A City set on a Hill: The Mission of the Church in changed times
Speaker: Lord Carey of Clifton (then Archbishop of Canterbury)
Monday, 17th June 2002 at 6:15 PM
It is a great pleasure and honour for me to be with you this evening to deliver the annual 'One People Oration' - following as I do a distinguished line of previous speakers.
It is also a special joy to be delivering this lecture as part of a series of 'Jubilee Reflections' here at Westminster Abbey. Actually, my own reflections this evening are not about our much-loved Monarch - I have been privileged to say something on that subject in another great church recently. But they are linked to the understanding of Jubilee that we have from Scripture and the celebration of God's love for humanity.
It was when I read Simon Schama's wonderful book Landscape and Memory some years ago that I became fully aware of the importance of landscape for our identity and historical journey as human beings. It was fascinating to discover that Simon Schama and I shared the same geographical roots. Indeed, the skyline of Southend with its colourful pier and the Thames estuary, both of which he evokes so powerfully, filled my childhood imagination also.
Ever since reading that book I have paid much more attention to the changing images of landscape and skyline, especially to the changes that humankind has imposed on nature. No doubt each one of us has his or her favourite skyline - whether it is Paris, London, Hong Kong or New York.
For myself, the view of the skyline of New York from a plane landing at La Guardia Airport is one of the most majestic I have ever seen. Dominating it until last autumn were, of course, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, with their bold statements about power and wealth. The shattering attack on those soaring symbols of Western capitalism last September 11th not only altered radically the skyline of New York, it also made us more aware than we have ever been, I suspect, of our vulnerability to sudden and unpredictable change. Suddenly, what had seemed immovable was gone. The skyline and so much else had altered beyond recognition. The landscape had become memory.
But the title of my address also evokes another skyline. The phrase, 'A City Set On A Hill', comes directly from Christ's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. It reflects the practice of building towns and cities on hilltops for strategic reasons so that approaching armies could be spotted in good time and a defensive strategy prepared.
But Jesus makes of the skyline an unusual metaphor for belief and behaviour. His followers should not be motivated by defensive and self-protective concerns, but rather should be like a shining city whose bright lights are clearly visible in the darkness for miles around. 'You are the light of the world' Christ had already told his followers. They were not to hide the truth, but rather to bear confident witness to it.
In a rapidly changing and highly unpredictable world, that challenge can be a daunting one, but it is one from which Christians cannot and must not shrink. In times of darkness, the light must shine forth brightly.
Some years ago, the American writer Alvin Toffler, in considering the human dynamics of rapid change, coined the phrase 'future shock'. According to Toffler, 'future shock' is the 'shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.'
And perhaps it would not be exaggerating to say that the past decade or so has been 'future shock' inducing. Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the apartheid regime in South Africa - both of which had seemed all too permanent - have suddenly collapsed. Those are shocks that, though stressful and disorientating for many, we can and do welcome. But many of the other recent 'shocks' have not been causes for celebration or rejoicing. Despite optimistic predictions to the contrary, warfare and violent unrest have continued to be the cruel fate of nations and peoples - in the Balkans, in the Middle East, in Africa and Asia. In a time of plenty, famine and hunger stalk parts of the globe. In the wake of warfare and want, we are witnessing massive displacements of people, seeking a safer and more secure place to rebuild shattered and vulnerable lives.
Some of them do so in developed societies like our own. But here too, many people feel that the instability and unpredictability of their lives are in danger of overwhelming them. Crime and drugs, pollution and waste, the erosion of a sense of solidarity and community are among the symptoms that lead some to conclude that at heart we are an insecure, dissatisfied and unhappy people.
Although some of us are better at dealing with it than others, we often view the prospect of change with trepidation and dread. Just when we seem to have found a comfort zone, life throws something new at us, something that challenges our sense of who and where we are. In such circumstances, the temptation can be to withdraw - to focus constantly inward and never outward. Like turtles, we try to take cover in our shells, hoping that we can avoid the pain and anxiety of change. We become wilfully short-sighted. Our vision narrows.
The Church knows these dangers too. It is all too easy and tempting for us to want to withdraw, to shrink away from the daunting challenges of a dramatically changed and changing world. There are times, of course, when the Church needs to look inward and to examine itself, but only so as to strengthen her capacity for mission.
