relationships.

It is problematic in what it does not say in that although it acknowledges Lambeth 1.10 as ‘the mind of the Communion as a whole’[12] it fails to  say that therefore provinces should act in accordance with it, or that where they have failed to act in accordance with it, they need to repent and seek to rectify the situation. It is also problematic in that it fails to say that the dignity of the human person exists from the moment of conception and that therefore abortion should never be viewed as a legitimate form of birth control, and in that fails to note that God’s creation of human beings as male and female means that gender transition is an act of rebellion against God that the Church should not support or give liturgical recognition to, even while offering love and support to the persons concerned.

The Call on Environment and Sustainable Development rightly emphasises that we should care for the planet, but it uncritically endorses the idea that there is a climate change crisis that will mean that over the next decade ‘increasing areas of the Communion will be uninhabitable, because of drought, rising sea levels and other impacts as we reach tipping points in climate change.’ [13] There are plenty of well qualified experts who would regard such a view as unduly alarmist and the bishops will need to consider whether they want to endorse one particular position on the matter.

The Call also fails to address the fact that not only is the science of climate change disputed, but that responding by attempting to move fast to abolish the use of fossil fuels in favour of renewable sources of power itself has the potential to create serious economic, social, and environmental problems. In addition, the statement that ‘politics must give way to action based on science’[14](a) assumes that there is a thing called science which is politically neutral and (b) begs the question of who should decide how to act on what the science says if not those with political responsibilities.

The Call on Sustainable Development (it is not clear why sustainable development comes twice) rightly calls on Anglicans to give support to the UN’s sustainable development goals. The question which is not considered, however, is whether the economic development necessary to achieve these goals is compatible with an attempt to move rapidly away from fossil fuels. If the attempt to achieve Net Zero crashes the world economy how will that help to achieve the development goals?

What would arguably be better would be one Call which acknowledges the complexity of balancing the economic activity necessary for human temporal flourishing with the need to protect the environment, and the need for Anglicans to work with all others of good will to try to ensure that as far as possible this balance is achieved.

The Call on Christian Unity is fine as far as it goes, but it fails to acknowledge that the Christian churches are now increasingly divided over their approach to both same-sex relationships and gender transition. The bishops need to be given the opportunity to declare that the full organic unity of the Church needs to include acceptance that (a) marriage is between one man and one woman and that sexual activity needs to take place only in the context of marriage thus defined and (b) that people are called to live as either men or women in accordance with their biological sex and that the call to Anglicans is to introduce this point into their ecumenical dialogues and to work for unity to be achieved on this basis.

The Call on Inter faith Relations is generally fine but in the light of what was said above about the Calls on the Environment and Sustainable Development it would be better if in paragraph 3.31 of this Call the words ‘the pressing challenge of climate change[15] were replaced by the words ‘the pressing need to protect the environment.’ Similarly in paragraph 4.2 it might be better to talk about ‘more effective collaborative work on tackling the challenges to our shared environment.’

The Call on Discipleship is again fine as far as it goes, but it could helpfully be supplemented by the acknowledgements (a) that discipleship needs to be rooted in understanding of, and unequivocal submission to, the teaching of Scripture and (b) that the right understanding of Scripture can be helped by the study of great Christian writers from the past and the historic Anglican formularies and that such study should therefore be encouraged.

Finally, the Call on Science and Faith is fine except that is unclear why footnote 16 states ‘Science has not been innocent in colonial history and this is still felt in certain parts of the Communion.’[16] The point being made here needs to be clarified.

Overall, the proposed Lambeth Calls contain much good material, but, as indicated above, they are also in need of amendment. The bishops should claim the right to make amendments and then make good use of it.

M B Davie 22.7.2022

[1] Lambeth Calls Guidance and Study Document, p.3.

[2] Guidance and Study Document p.5.

[3] Guidance and Study Document p.10.

[4] Guidance and Study Document, p.18.

[5] Lambeth Conference 1920, Encyclical Letter, in The Six Lambeth Conferences 1867-1920 (London: SPCK 1920), pp.13-14.

[6] In his book The Power of Reconciliation (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2022) the Archbishop of Canterbury writes:

 ‘There are some people who, in police terms, need to be removed from a conflict if there is to be hope of reconciliation. That removal is a demonstration of a love for the majority whom they may influence by fear or favour. To bring them into reconciliation the worst of the spoilers have to be faced and not included in the process.’ (p.111)

This is the situation facing the Communion and that is why the discipline I have outlined is necessary.   Obviously the bishops from the provinces concerned will vote against such discipline, but that should not stop the majority of bishops voting for it and the authorities in the Anglican Communion then acting on the basis of this majority vote.

[7] Guidance and Study Document, p.28.

[8] Professor Nigel Biggar argues, for instance, in his major forthcoming study Colonialism – A moral reckoning (London: William Collins 2023) that a balanced approach is needed that acknowledges the dark side of colonialism but also gives proper recognition to its achievements.

[9] Guidance and Study Document, p.28.

[10] Guidance and Study Document, p. 32

[11] Guidance and Study Document, p. 33.

[12] Guidance and Study Document, p.32.

[13] Guidance and Study Document, p.38

[14] Guidance and Study Document, p.39

[15] Guidance and Study Document, p.50

[16] Guidance and Study Document, p.58.

On disagreeing about reconciliation –  A review of Justin Welby  The Power of Reconciliation

The background to the book

As he explains in his introduction to his new book The Power of Reconciliation, [1] the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been ‘a practitioner in the area of reconciliation for many years.’ (p.12) He was involved in the work for reconciliation undertaken by Coventry Cathedral and its International Centre for Reconciliation from 2002-2007, and he has kept up his interest and involvement in this area in the years since.

As he also explains in his introduction, the starting point for his work in the field of reconciliation is the belief that:

‘….it would be a better world in which diversity is a treasure, not a threat, and radically different views could be freely expressed without destructive behaviours. Competition among human beings is good, a gift to drive us onwards and give the desire to excel. Yet to seek not only to do better than a rival but to destroy them is foolishness, for in such a world all lose.’ (p.12)

In his view, the practice of reconciliation can help to achieve this better world. This is because:

‘Reconciliation enables harmonious difference in a way that enables all parties to flourish: reconciliation  is the activity that leads towards peace, concord, the common good and well-being.’ (p.11)

The purpose of his new book is to explain in more detail what reconciliation involves and how it can be put into practice in ways that address the issues facing individuals, communities, institutions, countries and the world as a whole at the present time.

The contents of the book 

The book consists of fourteen chapters which are grouped into three parts.

Part I (chapters 1-3) explores ‘what reconciliation is and why it is so rare ‘ (p.13).

