Absences at Lausanne
Posted by Iwan Russell Jones on 26 October 2010, 11:02
TUESDAY 26 OCTOBER – I met Lindsay Brown, the International Director of the Congress, for lunch yesterday and we talked about the absence of any reference to apartheid at the Congress. He told me that there were all sort of negotiations and rows going on behind the scenes on a number of issues.
In this instance the local South African black Christian leadership had asked specifically that there be no mention of the racial struggle since they feel it’s over and they want to move on. They opposed any invitation to Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the grounds that he would use the occasion to attack evangelicals for their stance on homosexuality.
Personally, I think this is far too big an issue to have allowed the local leadership to exercise such a veto. Evangelicalism as a whole needs to face up to the implications of a historical development that has happened in the world since the last Lausanne Congress in Manila in 1989. But even allowing for the local leadership’s views, it still doesn’t explain why none of the main speakers chose even to refer to apartheid as a case study when they were dealing with such relevant themes as ‘Truth’, ‘Reconciliation’, and ‘Integrity’.
The concerns about Desmond Tutu’s involvement highlight another absence in the conference programme. As far as I can see there was no discussion anywhere in the main schedule of the issue of homosexuality. Again, there are all kinds of sensitivities on this among African Christians, but given its importance as an issue within Western culture, and its massive implications for the future of the mainline denominations – especially the Anglican Communion – it’s incomprehensible that it could be excluded.
Evangelicals can’t bury their heads in the sand. We have to keep talking about our understanding of human sexuality, however difficult and painful it may be.
I believe there are some other major fault lines running through evangelicalism which barely surfaced in Cape Town, but will have to be dealt with head on sooner or later. One of these is the ministry of women. Cape Town 2010 did strive to be inclusive, and I think it was great that Ruth Padilla DeBorst gave one of the morning Bible expositions.
As far as I’m concerned, her contribution was one of the very best and demonstrated why women’s leadership in the church must be accepted and honoured. But there was, apparently, some serious arm-wrestling and unpleasantness behind the scenes at her inclusion. This has to be discussed openly.
Another issue is that of eschatology. Our doctrine of the last things can’t be kept in isolation, tucked away to be discussed only in relation to the final events of history. It works its way back, as it should, into every aspect of our theology, even into our understanding of the first things – the very meaning and purpose of creation.
I was struck by how little reference there was to Christian Zionism in Lausanne III, and in many ways, given how many believers there were from the Middle East, that was a very good thing. However, fundamental differences about the end times were at work in many of our discussions – especially with regard to fulfilling the Great Commission – and these need to be addressed explicitly.
I’m on my way back to Wales today. Lausanne III has been a unique experience and I feel massively privileged to have taken part. It’s challenged me in my own Christian faith and with respect to the seriousness with which I take the mission of Jesus Christ. The slogan of this movement is an excellent one: The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world. It’s going to take me weeks – maybe months – to reflect on all that’s happened here, and its implications for my life.
Photo: Lausanne Movement