MIDWEST CITY — The spiritual leader of the world’s 85 million Anglicans said humans are inherently violent but a redemptive God can bring transformation to the human heart.
Thursday, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, archbishop of Canterbury, said the Church must be committed to spreading the Christian gospel of peace and to view the tragedy of widespread violence not as the problem of someone else, but “our disease.”
“Without the intervention of God, human beings are lost,” Welby said at the “Reclaiming the Gospel for Peace” conference at the Reed Conference Center in Midwest City.
The event was hosted by the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma and the Episcopal Church USA, the American arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion led by Welby.
People from around the country gathered to hear from Welby and other clergy leaders as well as attend breakout sessions on a variety of topics including gun laws, domestic violence, crime and incarceration. Such topics were part of the conference’s overall aim to counter the increasing violence in America.
The Rt. Rev. Ed Konieczny, bishop of the Diocese of Oklahoma, said 220 clergy and laity from around the country were attending the conference, including 35 bishops. Konieczny said it was an honor to have both Welby, making his historic first visit to Oklahoma, and the Episcopal Church USA Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the gathering.
Konieczny and the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton, bishop of the Diocese of Maryland, opened the conference Wednesday. Church leaders said the conference grew out of conversations initiated by Sutton, who asked those in attendance to make the event a “condemnation-free zone” while discussing the hot topic of violence. Konieczny, for his part, joked that he is a “gun-toting bishop,” referring to his background as a longtime Southern California police officer and his belief in the right to bear arms.
Meanwhile, Welby’s keynote speech on Thursday morning and a subsequent news conference were two of the highlights of the conference. As archbishop of Canterbury, Welby is spiritual leader for about 85 million people, spread across 38 provinces in more than 165 countries.
Welby told those gathered that successfully combating violence requires sacrifice and making a “prophetic stand” — circumstances that made the “Reclaiming the Gospel for Peace” conference so important. He cautioned that there are no short cuts or cheap options in the quest to transform a culture hell-bent on violence.
Welby urged attendees to see the work ahead as a move toward reconciliation, which will require those involved to put aside tendencies to put people in categories such as “us” and “them.” He said the Church must come alongside both victims and perpetrators to share Christ’s message of love and see lives changed for the better. He said real reconciliation is never popular because people like having “someone to hate” but the Church must continue its efforts to spread a theological message of hope.
Several attendees said they were excited to see many of the topics discussed among a diverse group of clergy and laity.
“By talking about it from a theological perspective rather than a political one it adds another dimension to the conversation that’s not taking place in our culture,” said the Rev. Tim Baer, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church in Yukon.
Gun violence discussed
The Rev. Ramelle McCall, a priest from the Diocese of Maryland, shared similar sentiments.
“I think this is wonderful. I’m from East Baltimore and the gun violence in my city is random and senseless, so I’m just grateful that I, among others, can at least start the conversation about how can we facilitate the sociological schemes that trigger gun violence in our cities,” McCall said.
John Koons, of Oklahoma City, a parishioner of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, said combating violence around the country is an important issue for the faith community.
“It think it’s incredible for the church to look at this issue. That’s what we need to be doing,” he said.
The conference began Wednesday evening and continues through Friday, with Schori set to deliver the closing message during a worship service at 5:30 p.m. Friday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, 127 NW 7.