Chapter 1, ‘What is reconciliation?’, begins by explaining that ‘peacebuilding and reconciliation’ (which Welby views as synonymous) involve:

‘…seeking relationships at all areas of human life that are resilient enough to have disagreement without destruction, victory without triumphalism, concessions without degradation. Reconciliation is the long drawn-out process, extending sometimes over generations, which seeks to achieve that end.

Peace is not found by avoiding conflict but by disagreeing well.’ (p.16)

Welby then notes that we live in a world in which reconciliation is:

‘…. treated as unattainable, not least because it is misunderstood. Like many virtues, reconciliation and peace are idealized in imagination, politically unexamined in applied theory and ignored in practice. Reconciliation is treated as a serious solution to destructive conflict when all else has failed and victory is impossible for all involved.’ (p.19)

However, he says:

‘It need not be so. There are remarkable examples at all levels of reconciliation from the geopolitical to the intimate within the household.’ (p.19)  

Welby goes on to argue that the reason that people engage in destructive conflict is because their sense of personal identity, whether inherited, imposed, or chosen, combined with notions of honour and shame pit individuals and groups against each other. What is needed instead is a different sense of identity, what Welby calls a ‘relational identity.’ This is a form of identity which:

‘…is not found in a passive acceptance of how I am born, nor in a passionate rebellion against the fate I have been dealt, or in conformity to self-aggrandizing  ideas of honour and shame, but in extreme and joyful acceptance of mutual responsibility with those unlike me, in need of me and whom I need even though I may not be aware of it. It is in such responsibility and joy that we find reconciliation.’ (p.31 italics in the original).

Welby next warns against the common idea that ‘reconciliation is an event that takes place quickly and then everyone moves on’ (p.31). This, he declares, is a ‘shallow approach’ to reconciliation that involves either ‘overreach’ (‘the setting of entirely unrealistic goals’)  or ‘overspeed’ (the assumption that reconciliation is something that can be achieved in an unrealistically short period of time).

He also warns against the idea that reconciliation involves compromise ‘in which nobody is really happy, and we all pretend to agree’ (p.35) In reality:

‘Reconciliation demands truth and justice, recognition and expression of anger. Forgiveness is only real when freely offered without manipulation, and freely received without compulsion. Reconciliation accepts difference because in God we see difference in perfect unity. It is costly because God won it only through sacrificing Jesus -God – on the cross. It is liberation and joy as the resurrection liberated Christ from death. It will be completed, and all will be well, all will be in the light, and all indignity, injustice and oppression will be overcome in the end. In the meantime we travel determinedly and hopefully.’(p.35)

Chapter 2 goes on to consider ‘The hindrances to reconciliation.’ In this chapter Welby asks the question:

‘What makes people act against their own happiness, their own hopes, their own interests, so that rather than choose to search for ways to live in harmony, at least in some kind of working relationship across difference, they engage in mutual destruction?’ (p.42)

He suggests that there are four answers:

‘First, as we have seen, reconciliation always involves sacrifice and thus requires a willingness to give something up. Second, reconciliation challenges our explicit or implicit sense of honour and shame. Third, in reconciliation we often forget the impact of long-term trauma and conflict on the whole human being through changes in the neurochemistry, with impacts that are even transgenerational. Fourth, reconciliation is a long-term process and it is natural to look for short-term fixes to problems that will take years or even generations to resolve. ‘ (pp.42-43)

He also warns that as in medical treatment it is necessary to ‘always complete the course.’ (p.36) What he means by this is that because of the hindrances to reconciliation previously mentioned reconciliation is not a quick or simple fix:

‘Reconciliation takes a very long time and to some extent is treatment for the chronic disease of power seeking, of relationship breakdown and of the desire to dominate that so easily becomes part of the human condition.

Reconciliation is a combination of treatments. Mediation may enable a ceasefire or calm a community quarrel enough for longer-term work on meeting, rebuilding relationships and further mediation focused on the underlying issues.

The greatest danger is to think something is complete and to cease to pay attention to the issues that make differences so hard to handle.’ (p.56-57)

In chapter 3, ‘Changing the heart,’ Welby concludes Part I by exploring what resources are needed to  enable a process of reconciliation to take place.

The first thing that is needed, he suggests, is ‘a leap of moral imagination towards a possibility previously unimaginable, a structure for peaceful and reconciled disagreement that is radically different from the experience of destructive conflict.’ (p.60)

Secondly there needs to be a holistic approach which includes everyone involved in a situation of conflict and not just leaders or activists and which addresses all the issues involved. In Welby’s words ‘Peacebuilding in every situation must be top down, middle out and bottom up, all at once, all linked and all inclusive.’ (p.64)

Thirdly, working effectively for reconciliation involves ‘assembling a team and having the humility or ethos among its members to be willing to share the way forward.’ (p.65)

Fourthly, there needs to be a commitment to ‘truth and transparency’ about the nature and causes of a situation of conflict which involves:

‘….the seeking of a joint understanding at best, or at least an understanding of the position of the other. To be able to tell the other’s story and to give an account of their view, even when disagreement is profound, is a major step on the journey of reconciliation.’ (p71)

Fifthly and finally, a process of reconciliation involves a proper recognition of the complexity of the reasons why a conflict exists: ‘For someone facilitating the process or for the parties there are no excuses: complexity has to be faced. You cannot heal what you have not identified.’ (p.75)

Part II, consisting of chapters 4-9, outlines ‘a pattern of working at any level of dispute’ based on the model developed by those engaged in the reconciliation work of Coventry cathedral. This approach:

‘…is based around six words beginning with R. They are not sequential, you don’t do one and then the other, but like a juggler you start with one and end with all going at once. That is essential to any peace-building. Each R deals with an aspect of being human and struggling with conflict. To drop or forget one is to become mechanistic, which always leads to failure.’ (p.76)

Peacemakers involved following this approach also need to follow the example of Jesus by being ‘knowable and transparent in who they are’ (p.78). This means they have to be open and honest with regards to their own history, their funding and their motivation.’ (p.78) In addition, they must: ‘work in the background.’ Like Jesus ‘They come to serve; glory is for others.’ (p.78)

Chapter 4 is concerned with ‘Researching or how to become consciously ignorant.’ According to Welby, this first R needs to involve preliminary desk-based study, interviews ((preferably undertaken in pairs) and beginning ‘to populate a map of the conflict’ (p.83). This third element will involve asking:

‘Who are the key parties? Since when have they been involved? Who are and have been the leaders? What is the timeline? What are the key environmental, cultural and other contextual factors? Who are the shadow players with influence but less obvious presence? Who are the spoilers who have a vested interest in the conflict continuing or even getting worse? (p.82)   

The key sign that research has borne fruit and that the peacemakers can move to the second R is that: ‘they can tell the story of the conflict from the from the different perspectives of those involved in the process, in a way that each of them can recognise.’ (p.96)

Chapter 5 looks at ‘Relating – the power of love.’ In this chapter Welby argues that just as God acts in love to break down the barriers between himself and his human creatures so also peacemakers must act in love:

‘The role of the people and groups that facilitate reconciliation is not a functional and mechanical one characterized by technique, but a relational one characterised by love. Of course, love is not all we need (sorry, the Beatles), but any action not based in love and driven by love is, to quote St Paul in  1 Corinthians 13, nothing but a sounding gong or a clanging symbol. It is noise without substance.’ (p.102)

Such relational love requires patience, it is ‘represented by long term commitment’ (p.107) and that commitment ‘must be organizational, not just individual.’ (p.108) This last point is because:

‘Relationships need nurturing. No individual can manage the commitment and be sure to be available as much as is required. However, it is possible to create institutional links where trust is created over time by a consistent and patient commitment through a group.’ (p.108)

Finally, acting in love will means recognising that:

‘There are some people who, in police terms, need to be removed from a conflict if there is to be hope of reconciliation. That removal is a demonstration of a love for the majority whom they may influence by fear or favour. To bring them into reconciliation the worst of the spoilers have to be faced and not included in the process.’ (p.111)

At the end of this chapter there is an exercise which asks the reader to think about how to undertake research and who to build relationships within a situation where there is tension between the churches in an Anglican group ministry caused by the influx of asylum seekers into a town and a proposal to build new housing.

Chapter 6, ‘Relieving need – love made visible,’ notes that acting to relieve need is ‘what makes relationships solid’ (p.118). Acting in this way fulfils God’s purpose of sending Jesus into the world so that people might have ‘abundant life.’ In Welby’s words:

‘Abundant life is declared in John 10.10 by Jesus as the reason for his coming into the world. The finding of abundance is at the heart of God’s purpose in reconciling humans to God and, by extension, to one another. It is not enough merely to stop fighting and quarrelling. Abundant life is seen as a vast diversity of character, and custom, a diversity that is negotiated in our world through the expression of love and a constant sense of curiosity about others, compassion for them in need, and attention to every need they have.’ (p.120)

In addition, writes Welby:

‘Part of the third R of relieving is that it calls us to reconciliation in the form of partnership with others who are seeking to relieve need, and in humility in seeking for each partner to do what they do best.’ (p.122 italics in the original)

At the end of the chapter readers are invited to consider the needs that need to be met in the situation described in the exercise at the end of chapter 5 and who needs to be involved in doing this.  

Chapter 7, is about ‘Risk.’ In it, Welby explores the fact that peacebuilding and reconciliation involve ‘judgements and choices’ (p.131) and the risks that these bring with them.

The first risk is the risk to those seeking to facilitate reconciliation:

‘Any kind of reconciliation, especially mediation, brings the risk of much psychological and emotional pain and occasionally the risk of physical harm.’ (p.134)

The second is:

‘…the risk of the consequences of decisions. Actions and omissions have consequences, and once past the events of the action or omission, the consequences will come in one way or another. They may be mitigated or changed, but other things will have to happen as a result of what we do and don’t do.’ (p.139)

Welby gives as an example of this second risk, the risk of deciding whether or not to hold a meeting in the course of a reconciliation process (for instance whether to hold a conference on climate change) since both meeting and not meeting will carry its own risks.

To address this second risk Welby suggests the use of a ‘Risk Allocation Matrix’ to try to work out what the risks are and how they might be mitigated. He also notes that mitigating risk ‘involves developing resilience among those involved in the dispute so that the process is not toppled over by a setback’ (p.145)

In Chapter 8, ‘Reconciling – the long journey,’ Welby begins by explaining again that reconciliation:

‘….is not series of compromises to reach a weak middle ground on which all stand, equally unhappily and with no basis for action together. That is kicking the can down the road, or into the long grass or wherever. Fuzziness of that sort is the evasion of the challenge of difference. What should be sought as a transparent and clear eyed blessing and welcome of diversity so that all, without exception, may have an equal opportunity to flourish as individuals and groups. Reconciliation is also, especially, not the signing of a peace agreement or some other kind of accord, and assuming ‘that is that, deal done, problem solved’’ (p.149)

What reconciliation is (and why it is difficult and takes so long):

‘… is the transformation of every part of a person and group.

There will be a need to see some opponents differently, at least the ones who are themselves willing to be involved in the process. Seeing people and groups differently is not necessarily seeing them as good but, at the least, as people with whom to engage if possible.

There will be need to forgo some aspects of the conflict, especially violence or its threat and other forms of deeply destructive behaviour. The process will have to lead to a change of heart as well as commitment to the journey. Changing hearts takes a very long time even in the simplest of cases. It is difficult and demanding for all involved.’ (pp.149-150)

As Welby sees it, reconciliation thus understood will need to involve:

‘…. a fresh approach to justice, and a realistic search for truth. Myths will be exposed. Long-held assumptions will be progressively changed by continued contact and relationship building. A dispute that has naturally focused on what was objectionable about the other may well begin to change into a more or less friendly partnership looking outwards to the world around and seeking to bless it.’ (p.150)

Welby goes on to suggest that the story of the post-resurrection encounter between Peter and Jesus by the Sea of Galilee recorded in John 21 provides a helpful perspective on the issue of how to address issues of truth and justice in the context of a process of reconciliation.  He notes that in this encounter:

‘Justice is done, truth is revealed. Peter does not have failure swept under the carpet but rather it is clearly exposed, truthfully addressed and justly dealt with, by the perfectly just God who has shown Peter what it is to fail and be restored. Truth and justice are met in love, and the result is healing and a future.’ (p.161)

The lesson Welby takes from this story is that:

‘Truth and justice are central to the character of God in what we see by God being revealed through Jesus. Wisdom in timing, in place and in manner of dealing with sin and failure puts them in a context of safety and security, not a context of uncertainty and revenge. That has to be true of any process of reconciliation, even more so once we take account of the fragility of human nature, of our proclivity to confuse justice with what we want to come and truth with what we perceive.