Perhaps no change - or images of change - have in recent times struck us with greater force and immediacy, or been more shocking, than those terrible events on September 11th last year. They impacted on both of the kinds of landscape I described in my introduction - the physical landscape of Manhattan of course, but also upon the landscape of the human spirit. And inevitably for those who lost loved ones, friends and relations that impact was all the more devastating.
My lecture this evening carries the subtitle 'The Mission of the Church in Changed Times'. And in the wake of September 11th, I want to focus on three particular challenges for that mission to which I think September 11th has given new edge and fresh urgency. They are the challenge of globalisation, the challenge of relations between different faiths, and the challenge of secularisation. And as I look at each of these areas I shall be seeking to find pointers to a Christian response in my own experience over the last eleven-and-a-half years as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Let me begin with globalisation. I could spend the rest of my time with you this evening - and a good bit more I imagine - trying to find an all-encompassing definition of this great buzzword - and even then be quite likely to fail! But it is clearly based, in many minds, in the world of economics. This is an approach that centres the meaning of globalisation in the development of a global economy built on Western capitalist lines. That certainly appears to have been part of what the perpetrators of the attacks on September 11th seem to have thought they were targeting in New York. They apparently saw globalisation as an imperial attempt to remake the world in the image of Wall Street.
A Christian response to the challenges of globalisation will want to focus more on the moral than the supposedly imperial, I suspect. But it will certainly not shy away from the economic impact of globalisation. Indeed when the bishops of the worldwide Anglican Communion met for the 1998 Lambeth Conference, it was globalisation of the market economy that they identified as 'the greatest single new force shaping the world.'
So what should we make of this new force? Well, we should certainly be cautious about concluding that globalisation is irredeemably and fatally flawed. Indeed, it has already brought many benefits to some of the poorer nations - for example, through direct foreign investment. Nevertheless, we have to recognise that rich and poor nations are not competing on a level playing field. Indeed, the very interconnectedness that globalisation offers through the liberalisation of trade, the power of the Internet and free movement of currency may lead to new forms of fragmentation and exclusion. Poor nations with inadequate infrastructures and limited educational and health resources are likely to struggle to compete in sophisticated and rapidly moving market conditions. That goes some way to explaining why an estimated one-third of the world's population is so far reaping no tangible benefit from globalisation.
Globalisation, therefore, cannot wave a supposedly magic wand of market forces that automatically and equally benefits all. Like any other human tool or process, it may be used for good or ill. It is up to us to use it wisely and well.
And that leads me to believe that the Christian imperative to look first and foremost to the needs of the poor must be a focal point of the mission of the Church in responding to the changes that globalisation brings.
In my time as Archbishop I have seen many examples round our increasingly globalised world of that challenge being met - examples that should inspire and give hope for the future. Let me offer you just two examples of the Church in action on behalf of the most vulnerable.
First, I recall a visit to Brazil where I was shown a huge rubbish tip in the city of Recife. In that awful environment, hundreds of destitute people - children as well as adults - had been living off whatever they could find - including I was told human remains dumped there from a nearby hospital. An Anglican priest stirred by the plight of these people moved her home there and started a small church among the 'rubbish people' as they were called. Over the years she has helped them reclaim their dignity; she has brought them education and health care - in fact, during my visit I was asked to dedicate a dentist's chair! That woman priest has also helped them to find homes and jobs - indeed some 400 people work in the recycling business that she helped to set up.
I think too of South Africa where grinding poverty combined with the frightful scourge of HIV/AIDS is causing such human devastation. We visited a Church-run orphanage in Durban, caring for babies and children under five with the AIDS virus. There we held in our arms lovely looking babies, many of whom had just a few months to live. It was the only home of its kind in the city.
So the Church will not, so to speak, be done out of a job in its work amongst the poor by globalisation. But this does not mean that the Church is simply there to help pick up the pieces.
Which brings me to the second way in which the Church should respond: the Church should play its part in ensuring the right checks and balances are brought to bear on globalisation.
I believe we should be working in critical solidarity with the international institutions tasked with regulating global capitalism, rather than writing them off as irretrievably serving the interests of the rich nations. And we know from experience that we can make a difference. The Jubilee 2000 campaign to cancel unpayable third world debt, in which the Churches played a crucial role, demonstrated that clearly.
In this connection, I want to applaud the contribution towards the needs of poorer nations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, and the International Development Secretary, Clare Short - and their commitment to meeting the target of halving world poverty by the year 2015. Their appreciation of the role of the Churches has led to a significant partnership, which is beginning to bear much fruit for those most in need.
