I greatly respect the theology of NT Wright, Bishop of Durham, although I don’t claim to understand all of it. I have referred to it several times, mostly positively, on this blog.
However, a letter from Dr Vinay Samuel reported by Anglican Mainstream alleges a different side to Wright’s character. Samuel, a well respected Indian theologian and evangelical Anglican, is a director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life. In his letter Samuel was responding to a commentary by Wright in the Church Times, which can be read here. In this article Wright attacks the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), concerning which he refers to
the small group represented by Chris Sugden, Martyn Minns, and Peter Jensen. It is clear that they are the prime movers and drafters, making a mockery of Canon Sugden’s claim … that GAFCON is about rescuing the Churches from Western culture.
Samuel responds firmly to this. He writes that Wright
has suggested in particular that that this whole movement is now following the lead and the agenda of three white men, Bishop Martyn Minns, Archbishop Peter Jensen and Canon Chris Sugden.
I am part of the leadership team of this movement. I have known and worked with Archbishops Akinola, Kolini, Mtetemela, Nzimbi and Orombi and Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali for many years. I have to say that if the scenario were as BishopWright imagines it to be, neither I nor any leader of Christians in the non-western world who have stood for years for the identity, selfrespect and dignity of Christians from the “global south” and their right to self-theologise and organise their own networks independent of influence from the former metropolitan centres of power, would have anything to do with it.
I have worked for years in global Christian networks, and more recently in theglobal corporate world. In these two worlds, the equal partnership and interaction of people from different cultures and economic backgrounds is a daily reality. If there were any sniff of cultural superiority that assumed that the involvement of white people meant that they would inevitably take the leadership role, or exercise dominant power, these movements would have died. Those who display that spirit have no place in the new global realities. That spirit is one of the reasons for the demise of the British Empire.
To see GAFCON primarily as a product of manipulation and power-play is an offence to those who lead Churches with millions of members faithful to the Christian faith and growing in the midst of the most difficult challenges in the world. What drives them is the desire to continue to make the gospel relevant and accessible to a needy world. This is the motivation behind the calling of this global gathering. This same gospel encourages them to believe that the relationships between people of different cultures can be transformed from power-play to partnership.
Samuel closes by referring to
the spirit of cultural superiority that marks Bishop Wright’s article.
Strong words indeed!
The best that I can say in Wright’s defence is that he was educated in a British public school system which in the 1960s still operated under the assumption that white men, indeed the very class of white boys it was educating, had a natural right to rule the world. It is hard for someone like Wright to shake off these presuppositions formed in his childhood. Archbishop Rowan Williams may have been brought up with similar presuppositions, but concerning him Samuel writes:
It is my hope that his superior distances himself from the spirit evidenced in Bishop Wright’s remarks.