The facilitator  – however large and complicated or small and simple the dispute – whether it has the violence of guns or the savagery of words and hatreds has to take as a central aim the establishment of a ‘Galilee beach:’ a place of peace and security where truth and justice are seen and recognised.’ (pp.161-162)

Welby also suggests those facilitating reconciliation should consider exercises in which people are invited to consider a ‘dark age’ that they would like to see and a ‘golden age’ that they would and do ‘history backwards’ by imagining how each might have come to pass (pp.163-164). As Welby sees it:

‘The underlying purpose of the exercises is to make space for the moral imagination. The question for each side is: ‘What would a truly good society look like?’ at the beginning the answer from every side is very likely to be: ‘One in which we are in total control.’ The introduction of further questions, the mixing in of direct talks and time spent in imagining the future and the ways forward will remind participants of what they are seeking, enable unrealistic goals (e.g. complete victory) to be challenged, and open the way to non-binding discussions of what is good, preparing the way for the decisions emerging from negotiations.’ (p.165)

Welby completes the chapter by suggesting that a reconciliation process will need to have numerous tracks in order to ensure all parties are properly included in the process and by noting the questions that need to be asked before a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is established.

Chapter 9 is called  ‘Supplies for the journey – Resourcing.’  In this chapter Welby explains that for reconciliation to take root, rather than becoming unhealthily dependent on the continuing presence and work of outside facilitators:

‘Those in the conflict need to develop new ways of working, the capacity for moral imagination, the instincts that create possibilities of disagreeing well. They need changed hearts.’ (p.172) 

The result of this change of heart needs to be ‘human beings who grow in diversity and bring all their rich differences together for the common good.’ (p.172-173). For Welby the model for this is the vision for the Church revealed by Jesus in word and action in John 17:1-26 and 20:19-23.

This vision is of a ‘new humanity abounding in diversity in a world conformed to the love of God and seeking and desiring God with every part of human existence and every last ounce of strength’ (p.174) and of the Church being equipped by the Spirit ‘to carry on the work of testifying to Jesus, of transforming the world, of cooperating with God in the reconciliation of all things’ (p.174)  Furthermore:

‘The vision is collective not individualistic. The prayer and the gift of the Spirit is for all who believe in Jesus, not for all those who believe AND qualify in some other way.’ (p.174 capitals in the original)

Welby goes on say that the aim of resourcing as the sixth R is to ‘begin a culture of reconciliation and leave it with the potential to become the natural way of handling things (p.177) 

He puts forward as an example of what such a culture would like the ‘Coventry Way’ developed by Coventry Cathedral. This involves ‘a spirituality of reconciliation based on three concentric circles of relationship, widening out like the ripples of a pond’ (p.177). The first circle is about the development of a personal spiritual life based on the recognition that ‘in Christ we are forgiven, born again and able to begin his resurrection life’ (p.177). The second circle is concerned with ‘the way in which a local worshipping community builds up and encourages habits of reconciliation within itself and its life in the world.’ (p.179). The third circle is ‘about engagement with the world around’ and is about how ‘a community of reconciled reconcilers, who deal with issues inside their own institution, equip each other to be active in reconciliation wherever their daily lives take them.’ (p.180)

As examples of the sort of engagement just mentioned Welby cites the involvement of the Church in the ending of apartheid, the support of churches for homeless shelters, food banks and street Pastors, activity to combat the influence of gangs, and involvement in issues such as nuclear disarmament, economic and racial injustice and climate change. He also notes the Church of England’s involvement in ‘a project called /together, which seeks, in many different ways, to challenge the deep differences that have grown up in society over the last decade or so.’ (p.181)  

Welby also notes that in relation to the need for reconciliation ‘of human beings with the natural environment’ (p.183) the requirement to achieve a ‘decisive fall to near net-zero carbon emissions’ (p.183) by 2050 can only be achieved internationally by a ‘general political agreement on principles and commitment of political capital now for the generations yet unborn.’ (p.183)

At the end of the chapter Welby encourages the reader to consider again the case study set out in previous chapters. He suggests that progress towards reconciliation has been made but is still fragile and suggests the reader thinks about ‘What resources does it need in all the different areas to keep going? How can it celebrate progress and journey still to be completed?’

Part III, chapters 10-14, looks at the Difference Course which was developed by the reconciliation team at Lambeth Palace as a resource to enable ‘people to think for themselves about their attitude to those who are considered by the individual or society at large to be other’ (p. 189)

In chapter 10, ‘Difference should make us curious’ Welby argues that the right starting point for overcoming the ‘distance’ that separates people from the ‘the other’ is curiosity. This is because ‘Being curious brings people nearer as we begin to engage with them in order to understand their concerns and their priorities. Far more than that, it puts them in the category of those whose good we seek’ (p.194). He then explains  that the Difference cause has five sessions on the topic of being curious.

Session 1 considers whether our sources of information as those called to be peace builders and reconcilers includes ‘those with who we disagree’ (p.196)

Session 2 considers the need to cross divides ‘because you cannot build bridges without being on both sides of a divide’ (p.197)

Session 3 considers the need to disagree well in the sense of ‘being curious about the real thinking of the person with who you disagree.’ (p.198)

Session 4 is about practising forgiveness. This relates to the need to be curious because:

 ‘To be curious opens the way to practise forgiveness. It is to enquire into the state of mind of a perpetrator, to seek to understand their thinking, to sense their guilt and desire for change. It is also to understand one’s own feelings’ (p.199)  

Only when we have done these things can the practice of forgiveness being to take place.

Session 5 is about hope. This relates to the need to be curious because:

‘To be curious is to ask yourself about your own hopes and to ask your community about theirs. The curiosity will be fed by the act of crossing boundaries  of practising forgiveness, of disagreeing well.’ (p.201)

Chapter 11, ‘Being Present,’ considers the next principle of the Difference course, the need to be present. ‘We should be present to others as a commitment of love because God was, is and always will be present as a commitment of love to us.’ (p.203). In this chapter Welby looks at what it means to be present in terms of developing a habit of being present, being willing to cross divides, disagreeing well in terms of being ‘truly present when we listen and reflect on what is being said, when we enquire (being curious) to understand better’ (p.209), practising forgiveness rather than severing relationships, and being present because we risk the hope ‘that progress can be made amid difficulty in relationships or in conflict’ (p.211)

Chapter 12, ‘Reimagining,’ considers the third principle of the Difference course, the need to ‘reimagine a future that is different and to develop the tools for bringing it into reality.’ In this chapter Welby explores reimagining in relation to God’s call to Christian to be peacemakers, a call that involves ‘finding out what is right’ by living in ‘a reconciled disagreement that enables us to search for the will of God’ (p.219) and being willing to cross divides by trying to imagine ‘what everything would look like if that boundary were not there’ (p.221)  and the steps involved in bringing this situation about, disagreeing well (shown by ‘disagreeing over something very important, and doing so with passion, and yet maintaining a relationship’ (p.223) as in the case of Anglicans with different views on human sexuality continuing to meet together), practising forgiveness, and risking hope that things could be different in the face of the temptation to despair.