In the same way, the Churches can and should contribute to the developing debate about fair trade. And this does not just mean issues about market conditions; it also points towards dangers concerning the environment and sustainable development. We will not really be serving the needs of those we most seek to help if the resources on which they depend for their livelihood are damaged or destroyed in the process.
Against that backdrop, let me highlight briefly the World Faiths Development Dialogue, a body I have helped to set up with the President of the World Bank, Jim Wolfensohn. WFDD involves no fewer than nine major religions. It seeks to mobilise and share the huge potential of faith community networks in helping to create more secure, stable and sustainable living and working conditions for communities at risk. It is still a small body - but it does, I believe, point in a positive direction.
Mention of other faiths leads me naturally to the second challenge I have identified as important for the mission of the Church, in the wake of September 11th. That is how different faiths and faith communities are going to relate to one another in the years to come.
If you were to believe some of the negative rhetoric of last September, you would be forced to conclude that, so far as Christianity and Islam are concerned, the answer is 'with great difficulty'. But that is not, I am pleased to say, my answer. I have already acknowledged that the challenge of better inter-faith relations is a real one - but it is one on which progress has been made and will continue to be made. Let me explain how I have approached these issues in my time in office.
If I had been told in 1991, when I became Archbishop of Canterbury, that inter-faith matters would be a major focus of my work, I would have been very surprised indeed. But that is precisely what has happened - and I welcome that trend.
I believe we have witnessed two significant developments: firstly, the growth of the range and rooted-ness of other faith-communities in developed countries such as our own; and secondly and separately, a worrying rise in violent religious extremism in parts of the world.
I would suggest that the first of these developments can be a very positive and enriching experience on all sides. Where countries experience the harmonious integration of ethnic and faith communities, all may benefit from a discovery of shared values, as well as the opportunity to explore the treasures of other cultures and the insights and experiences that they offer.
I have argued consistently that our own society should be welcoming and supportive towards newcomers of different faiths. Equally, I have called for a similarly generous attitude to be shown towards Christian communities wherever they exist as minorities around the world. Though we have seen advances and I expect more, there are still too many places where Christians are not free to practise and share their faith openly or to build churches and schools.
The second trend, violent extremism in the name of religion, must be of major concern to us all. It is a phenomenon not restricted to any one tradition, and there are few signs that it is diminishing. Certainly some of the ingredients that serve to feed it - anger, envy and despair - are not in short supply. This can create a situation in which a message of religious certainty can mix dangerously with a feeling of exclusion, a sense of having nothing to lose and the demonising of the West. The consequences can be devastating.
So how can this extremist challenge be met? Crucially, the overwhelming majority in all religions who reject this violent barbarism must redouble our commitment to greater mutual understanding. This is not a new process, but I think we all appreciate its urgency.
As Archbishop of Canterbury I am currently engaged in three distinct initiatives in Muslim-Christian dialogue alone, which in the long term should make a serious contribution to peaceful and respectful co-existence.
The first initiative, which has developed with the direct and personal encouragement of the Prime Minister, led to a significant international Christian-Muslim dialogue at Lambeth Palace in January. His support reflects I believe the seriousness with which politicians are now taking the presence of religious issues in conflict resolution. The Lambeth seminar was deliberately a gathering of theologians and scholars of both communities, in the belief that if one can focus scholarly attention on the roots of religious extremism, one may be able to challenge 'bad religion' from within the integrity of one's faith.
A second initiative involves the Grand Imam of Al-Alzhar Al-Sharif in Cairo, Dr Tantawi, who is recognised within worldwide Sunni Islam as the leading authority in religious scholarship. We have met several times and from this personal encounter, friendship and serious discussion, a deepening dialogue between Al Alzhar and the Anglican Communion has evolved.
The third initiative focuses on Muslim-Christian relations in England. Led by the Bishop of Aston, John Austin, a group of Christians and Muslims is visiting a number of cities where there are significant Muslim communities, to hear their thoughts and those of the churches. The hope is that in time we can create a national framework for Muslim-Christian dialogue to support and help co-ordinate the many local initiatives.
It may have struck you that the three examples I have given all refer to dialogue with Muslims, which has quite properly been the main focus recently. But in various different ways there are also opportunities for meeting and dialogue with representatives of the Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and other communities. And in this context I want to pay tribute to the tireless contribution of the Inter Faith Network.
