Witness Against Injustice, says Sentamu at Edinburgh Closer

Anglican Archbishop John Sentamu speaks at the closing celebration of Edinburgh 2010 held at Assembly Hall, the venue for the 1910 World Missionary Conference. (Photo: Gary Doak)

Already being hailed as a historic missionary gathering of its time, the Edinburgh 2010 conference concluded on Sunday with a call to witness against injustice, as delivered by the Archbishop of York John Sentamu.

"As leaders in mission, we must help our churches by acting prophetically, speaking out for freedom against injustice," Sentamu said, speaking to some 1,000 people in the Assembly Hall of the Church of Scotland. "Our forebears have done so in the past against slavery and more recently against apartheid, world debt and poverty. We must continue to speak out against injustice shown to asylum seekers and all in need."

"As we do this, we must remember that speaking prophetically is not the same as condemning other people's failures, but rather helping us all towards the acceptance of common goals which uplift the heart," he continued. "To help lift up the heart of a nation is an exciting challenge, and it is one which we can do together, because it is what God has called us to as part of our mission and discipleship."

Alluding to the gospel account of Peter's denial of Christ, Sentamu noted that, "Jesus today is on trial in the court of the world by our lips and lives. Jesus and his gospel are being judged."

"Human activity only begets human activity," he said. "The prophetic Word and the Spirit make us live."

Sentamu's words came at the conclusion of a June 2-6 conference that some are calling the most comprehensive mission gathering of the century.

Notably, the conference was also the centenary celebration of the historic 1910 World Missionary Conference (WMC) in Edinburgh that many regard as the beginning of the ecumenical movement.

Among the 1,500 participants were representatives from Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed, Methodist, Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Independent Christian traditions.

Ethnically, this year's conference was considerably more diverse than the 1910 one, where only one black African and nineteen Asians were in attendance.

But while the conference seemed to succeed in bringing together a multitude of faith traditions and races, some expressed desires to see more laypeople, rather than clergy and academics, at the event.

Vinoth Ramachandra, a Sri Lankan leader of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students, called this divide between clergy and laity a "blind spot" in contemporary church gatherings and a failure to realize that "the primary work of mission takes place in the daily lives of ordinary Christian men and women."

"The artificial boundary between clergy and laity needs to be deconstructed," Ramachandra said, adding that the essential thing in these times is that "boundaries of all kinds must be eroded."

The conference also saw some controversy surrounding its previous international director, South African-born Dr. Daryl Balia, who was barred from entering the event just days before its start due to his criticism of other conference organizers.

Balia's employer and conference co-organizer the University of Edinburgh is currently investigating the issue.

Despite the controversies, however, participants commended the ecumenical spirit of the conference, which was captured in writing in a "common call" adopted at the event's closure.

Seeking to renew an "urgency" towards Christian mission, the call opens with a challenge to believers to "witness and evangelism in such a way that we are a living demonstration of the love, righteousness and justice that God intends for the whole world."

"We believe the church, as a sign and symbol of the reign of God, is called to witness to Christ today by sharing in God's mission of love through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit," the call reads.

The document also reaffirms several pillars of the ecumenical movement, including interfaith dialogue, social justice, environmental care, and careful evaluation of power structures.

"Our approach is marked with bold confidence in the gospel message; it builds friendship, seeks reconciliation and practises hospitality," it says.

Furthermore, the call gives special notice to the universality of the Gospel across both ethnic and social barriers as well as generational ones, as God continues to call "children and young people to further the gospel."

"Hearing the call of Jesus to make disciples of all people – poor, wealthy, marginalised, ignored, powerful, living with disability, young, and old – we are called as communities of faith to mission from everywhere to everywhere," it says.

"[Christians] are challenged to welcome one another in our diversity, affirm our membership through baptism in the One Body of Christ, and recognise our need for mutuality, partnership, collaboration and networking in mission, so that the world might believe," the call concludes, adding that believers who walk the path should do so "joyfully, inspired, anointed, sent and empowered by the Holy Spirit."

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