In chapter 13 ‘Three examples for reflection,’ Welby looks at how to apply some of the points previously made in his book in the case of three contemporary issues, climate change, racism and ethnicity and political populism in Western democracies (by which he means politicians ‘manipulating genuine fears and grievances for the end of political power, not in order to find their solution’ (p.228)). In all three cases he stresses the importance both of building relationships and of taking action to relieve need in order to create the possibility of a better future.

Finally in chapter 14 Welby sets out his overall conclusions.

First, there are: ‘some situations where reconciliation is not possible. Either one person is too proud, or too evil, or both.’ (p.248) The example he gives are genocide where ‘the perpetrators must be stopped by any means necessary’ (p.248) and the need to remove a parent ‘where there is good reason to believe abuse is occurring in the home.’ (pp. 248-249)

Secondly, however, ‘in most cases reconciliation is possible.’  (p.248)  Reconciliation, reiterates Welby, ‘is the transformation of destructive conflict into disagreeing well.’ (p.249) and when it happens it brings hope because it opens the possibility of mitigating harm or bringing genuine healing, of forgiveness, of turning enemies into friends, of removing fear and anxiety ‘from the places we live and the relationships we have’ (p249) and of the presence of justice and truth. As Welby sees it:

‘When truth is told justice and mercy can meet and be seen to be real. Justice before there is the beginning of reconciliation is always suspect, either becauae it is justice imposed by the strong or because thr truth is not clear.’ (p.249

Welby finishes by declaring:

‘This book has tried to look at the reasons for reconciliation, to describe one – among many – patterns for it to happen and to encourage the habits that make it possible. My prayer is that many will seek their own route to share in reconciliation, to start groups that will advocate and train others, and that it will seek to make disagreeing well  part of how we live at every level from household to global.’ (p.252)  

What is helpful in the book

There is much in The Power of Reconciliation that will be found very helpful by those who are called to engage in efforts to being about reconciliation in situations of conflict.

In specific terms, the book is helpful when it says:

  • That reconciliation is something  in which Christians are called to be engaged and that has its basis in the work of God in Christ.
  • That experience shows that reconciliation in situations of conflict is something that is possible, but that is not something that is possible in every situation.
  • That a process of reconciliation involves a leap of imagination that sees that constructive change is possible and that the exercise of thinking about how one could avoid a ‘dark age’ and move to a ‘golden age’ can be a helpful way to encourage people to make such a leap of imagination
  • That reconciliation needs to be viewed as a long-term process and is something that is best facilitated by a team or an organisation rather than by one individual acting alone.
  • That attempts at reconciliation can be undermined by seeking to move the process on too quickly or by being too ambitious about what it can achieve.
  • That a process of reconciliation needs to involve all the parties involved in a situation of conflict and needs to address all the causes of conflict.
  • That there are people (‘spoilers’) who could potentially wreck a process of reconciliation  and therefore need to be excluded from it,
  • That those engaged in reconciliation need to be aware of the differing perspectives of those involved in a situation of conflict. 
  • That the goal of a process of reconciliation needs to be a situation where hearts are changed where as far as possible  truth is known and where justice is done.
  • That reconcilers need to be honest and transparent, willing to humbly serve others and willing to make sacrifices for the sake of reconciliation.
  • That reconciliation will need to involve undertaking research, fostering loving relationships, relieving need, and taking risks, and will also involve the need for people to develop the habits of being curious, being present and practising forgiveness.
  • That the practice of reconciliation needs to be based on hope for the future, which for Christians means hope for the coming of the new world that God has promised. 
  • That it is good for Christians to develop a culture of reconciliation that is founded on faith in Christ, that is fostered in the life of the Christian community and that results in constructive engagement with the wider world.  

What is problematic in the book

Alongside these helpful elements in the book there are also, however, things which are deeply problematic. There are a number of specific points at which what the book says is unhelpful and also two overarching problems with the argument of the book as a whole.

The fourteen specific points that are problematic are as follows.

One, the claim that ‘Love…accepts otherness’ (p.20) requires careful qualification. Arguably, love should only accept otherness if that otherness should exist. For example, sin is something other than the good that God intends for his human creatures, but there is no call for either God or his human creatures to accept it. It would be better to say that love does not will that only itself exists, but wills the existence of other things to love.

Two, the book seems to suggest that it is people’s understanding of their identity and their sense of honour and shame that pit people against one another and result in conflict. The book needs to be clearer that what pits people against each other is not their sense of identity or their sense of honour and shame as such. This is because people can have a highly developed sense of personal identity and of honour and shame that does not result in conflict with others. What causes conflict is when in a fallen world people come to wrongly believe that their well being depends on asserting their own wills against the will of another, whether that other is God or other people.

Three, the book seems to suggest that the ‘abundant life’ promised by Jesus in John 10:10  is ‘seen as a vast diversity of character and nature and custom.’ However, in John’s Gospel ‘abundant life’ is a synonym for ‘eternal life’ the supernatural life given by the Father to all who believe in Jesus. This supernatural life may be manifested in ‘a vast diversity of character and nature and custom’  but that is not what this life actually is and the diversity involved is limited by the fact that those who believe in Jesus are called to live in obedience to the Father as Jesus did and this rules out forms of character, nature and custom that are contrary to such obedience.

Four, in chapter 8 the book gives as an example of the contested nature of truth in situations of conflict that way in which a conflict can be depicted as Christian against Muslim when its causes are in fact more complicated. The book suggests that the depiction of the conflict as being about the persecution of Christian by Muslims is rooted in the need to mobilise ‘internal support’ and to generate ‘external sponsorship from overseas observers.’ (p.154) This may be true in specific cases, but it would be unfortunate if the book gave rise to the impression that this these are the only reasons why people claim that Christians are being persecuted by Muslims. There is abundant evidence that persecution of Christians by Muslims for being Christians is a reality, and is a reality  that is growing, and that claims of such persecution may therefore simply be true.

Five, as we have seen, in chapter 9 the book describes Jesus’ prayer for believers in John 17 and gift of the Spirit in John 20 as being ‘for all who believe in Jesus, not for all those who believe AND qualify in some other way.’  In the context of the chapter itself it is unclear why the word ‘and’ is emphasised through the use of capital letters, but when viewed in the context of Welby’s other writings this seems to be an implicit  rebuttal of the claim that a particular approach to human sexuality should be seen as a necessary qualification for membership of the Anglican Communion.  The problem lies in the fact that what ‘believe’ means is not clarified. It could mean believing in Jesus is some vague and unspecified sense. In that case what it says is contrary to the New Testament which sees belief in Jesus in terms of accepting the gospel message about Jesus, being baptised, and living in obedience to Jesus’ teaching as this is witnessed to by the apostles (see for example Matthew 28:18-20). If we accept this New Testament view then there are good grounds for saying that belief in Jesus (and hence membership of the Anglican Communion) does need to involve a particular view of sexual ethics.