I am aware though that this commitment to dialogue may actually have an unsettling effect in some quarters. But no one should suppose it involves any weakening of my allegiance to the Church of England - nor is it a bland or unthinking pursuit of the lowest common denominator. As I argued in my Enthronement Sermon over eleven years ago, commitment to inter-faith dialogue does not require the loss of our own distinctive identity. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I believe one may be, as I am, thoroughly committed to bearing witness to the unique claims of Jesus Christ and yet at ease with friends and neighbours of different faiths, who hold their beliefs with the same degree of conviction as I do.
It is my contention that a host faith should offer hospitality to other faiths. In this way not only will the quality of our dialogue improve, but through dialogue we shall also be able to do more for the common good and for the resolution of confrontation and conflict in areas where religion and politics are intertwined.
One such setting, of course, is the Holy Land. It is a region in which religious commitment might be seen to set people apart, rather than bring them together. But I am convinced it can be a significant part of the solution to the problems of separation and misunderstanding. Last autumn I was asked by both Jews and Muslims to help bring together the religious leadership of the Holy Land. The aim was to find a way for Muslims, Jews, and Christians to hold a conversation that might in time contribute towards a political settlement.
In January, more than twenty religious leaders met in Alexandria in Egypt, where we heard accounts of violence and destruction, persecution and fear, exclusion and rejection. Yet there was still hope, and a desire to co-exist in peace with neighbours. It was sobering to discover that several of the distinguished Rabbis and Sheikhs live within ten miles of one another but had never met. To our joy, and not a little surprise, we were able to conclude an unprecedented agreement - the First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land.
This agreement pledges all sides to work to end the violence and bloodshed, and to seek to live together as neighbours, respecting the integrity of each other's historical and religious inheritance. The Holy Land, the Declaration reminds us, is Holy to all three of our faiths.
Since January, the commitment of the participants has been sorely tested by the spiral of violence and reprisal, and I cannot pretend that we have stemmed the bloodshed. But in the short term, the Alexandria process has at least enabled people of influence to talk and to remain in contact - despite all that continues to drive them apart.
It is clear that suicide bomb attacks have made Israelis still more doubtful of the Palestinian commitment to peace. At the same time, a war of attrition has been waged against the leadership of the Palestinian Authority - with the terms of engagement sometimes seeming to have as much to do with revenge as coherent policy. Yasser Arafat's authority has been challenged, but so has his ability to control the various radical factions.
While the extreme complexity of the historical realities and the bitterness of memories make us all cautious of offering solutions, giving hope to both sides must be central to reconciliation. Religious leaders have a particular role in the Holy Land to speak for and to their communities in the name of God, and we share enough of our inheritance to do this across traditional divides. Together we can, and must, call people to transcend the hurts of the past, to break the cycle of human wrongdoing, and to work together in specific and practical ways.
For Israel there must be firm commitments that its right to exist in peace and security is fully recognised by all its regional neighbours. For Palestinians, a moral obligation must be honoured, ensuring that they are afforded the same right in a Palestinian state.
There is a long way to go, of course, and the road is made longer when hope and trust are assailed on all sides. But I am sure that the Alexandria process has a part to play in the search for peace in the Middle East.
In more general terms, it also suggests that faith communities and leaders working together may be able to achieve things that politicians and diplomats alone cannot. That is an understanding we need to develop.
My third and final challenge highlighted by September 11th is secularisation. I said earlier that none of these challenges was invented by the events of last autumn - and that is especially the case when it comes to the challenge posed by a secular understanding of the world. Indeed, it is a challenge that we have been wrestling with for decades, even centuries. But once again September 11th gives it new currency. The rhetoric of the terrorists and their supporters was that the West was corrupt and decadent - principally as a result of a pervasive godlessness. The implication was that Christianity has capitulated to the forces of secularism.
While I would certainly like more people in Britain and the West to come to life-transforming faith - indeed that challenge has been and remains central to my life's work - I take issue with some of the assumptions underlying this crude caricature of our twenty-first century society and culture.
For example, I am uneasy when diminishing Sunday Church attendance is offered as proof of the so-called triumph of secularism in this country. The Church of England certainly has less people attending Sunday worship than fifty years ago, but in my experience its contribution to the nation and the life of our communities - be it in education or in support of the needy, the marginalised and the rejected in our society - is no less committed, no less effective and no less appreciated. The work of organisations like the Church Urban Fund over the last decade or so is just one example of this.
