[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Sunday, 12 October, 2003, 11:53 GMT 12:53 UK
A faith divided?
On 12 October 2003, Sir David Frost interviewed Archbishop Greg Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone and Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, Primate of Southern Africa

Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used.

Archbishop Greg Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone
Archbishop Greg Venables, Primate of the Southern Cone

DAVID FROST: Leaders of the Anglican Church will this week try to overcome their divisions - not easy on the subject of gay clergy and in particular gay bishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury has summoned the 38 primates, or senior bishops, from around the world to Lambeth Palace for a crisis meeting.

So what are the chances of agreeing a common line? I spoke to the Anglican leader in South America, as he prepared to fly to Britain from Argentina, and I asked him - Bishop Greg he likes to be known as - what had brought the church to this point.

ARCHBISHOP VENABLES: Well I think what we're talking about, first of all, is Christianity. And what's happened is that over the last century a new version of Christianity has evolved - a post-modern, relativistic Christianity. Now most of Anglicans throughout the world live in the south. The average Anglican today is below the age of 25, he's dark skinned and he lives in the southern hemisphere.

And he believes Christianity as Christianity was believed when the prayer book was written. A Christianity that believes that God is the creator, that he's made us in his image and that the whole world needs to be saved and rescued from its sin by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Now as this new version has evolved over the 20th century, so a conflict has set up, which has so far been contained but now at the present moment it's coming to open conflict and people are going to have to decide whether they go for traditional Christianity or for this modern, relativistic Christianity.

DAVID FROST: And if the primates' meeting goes for the traditional form of Christianity, then the American church, if it maintains its position on the bishopric of New Hampshire, has to be, as it were, ex-communicated.

ARCHBISHOP VENABLES: It's a strong word isn't it? But what we're saying is that they've already stepped out. There was a vote in 1998 which said that marriage was God's option for human sexuality. Eighty-three per cent of the bishops voted for that. Seven voted against. Therefore the position of the Anglican communion is that we are traditionalists. When the American church took this decision, they themselves were taking themselves out of the Anglican communion. They were acting independently and saying that they weren't part of the communion. Therefore the decision was theirs. What we would love would be for them to step back in and come back to the true faith.

DAVID FROST: In other words, to come back by reversing its decision about New Hampshire?

ARCHBISHOP VENABLES: Well I don't think there's any way that what was done can be accepted. I suppose some might hope that we're going to say well it's been done, where do we go from here, and try and create some kind of synthesis. But reality says no, we have to go back and put it right. Which would involve repentance and then a way of seeing how we can go forward.

DAVID FROST: Rowan Williams has said he's not optimistic but he's hopeful that a split can be avoided. But it's going to be very difficult in the light of what you're saying.

ARCHBISHOP VENABLES: It would need a lot of goodwill. But the problem is, it isn't just to do with this present day situation. It's about two ships that have gradually moved apart over a long period of time and now one's going that way and one's going that way. And it's going to be very hard to change that. Rowan Williams has a very, very good grasp of the situation and he was right not to be optimistic.

DAVID FROST: I suppose there could be an attempt to kick it into the long grass - have a committee to report in a year's time or something - but you think it's gone too far for that.

ARCHBISHOP VENABLES: I sense that he will want to hold the church onto its original course, as Jesus Christ set it out at the beginning. A church which has Jesus as the head and which is trying to communicate the gospel of love and reconciliation to the world.

And what we're all praying is that we can get through this difficult situation and get back to real job of the church which is doing that, sharing God's love and goodness with a world that really needs to hear about it. I think the general feeling of at least the global south is that we can't wait any longer. We've got to declare what the Christian faith is.

And if we keep waiting we're going to say well look we're not sure. And the truth is that the leaders of the global south are sure that Christianity is very, very clear on this issue and there's no need to say well look we've got to think about it again. We know what the score is, we've thought about it and we want to go with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, Primate of Southern Africa
Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, Primate of Southern Africa

DAVID FROST: Well we're covering the globe here this morning - we like to do that for you when we can - and the Archbishop of Cape Town will also be at this week's meeting in London. He joins me now from Australia, where I gather he's in fact been watching some of the rugby as well. Is that true Archbishop?

ARCHBISHOP NDUNGANE: That's definitely true. But I'm going to miss the match between the Springboks and England, which is scheduled for next week which I'd hoped to attend, because I have to come to London.

DAVID FROST: Yes, indeed, you have to come Archbishop Ndungane is one of the key primates because of his power of Africa and so on. Could you hear there what the Archbishop - Bishop Greg - was saying?

ARCHBISHOP NDUNGANE: I did. I did indeed hear him.

DAVID FROST: And you probably didn't agree with him.

ARCHBISHOP NDUNGANE: Well the point is trying to solve complex and difficult issues of our world today is not solved by ultimatums or by talking at each other, but rather by listening to one and another, listening empathetically and listening to our, with our hearts. I think fragmentation is not the way of God. The way of God is that of unity and that you must seek by all means to sustain and maintain the creative diversity, modelled on the nature of God, of which it has been a major characteristic of our church as Anglican communion.

DAVID FROST: And do you think there is any hope? It sounds listening to you and listening to Bishop Greg, common ground is going to be very difficult to find isn't it?

ARCHBISHOP NDUNGANE: Well we have been through this curve before when we were dealing with the issue of the ordination of women. These noises were made and under God we found a way of moving forward, through setting up an Eames commission which guided us on how to deal with this issue that was very divisive - still is in our church.

DAVID FROST: And so could there be - I mean actually Rowan Williams has touched on this - do you think the result of this week could be a split? Two different, a fundamentalist, evangelical Church of England and a post-modernist Church of England, or can you still, can you live in the same church?

ARCHBISHOP NDUNGANE: I - I - yes I still hope it can. I think that there are two major principles here. There's the whole question of governance, in the Anglican communion, and in particular it arises out of the, the way, the processes in which the ecumenical - the Anglican Church - in the USA conducts its business. In fact it's got one of the most transparent and democratic processes when it comes to the election of bishops. I think this challenges that. And I think the second one is about human sexuality.

I chaired the ... that dealt with this issue at Lambeth '98, and sixty bishops spent two weeks debating this issue, disagreeing and praying with one another and for one another and they found one another and said we are not of one mind on this, some say this, some say that, there's a lot we do not know, we have to get on with the business of discussion and dialogue on this issue. So it won't go away even if other people desire to move away from us, but the fact is that is not the way of resolving complex and difficult problems of our day. And as leaders of the church we need to lead by example. We live in a world where there's conflict and some of us are called to be mediators in this conflict. We try to urge people to find common ground.

So I do hope that God in his mercies and by his grace will urge the leaders of the Anglican Church to move away from the precipice and stick to dialogue and find a way in which we can sustain and maintain this creative diversity which has been characteristic of Anglicanism throughout the centuries.

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail address:

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific