The Power of Reconciliation by Justin Welby (Bloomsbury, £14.29).

Later this month, Anglican bishops will convene at the University of Kent, Canterbury Cathedral and Lambeth Palace for the decennial Lambeth Conference. The Archbishops will discuss church, world affairs and their global mission for the next decade.

To coincide with the conference, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, has written a book, The Power of Reconciliation, which reframes reconciliation as “seeking to disagree well”. This timely book is a plea for peace at a time when intolerance of views that are other than our own is widespread, and those we disagree with are often demonised. Welby intends for his book to drive discussion at the Lambeth conference, but relate to religious and secular communities too.

In the book, Welby builds on his life from conception to Canterbury. He was assisted by his sabbatical time at Trinity College Cambridge, including the support of Dr Michael Banner and the fellowship of the Fellows’ Eight, and by what he has learned from the reconciliation teams at Coventry and Lambeth. 

His biographers will welcome the reflections, the gospel passages, the scholarship and the practical experiences that illustrate his points. Those attending the Lambeth conference will find themselves included, based on his understanding of martyrdom in some provinces, civil wars in many and the challenges of service and leadership in the church around the world.

At times of hurt or horror, Welby turns to the image of the ikon of mother and child, Mary and Jesus, pinned in December 1942 to a Stalingrad mud wall, as besiegers became besieged. The original is at the Kaiser Wilhelm memorial church in Berlin; copies hang in Berlin, Coventry and Kazan and Volgograd, signing reconciliation between Hitler’s Germany and its enemies — the United Kingdom and Russia. A dream of peace in a world of war.

In Welby’s words: “God is revealed in forceless glory and power. Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God. God has set the pattern and the means. The pattern is vulnerability. The means is sacrifice.” Power hates weakness and cannot abide reconciliation.

“There is a communal conscience, a voice within that says war and killing and violent or destructive disagreement is not good,” he writes. “For it to become good requires justification. Peace on the other hand speaks for itself. Reconciliation enables harmonious difference in a way that allows all parties to flourish: reconciliation is the activity that leads towards peace, concord, the common good and well-being.”

The author acknowledges that his book fails to cover in depth the conflict between human beings and the natural world. Yet, he recognises climate change and how the loss of biodiversity can lead to assured destruction.

Welby writes as a Christian practitioner in reconciliation, understanding the difficulties, frustrations and setbacks. He knows diversity is a treasure, not a threat. Competition and aspiration can be good, driving us on with a desire to excel. The desire to destroy a rival leads to loss.

The first part of the book is a meditation on definitions and difficulties, including why the lack of collaboration can be counterproductive to all. He considers the reality of conflict with the desire for peace and then looks at the resources and origins of ideas about reconciliation.

In the middle of the book, six chapters are based on actions of reconciliation, reflecting on John’s Gospel. The third part is devoted to the habits of reconciliation, using the pattern of the Lambeth Palace course. Each chapter has a section for reflection and discussion which he recommends should best be done with others, sharing refreshments as food and hospitality make a difference.

Safety can come by engaging with those who challenge us. Reconciliation and peacebuilding “liberate our identities, preserve our autonomy, increase our safety and show us the common good,” he writes.

A reader does not need to aim for a life similar to that of a recognised expert practitioner in reconciliation, nor to accept there is just one approach. This book seeks to make disagreeing well part of life, whether household or international and global. 

National and civil wars, currently about 50 significant ones, are disastrous to those involved and dangerous in our world with nuclear, chemical, biological and cyber weapons. 

The archbishop’s conclusion is that reconciliation is a work of courage, more for those caught in the conflict than for the peacebuilder. He recognises situations when reconciliation is not possible. Genocide including the Rwandan Genocide must be stopped by any necessary means. The Second World War and its genocide came because there was no determined action in the mid-1930s. He notes the ease of judging afterwards; it was hard to see clearly at the time.

But in most situations, Welby argues, attempting to transform destructive conflict into disagreeing well is what the world needs more of.

Justin Welby will hope the Lambeth Conference is harmonious, however much the prelates differ on some topics. I commend his powerful practical book.

Sir Peter Bottomley is the Conservative MP for Worthing West and Father of the House of Commons.