Six, in the same chapter the description of the second circle of reconciliation says nothing about the basis on which a local worshipping community decides how to undertake its role in God’s world. Nothing is said about the need to receive guidance about this from the Bible and the orthodox Christian tradition and this is problematic because it is from these sources that Christians principally learn what it means to act rightly in the world ‘out of the overflow of the love of Christ’ (p.180). Without proper guidance from these sources about how to bring ‘the grace and truth of Christ to this generation’ (Canon C15) there is a great danger of Christian thinking and activity simply being shaped by contemporary secular thought or by the reflection of contemporary secular thought in contemporary theology. In the words of Paul in Romans 12:2 the danger is Christians being ‘conformed to this world’ rather than being ‘transformed by the renewal of your mind’ through the sources of right thinking that God in his goodness has provided.

Seven in this chapter, the description of the Church’s ‘engagement with the world around’ through the circles of reconcilation is also entirely silent about evangelism, even though reference has previously been made to the Chuch’s call to the ‘work of testifying to Jesus.’ Mention is made about the Church’s involvement in a whole range of social and political issues, but evangelism does not get mentioned at all. This is really problematic because according to the New Testament the basic form of reconciling activity which the Church is called to be involved in is evangelism. Thus in 2 Corinthians 5:18 Paul declares that through Christ ‘reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation’ and if we ask what form this ministry takes Paul goes on to explain that it means ‘we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). The primary need that human beings have is to be reconciled to God, and the evangelistic proclamation of the Christian message is the necessary pre-condition for this to happen because it is through evangelism that non- Christians learn about the reconciling action of God in Christ and their need to accept it through faith and baptism. It follows that any description of the Church’s engagement with the world not only needs to mention evangelism but to give it first place in the Church’s list of priorities (as is the case in Anglican ‘Five Marks of Mission’).

Eight, in chapter 12 the book describes the process that led to the ordination of women bishops in the Church of England in entirely positive terms as a good example of reimagining. What the book fails to acknowledge is that there is an alternative reading of what happened which is that under external political pressure the Church of England violated the established rules of General Synod by reintroducing in the same five year period a matter on which Synod had already made a decision and that the outcome was a settlement which failed to properly address the theological issues at stake and which has resulted subsequently in traditionalist Anglo Catholics and Evangelicals becoming marginalised in terms of appointments to senior roles within the Church of England.

Nine, in the same chapter the book claims that what is described in Acts 10 and 11 as a process of reimagining which marks the moment ‘at which Christianity turned from being a Jewish group to a potential worldwide religion’ (p.217). This is problematic because (a) Christianity was already a potential worldwide religion (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8) and (b) what is described in Acts 10 and 11 is not about human beings imagining a different future but about God giving Peter and others a different understanding of present reality.

Ten, also in the same chapter, the book regards very positively the way in which Anglicans who disagree about human sexuality are willing to meet together and the fact that it was recognised that those who took a different view on the matter remained ‘part of the family.’ (p.223).  This is problematic because it suggests that matters to do with human sexuality are matters that are ‘adiaphora’ – things about which Christians can rightly agree to disagree, whereas in the New Testament right sexual behaviour is seen as a fundamental part of Christian discipleship concerning which no form of disagreement or compromise is ever envisaged. You either are obedient to God or you are not, and disobedience to God is completely unacceptable in the life of the Christian community just as it was in the life of the people of Israel (see 1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Eleven, in chapter 12, as elsewhere in the book, it is suggested that the best result when there is conflict in a marriage may be divorce (‘It may be that in a family dispute the end vision needs rethinking. Perhaps, rather than putting the marriage back together, it may be parting well and with care for all those affected’ (p.226)). This reflects the sadly now familiar Anglican line that ‘marriages may fail’ but what it fails to do is get to grips with the fact that in the New Testament there are only two circumstances in which divorce is permissible, one being adultery (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:1-9) and the other being the desire of a non-Christian spouse to end the marriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-16).

Twelve, in chapter 13 there are a number of key points about the issues of climate change, racism and ethnicity and political populism that the book fails to note.

On climate change the book fails to note that the insistence of bodies like the BBC that there is scientific consensus about the reality, the causes and the likely results of climate change, ignores the fact that there are a very large number of qualified scientists who simply do not agree with the alleged consensus on these points. There may be a dominant view (which has political and media support) but it is not clear that the ‘vast majority’ of scientists accept it. It also fails to take proper note of the serious questions that have been raised about whether seeking to achieve net zero carbon emissions is necessary and the serious economic, social and ecological consequences of trying to achieve this goal by seeking to replace fossil fuels completely by renewable sources of energy such as wind, wave and solar power. It is also unfortunate that chapter 13 and the book as whole focusses almost entirely on climate change as the environmental challenge, without giving due attention to other equally pressing environmental issues such as the loss of habitats and bio diversity, soil degradation and various forms of pollution.

The book also fails to address the key question of whether there is a need to accept an overall limit to economic growth given the finite resources of this planet and what this means in terms of challenging the dominant consumerism of the contemporary Western world.

On racism and ethnicity, the book fails to note the  danger that the growth of racial  identity politics runs the danger of undermining the progress  made in race relations in recent decades by dividing people into oppressors and victims solely on the basis of their race and of stirring up racial division and conflict by so doing. It also fails to note the way in which critical race theory runs the risk of seriously distorting the education system and academic study across the board through its insistence that all truth claims are simply attempts to exert power and control by the dominant ethnic group in any given society. Finally, it fails to explore in any detail the moral and practical questions raised by the idea of reparations such as, for instance, whether an Afghan immigrant to Britain should be asked to pay reparations to countries in West Africa inhabited by people whose ancestors were not just enslaved but also actively involved in the slave trade, and on what basis the amount they should contribute to such reparations should be calculated. Or, for another example, whether a church goer from a West Indian background whose ancestors were slaves should be asked to contribute through their parish share to the cost of reparations made by the Church of England in respect of its historic links to the slave trade.

On populism, the book sees the roots of populism in ‘disrupted economic and social conditions’ (p.244). This is part of the truth, but it is not the whole truth. What is equally important is the way in which populism has its roots in the belief held by many who are socially and religiously conservative that they are under unrelenting attack by liberal metropolitan national and international elites who regard them and their beliefs, values, and ways of life with contempt. The book refers to this perception of elite contempt for others, but it needs to develop the point further and to note that it means that in order to address the divisions caused by populism attention needs first to be given to addressing the conviction among many conservative groups around the world that they are engaged in an existential struggle against an ideological enemy who holds that they should have no place in the  new world it is seeking to create.