In her recently-published book, Europe: The Exceptional Case, Grace Davie makes it clear that we must be careful not to use the term 'secular' too glibly or simplistically. She concedes that clear religious institutional allegiance has declined in Western Europe. Yet she finds little evidence that faith itself has fallen away significantly, only that people now believe without belonging. Although many Europeans have ceased to connect with religious institutions in any active sense, they have not abandoned either their deep-seated religious aspirations or, in many cases, a latent sense of religious identification.
What has happened in Western Europe, she argues, is that voluntary organisations of all kinds have waned in influence and popularity. For example, allegiance to secular institutions like political parties and trade unions, she asserts, has diminished more dramatically than allegiance to the Churches.
So where does that understanding of the forces of secularisation leave the mission of the church? Let me suggest a few implications.
First, we Christians in the West must not lose our nerve. During my time in office, I have become more convinced than ever of the durability of the Christian faith and its deep relevance to life today. To give just one example from this country, I recall an amazing youth event, 'The Time of Our Lives', which brought over 4000 young people between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three to Lambeth Palace several years ago. I saw the joy in those young people and their enthusiasm for a Gospel that so clearly was important and fruitful in their lives.
But as Christians we must find new ways of connecting with those outside the structures of the Church. We can no longer expect people automatically to come to church of their own accord. Churches can and do grow, but we can no longer depend upon family loyalty, custom or tradition to provide the links that will lead young people to church. If we in the Church of England and other churches want to bring new generations to active Christian witness, we must use all the resources of faith, human ingenuity and pastoral care to reach out in love to those for whom Christ died. To use the jargon, we need to discover new ways of being church, while remaining faithful to the Gospel. The 'Springboard' initiative, which I have been pleased to sponsor, has done important and encouraging work in this field with parish clergy and lay people.
At the same time, we need to work harder still to bring churches closer together in the service of the Gospel. I believe relations between different denominations in this country are excellent - the Covenant, signed by Church leaders at Windsor in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen at the beginning of the month, reflects that fact. However, we still have a long way to go if we wish to find that unity which we know is God's will for us. If, in Western Europe, fewer people identify formally with Church institutions, this surely strengthens both the case for and the potential for greater co-operation between denominations.
Later this week, I shall be travelling to Rome for a final meeting as Archbishop with the Pope. It will be an opportunity for us to take stock of the progress that has been made in understanding between Roman Catholics and Anglicans in recent years.
Elsewhere, in my time as Archbishop, we have developed agreements with Protestant Churches in Scandinavia, Germany and France. It is clear that with increasing European integration, European churches need to find new ways of working together in common mission - and those of us on this side of the Channel must surely play our part in this.
Christendom and Europe may no longer be synonymous, but the Christian heritage of our continent is precious - it is the bedrock of the values and aspirations that have helped to shape our past and can best direct our future.
But Christianity, as I hope this address has illustrated, is also a flourishing global religion - in every corner of the modern world, people of all ages and all backgrounds continue to be inspired by the example and teachings of Jesus Christ and to answer His call.
They certainly did so in New York in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th.
A short distance from where the Twin Towers once dominated the Manhattan skyline stands St Paul's Chapel. It is one of the oldest churches in New York; George Washington used to worship there over two hundred years ago. Although the chapel was covered in a dense pall of dust and smoke on September 11th, it escaped the devastation virtually unscathed. Its remarkable survival has made it a special place of pilgrimage, and the railings in front of the chapel have been decked with messages and tokens by those who have come to 'Ground Zero' in recent months in their tens of thousands to mourn and to remember.
It has also served as a centre for fire fighters and emergency teams, with volunteers providing meals round the clock and a rudimentary place to rest on sleeping bags or on camp beds. It has been above all a place of support and sanctuary, a tangible sign of God's presence when 'tower and temple fall to dust.'
As the witness and example of St Paul's Chapel in New York reminds us so powerfully, the Church must continue to strive to live out its mission as a 'city set on a hill'. It has to remind us that no amount of change, no matter how frightening or painful it may be, can separate us from the love of God. For, it also points us towards that heavenly city, where the skyline will be eternal and indestructible. In the words of the hymn:
City of God, how broad and far
Outspread thy walls sublime...
In vain the surge's angry shock,
In vain the drifting sands;
Unharmed upon the eternal Rock
The eternal city stands