MACARTAN 1500 - The Diocese of Clogher celebrates

Archbishop speaks of the Christian response to conflict

The Archbishop of York lecturingOver 200 people from within the diocese and the wider community assembled in the Cathedral Hall, Enniskillen to hear the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu deliver a lecture on "Christianity and Conflict". The Rector of Enniskillen, Precentor Brian Courtney welcomed those assembled, and Bishop Michael Jackson welcomed Dr Sentamu, speaking warmly of his visit to the diocese thus far.

Dr Sentamu began by noting that the response of Jesus to conflict "is one of non-violence, but this does not mean that it is not confrontational. His truth and integrity confronts inhumanity and challenges it. Jesus’ immediate followers were relentlessly persecuted for 300 years. Those who have tended to say they are following Jesus but don’t follow this non-violent path are not following in the tradition of Jesus. But non-violence does not remove us from the arena of conflict."

Furthermore, the Archbishop stated, "conflict is inevitable as people interact with one another. They come with different experiences, expectation and interests that have to be lived with or resolved in everyday life. The important issue is not whether or not there is conflict, but how the conflict is handled. Christians sometimes think that all conflict is to be avoided and that harmony must reign. But this is not a scriptural view; it is more of a personal subjective view born of unsatisfactory handling of conflict. Conflict is not only inevitable ; constructive conflict can be invaluable in strengthening character and deepening understanding."

He identified particular areas where conflict exists: in group situations and institutions, within communities, marriage and family life, and also internal conflict, whether due to a need for love, unconditional acceptance, personal value and affirmation or the Christian's spiritual journey into personal holiness.

Considering the various historic responses of the Christian faith to the surrounding culture, the Archbishop asked, "How do we find our way through the maze of possibilities, of conflicts, of fears and of choices?"

"The answer for me" he said, "is supplied by the world view of the Bible."

He looked at four 'frames' in the Scriptures, the first being Creation. "The idea that God created all things good and that all people are made in his image and likeness is the proper answer to bigotry. . . As St Paul put it in Colossians 3:11, Christ has broken down all the barriers of race, culture, masculine domination and social class. This in itself is a return to the original creation."

Thus he concluded; "Our cultural identity and difference must be balanced with a clear understanding of a shared humanity and membership of one world. We need other human beings to help us be human. We are made for interdependence, for complementarity. We are made for family, the human family, God’s family."

The second ‘Frame’ of the world is its Corruption through humanity turning its back on its Creator. "For humanity to continue enjoying the benefit of God’s creation it had to live in complete dependence upon its Creator; and God planned humanity’s dependence to be a beautiful relationship of love between the creature and its loving Creator. Humanity rejected God’s love and rebelled against its Maker’s instructions."

This rebellion, he said, "had two tragic consequences. First, this turning back on the Creator brought a barrier between us and God, and in spite of our spiritual hunger, we have no knowledge and experience of God until God reveals himself to us (I Corinthians 1&2)"

"The second consequence is that our world was brought under the control of evil and God’s Kingdom of light became Satan’s Kingdom of darkness - full of evil, sin, suffering, sickness and so on."

Looking at the story of the Fall in Genesis 3, the Archbishop noted, "Human responsibility must be understood as independent of circumstances. To make excuses by saying ‘the serpent beguiled me’ or that’ my help-mate enticed me’, is to belittle our Creator who made us in His image and gave us the responsibility for our lives and for His environment. The ability to accept responsibility is the measure of man and woman. What the Genesis story invites us to consider is the truth that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty. And, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, that “you can’t escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” If people concentrated on their responsibilities, others would have their rights."

The third ‘Frame’ Dr Sentamu explored is the Reconciliation of the world by God in his willingness to die for it and not get love squeezed out.

He explained, "I have learnt that the only way I can really die to destructive attitudes in myself is by maintaining a balance between really knowing God and loving him day by day and yet knowing humanity’s needs and humanity’s agonies and humanity’s loneliness (John 17:14-20). . . We must take extra care in the way in which we handle the world and the people in it."

He cited the struggle against terrorism as an example: "So the challenge before us in the law – as it is before the USA and our own country and the allies in their fight against terrorism – is what is to be done beyond punishment to make any such punishment more than revenge? The law provides the power to respond to any given crime. But how is power to be used as restoration. As a society, and indeed as a world, we are bound up together, and it’s in our own interest that harmony is restored. But the hardest thing of all is to deliver restorative justice to the perpetrator, and at the same time stand side by side with the victims."

"People will never find their true oneness until they find their oneness in God.", he added.

The fourth and final ‘Frame’ is a picture of a New World when the kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our God and of his Christ: "This present world is temporary, it is passing away. We must not therefore get tied up with it (Galatians 6:14). Destructive attitudes are given room to grow if one forgets the transitory nature of this world."

Recalling the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda, he warned against the tempation of "thinking that the utopian dream of a classless, culture-free society is achievable by his own militant actions and words. Overtly objectionable attitudes and actions may be overcome temporarily but only to be replaced by more subtle and pernicious ones."

Looking at issues of human rights, the Archbishop stated: "Human beings are of infinite worth intrinsically and human rights accrue to each one precisely and only because they are a human person. And from a religious perspective, if you treat yourself or others treat you as less than a stand-in for God, then it isn’t just wrong, it isn’t just evil, it isn’t just painful as it frequently is for the victim: it’s blasphemy, for it is like spitting in the face of God. Put less religiously, it is like spitting in the face of humanity."

"Our cultural identity and difference must be balanced with a clear understanding of a shared humanity and membership of one world. We need other human beings to help us be human. We are made for interdependence, for complementarity.

"Rights of individuals accrue to all human beings individually because these rights are intrinsic to every single human being. People like me would say the worth of each individual is infinite because each one is a God-carrier, having been created in the image of God."

He invited his hearers to take up the challenge: "Today we possess sufficient economic, cultural, and spiritual resources to introduce a better global order, but old and new ethnic, national, social, economic, and religious tensions threaten the peaceful building of a better world." and he quoted the words of Martin Luther King, " 'We shall have to repent in this generation, not so much for the evil deeds of the wicked people, but for the appalling silence of the good people'."

"My plea," he said, "is that we must combine justice and might, and to this end we must then make what is just strong, or what is strong just."

He finished by reminding his hearers of the challenge of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount - a call to be people who are expectant, to be people of commitment and compassion and a call to unassuming ways of working.

"Christianity and Conflict"

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© 2006 The Church of Ireland Diocese of Clogher