Thirteen, the suggestion that the book makes in chapter 14 that reconciliation is not possible in the case of genocide and parental abuse seems to confuse the need to take immediate preventative action to prevent evil taking place with the wider claim that in these cases reconciliation can never take place. This latter claim is highly problematic because it rules out the possibility that Christians must hope for (and therefore work for) that even in such extreme cases there can eventually be reconciliation between the perpetrators of evil and both God and the human beings they have harmed. This side of the final judgement such  reconciliation cannot be ruled out.

Finally, as we have seen, in the same chapter the book claims that ‘Justice before there is the beginning of reconciliation is always suspect, either because it is justice imposed by the strong or because the truth is not clear.’ This claim is problematic because one can easily imagine a scenario in which there can be justice before the beginning of reconciliation. Imagine a burglar who has been caught red handed and who is unrepentant about his crime. There would be no question that it would be just for him to be punished for his crime even if his lack of repentance prevented reconciliation taking place. Furthermore, in terms of divine-human relationships God is perfectly just in punishing the wicked even when they refuse to be reconciled to him.  In both cases there can be justice based on truth without reconciliation.

The two overarching problems with the book are as follows.

First, the book puts forward a very problematic definition of reconciliation. This definition is laid out very clearly in the last chapter:

‘First, a reminder of the definition: reconciliation is the transformation of destructive conflict into disagreeing well. The impact of disagreeing well may continue to be disagreement. It may be a state of well-contained hostility. It may mean the end of a marriage. But it will always open new possibilities of mitigating the harm, at the least, and of bringing genuine healing, at most.’ (p.249)

The problem with this definition  is (a) that  it is unwarranted because there is nothing in the nature of reconciliation that says it has to involve continuing disagreement and (b) it hopes for too little. The possibility of people actually agreeing about what to think or how to act is taken off the table. The best that can be hoped for is that people will find ways of relating better to each other while continuing to disagree. 

To understand why this is not a satisfactory end point for the process of reconciliation we  need to understand that disagreement is a result of our fallen condition.

God knows the truth about all things.  This is what is meant when Job 28:24 tells us that God ‘looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under heaven’ and Hebrews 4:13 declares ‘before him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.’  As creatures made in God’s image human beings are also created to know the truth.  We can see this in the account of creation in Genesis in which we are told that ‘the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name’ (Genesis 2:19).  What is described here is an act of truthful discernment. Adam is not just arbitrarily assigning names to the birds and the animals, he is discerning truthfully what they are.  Like God he knows the true nature, ‘the name,’ of things.

If all human beings engaged in this kind of truthful discernment all of the time, then there would never be any disagreement between them. We would all know the truth and we would all agree about the truth, including the truth about how we should act. Tragically, however, the result of the big lie told by the devil and accepted by the first human beings (Genesis 3) is that we have lost the ability to always see things as they really are and to always be honest about what we do see.  It is for that reason that human beings disagree.

Thankfully, God has provided a remedy for this situation. Jesus Christ is truth incarnate (John 14:6 ‘I am the truth’) and at the centre of his reconciling work is the fact he has come to restore our ability to know the truth.  In John 8:31-32 Jesus declares ‘if you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’  This comes about through the work of the Holy Spirit who is sent by Jesus to ‘guide you into all the truth’ (John 16:13).  Like the whole of our re-creation through Jesus, our ability to discern the truth is a work in progress. At the moment ‘our knowledge is imperfect’ (1 Corinthians 13:9) but in heaven we shall understand fully in the same way that we ourselves are fully understood by God (1 Corinthians 13:12). As C S Lewis puts it in his book The Great Divorce, human beings are created with an innate desire for truth and this desire will one day be satisfied. God will bring us to a place where we can taste truth ‘like honey and be embraced by it like a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched’ [2]

What all this means is that disagreement can never in itself be good. We disagree because in our fallen condition we either don’t know the truth or are unwilling to accept it when it is presented to us. The vocation of the Church as the instrument of the reconciling activity of God in Christ is therefore not simply to practice and promote disagreeing well. The vocation of the Church is to be a community where as far as possible disagreement does not exist because to an ever-increasing extent the process of sanctification in which our minds are renewed (Romans 12:2) means that truth is known, accepted, celebrated, and acted upon, and to be a community that acts as salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) by spreading the knowledge and acceptance of truth into the outside world.

It is certainly true that disagreeing well is better than engaging in destructive conflict. However, for the reasons we have  just seen even disagreeing well cannot be rightly viewed as the proper end of the story. The goal of reconciliation must be instead converting destructive conflict into agreement in truth. Disagreeing well is at best a preliminary stage in the achievement of this goal. 

The second overarching problem is that The Power of Reconciliation lacks any clear and coherent theological anthropology. To understand how human beings should act it is first of all necessary to understand the  overall picture of  how God as their all good and all wise creator wants his human creatures to act. Only then can we begin to discern what it means for human beings to act rightly in particular situations such as the various situations of conflict described in The Power of Reconciliation.

What would have been helpful would have been if The Power of Reconciliation had begun with a chapter, or chapters, laying out what it means for human beings to live rightly before God before then going on to explain why this means being involved in reconciliation and what the practice of reconciliation involves.

If we ask what should be said in this chapter or chapters, the right place to start is with creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.[3]

These accounts tell us that human beings have been created by God to be his ‘image and likeness’ in the world (Genesis 1:26-27), that is to say, to be those beings who make known most fully what God is like. In the ancient world rulers would set up images of themselves in distant cities to show their people who their king was and what he was like. In a similar way, says Genesis, God has created human beings to be his image so that the world can see and experience what its ruler is like. Living rightly as a human being means living out this basic human vocation.   

They also tell us that living out our vocation to show what God is like involves expressing our love for him by taking responsibility for the world that he has created. The created order as a whole, and not just the human part of it, has value in God’s sight  and human beings are called to share in God’s care for it. 

In Genesis 1:28 God tells the first human beings: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’

This command gives human beings authority over rest of the created order and it also involves the right to use the resources provided by the natural world. As God goes on to say in the next verse ‘I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’

In our day many people have come to see this command in Genesis as lying at the root of the environmental problems that we face. This is because it can be (and has been) viewed as giving human beings the right to treat the rest of creation in any way they see fit. However, to view this God-given calling to exercise ‘dominion’ over creation as giving us a right to engage in unlimited exploitation of it for our own benefit is fundamentally to misrepresent what Genesis is saying. God’s rule over creation is for the benefit of creation as a whole. ‘The Lord is good to all and his compassion is over all that he has made’ (Psalm 145:9). The same is meant to be true of the human vice-regency over creation exercised on his behalf. 

