The [Lambeth] Conference begins with a couple of days’ retreat. Some critics have complained that Lambeth is too focused on prayer and reflection and not enough on decision-making; but I am bound to say that I regard this as an extraordinary thing to say about any Christian gathering ”“ as if we could make any decision worthy of the gospel without the utmost attention to listening together to God. I partly understand that some feel there may be an attempt to appeal to the need for prayer and reflection as an alibi for not grasping the nettles; but I would gently but firmly say that it is also possible to use a rhetoric about needing decisive action as an alibi for waiting on God. I simply pray that we’ll get the balance as right as we can.
I respect the consciences of those who have said they do not feel able to attend because there will be those present who have in their view acted against the disciplinary and doctrinal consensus of the communion. Needless to say, I regret such a decision, since I believe we should be seeking God’s mind for the Communion in prayer and study together; but it simply reminds us that even the most ‘successful’ Lambeth Conference leaves us with work still to be done in rebuilding relationships. The decision of some to be absent not only shows the deep differences over theology and ethics that have so strained our connections; it also reflects, uncomfortably for us, some of the legacy of hurt that is felt by some of our provinces at what is experienced as patronising or manipulative or insensitive actions and attitudes on the part of many of the churches of the ‘West’ or ‘North’ ”“ not only the Episcopal Church in the USA, but us as well. That’s hard to hear, but we have to hear it and to offer apologies and seek for better understanding. Lambeth can’t be the end of the story; and if at Lambeth we try to do proper justice to the idea of a Covenant, it must be in the light of that need for a more serious and profound mutuality between us all.
I’ve said in other contexts something about why all this matters; let me illustrate it by looking briefly at one particular situation. What I’ve just said about the legacy of bruised feelings and half-buried resentments is, of course, one of the things that so complicates our political, never mind our ecclesiastical, relationships with the post-colonial world. And nowhere is this more apparent than in Zimbabwe at the moment. A history scarred by exploitation and deep racial injustice can all too easily be used, as it has been there, to turn aside every criticism and even to refuse any proper help when a local regime has fallen victim to its own incompetence, corruption and self-delusion. It has been that much harder for many in this country to know how to respond to the needs of Zimbabwe for fear of simply reinforcing stereotypes of colonial patronage or misunderstanding. We have tried to take our cues from those on the ground locally who are seeking justice and change.