As the second creation account in Genesis 2:15 tells us, human beings have the vocation to ‘till and keep’, that is to say to serve and preserve, the created order in the same way that someone might be given the task of taking care of a garden or a park and the animals living in it in order to enable them to flourish. This in turn means that while human beings have the right to make use of the rest of the created order in order to live, this should be done with appropriate restraint, in a way that recognises that the non-human creation has its own intrinsic value in the sight of God. That is why, for example, the Old Testament law sets limits to the way in which the people of Israel can use the natural order (see  Exodus 20:10, Leviticus 25:7, Deuteronomy 25:4).

This is made clear by the way in which God creates human beings as male and female to be his image bearers (Genesis 1:27), by his command to them to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and by the story of the creation of Eve to be the marital companion for Adam (Genesis 2:18-25).

The human vocation to care for creation was not intended by God to be fulfilled by a single individual, but by a community of people. Just as God himself exists in an eternal communion of love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so also, he has created his human image bearers to exist in relationships of mutual love for which the relationship between men and women is the basis and the paradigm. As a result, we are called to express the reality of our love for God not simply by caring for the non-human creation but also by showing love to other people (see 1 John 4:20-21).

This is where the command to love our neighbour comes into the picture. God gives himself to be loved by us in the shape of other people and, as Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) explains, our neighbour is that individual (regardless of race or sex) in whom God gives himself to be loved by us at any given moment. Furthermore, true love for our neighbour will be shaped by our awareness that our neighbour’s highest good will be served by helping them to live in a way that is in accordance with God’s will for them.

This means that there can be no conflict between the two commandments. We express love for God as we show love to our neighbour and we show love for our neighbour as we act towards them in a way that enables them to fulfil God’s good purposes for them. Loving someone means wanting what is best for them and what is best for all human beings is that they should flourish in the manner for which God created them.

This in turn means that just as love of God and love of neighbour necessarily belong together, so also do love of God, love of neighbour and care for the rest of creation. This is for two reasons.

First, as we are coming increasingly to realise, human beings are dependent on the natural world for their existence and so when the creation is not cared for human beings are unable to flourish in the way that God intends.

Then, as has already been noted, love for neighbour means acting in a way that enables them to fulfil God’s good purposes for them. Therefore, our dealings with them will need to reflect the fact that, like us, they too are people who are called by God to exercise responsible care for the whole of the world that God has created.

The remainder of the biblical story goes on to tell us that, even though all of us have turned away from God and continually do those things which harm other people and the rest of the world that God has made, God has not rejected us in return. Instead, he keeps us in being and, in accordance with his promises of universal blessing made to Abraham. he has become one of us in Jesus Christ and taken upon himself the consequences of our rebellion by dying in our place on the Cross. By dying in this way and then rising again he has provided us with ‘redemption’, that is to say, he has rescued us and the rest of the world from our rejection of him and the death that flows from it, just as he once rescued the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt.

He has also provided ‘the means of grace,’ Scripture, prayer and the sacraments, as the means by which, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to share in, and respond to, what he has done for us in Jesus, and he has also given us the ‘hope of glory.’ This hope assures that death is not the end, but can instead be the prelude to ‘the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.’[4]  It tells us that we can enjoy a new life of complete happiness and fulfilment in which we can fulfil the purpose for which were made by sharing the life of God, reigning with him over a renewed creation and joining with that creation in praising him for all that he has done. 

In response to what God has done for us in the face of our rebellion we are called, as noted earlier in this review, to act as the ambassadors of God who declare the ‘message of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5:19), the good news of what God has done, to those who do not yet know or accept it so that they too can begin to live as the people God created them to be.

In addition, we are also called to help ensure what the Roman Catholic tradition has called the ‘common good,’ the social conditions needed to help people to live out the new life given to them by God to the fullest extent possible.[5] This common good can be seen to have a number of different aspects:

To live rightly before God people need the ability to exist (‘the right to life’) and therefore they need food and drink, clothing, shelter and medical care.

To develop emotionally and to learn to exercise their God given abilities people need a loving and supportive family and they require education so as to be able to understand and appreciate the world in which they live and to cultivate their intellectual and physical skills. They also require access to religious education and freedom of worship in order to understand and respond to who God is and what he has done for them

To act as responsible stewards of God’s creation, using their God given abilities to provide for their own well-being and those of their families and neighbours, people need the opportunity to undertake fulfilling work.

To exercise their responsibility for the welfare of their neighbours and of God’s creation, people need the ability to participate in decisions which affect the way in which their society operates and how it relates to the natural world. This in turn means that they need to be able to participate in the political system at all levels and that they also need freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

For all the above to happen and for people to be able to relate to each other over distances a framework of transport and communication is also required.

For people to live rightly together there needs to be a framework of law and order in which those things that are contrary to the common good are prevented or discouraged and those things which are conducive to the common good are supported and affirmed. This is where the God-given role of government comes into the picture.[6]

Finally, for all the above to take place there needs to be economic activity. In order for the common good to flourish material resources need to be provided in the shape of goods, services and the finances to pay for them. In addition, in order to make proper provision for the future and give proper respect to the created order these material resources have to be provided in a way that is environmentally sustainable.

For Christians to set free the ‘power of reconciliation’ they therefore need to be willing to act as God’s instruments of reconciliation both by engaging in evangelism and by promoting the common good in the ways just described. As they do this they will engage with people with a whole range of different opinions and to do this successfully it will be helpful for them to make use of the range of approaches to navigating differences and resolving conflicts which The Power of Reconciliation describes. 

However, in the face of differences of opinion, however strongly held, encouraging people to disagree well is not sufficient. What is needed, and what Christians therefore have to work and pray for, is not persistence in disagreement, but growth in agreement in accordance with the will of God: ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.’ (Ephesians 4:13)

[1] Justin Welby, The Power of Reconciliation (London: Bloomsbury Continuum, 2022).  The page reference in this review refer to the Kindle edition.

[2] C S Lewis, The Great Divorce (Glasgow: Fontana, 1972) p. 41.

[3] In the paragraphs that follow I draw on material I wrote for the 2010 House of Bishops’ paper Living thankfully before God: Living fairly before each other (London: The Archbishops’ Council 2010).

[4] C S Lewis , The Last Battle (Harmondsworth: Puffin, 1968), p.165.

[5] See The Catechism of the Catholic Church (London: Geoffrey Chapman

[6] As Oliver O’Donovan has argued a just war is the extraordinary exercise of this normal governmental role, see

Oliver O’Donovan, The Just War Revisited (Cambridge: CUP, 2003).