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Global Anglicanism at a Crossroads Before Lamberth

Armen Hareyan's picture

When leaders of the worldwide Anglican Communion gather in Canterbury, England, in mid-July for their decennial Lambeth Conference, they will deliberate over the future of a church that is experiencing deep, and perhaps irreconcilable, internal conflicts

Already, about a third of the 38 Anglican primates, or regional leaders, have announced that they are boycotting the conference to register their opposition to the sanctioning of gay unions and the ordination to the priesthood of non-celibate gays and lesbians. In addition, theologically conservative Anglicans have organized a separate summit, the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), to be held in Jerusalem the week of June 22nd.

It is expected to draw around 1,200 senior church leaders (including some 300 bishops) from provinces that represent nearly half of the world's roughly 80 million Anglicans.

This theological divide reflects the profound demographic changes that have taken place in global Anglicanism during the past hundred years. Like much of the rest of Christianity, during the last century the demographic center of Anglicanism has moved decidedly southward, where the faith is practiced in a much more traditional fashion than in the generally more theologically liberal North.

In 1900, for example, more than 80% of Anglicans lived in Britain, and a mere 1% lived in sub-Saharan Africa, according to figures from the World Christian Database. Today, a majority (55%) of the world's Anglicans live in sub-Saharan Africa; by contrast, only 33% of Anglicans live in Britain. But this figure is deceiving, since, according to the Church of England's own numbers, average Sunday church attendance during this decade has dipped to approximately 1 million, or about 4% of the country's Anglican population.

During this same period, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion - the Episcopal Church - also has decreased in importance, going from 5% to 3% of the total Anglican population. And the decline of Anglicanism in the U.S. and Britain has occurred not only in relative but also in absolute terms; in recent decades there has been a decrease in the overall numbers as well. Britain has 26 million Anglicans today, which is 3 million fewer than in 1970; and the United States has 2 million Episcopalians, which is 1 million fewer than in 1970, according to the World Christian Database.

In contrast, the World Christian Database puts the current number of Anglicans in sub-Saharan Africa at 43 million, which is 35 million more than in 1970. Although much smaller in relative size, the number of Anglicans in the Asia-Pacific region has more than doubled over this same period.

For most people in the West, the familiar face of Archbishop and Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu is the image most often associated with African Anglicanism. But South Africans only account for about 6% of Africa's Anglicans, and they are not very representative of the region. In fact, the new and more conservative faces that have emerged look less to northern Christianity as a model, instead seeing both church and society in the West more as mission fields needing a re-conversion to the fundamentals of the faith.

One of the major flashpoints in the ongoing conflict in the Anglican Communion centers on a recently married and openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson. Robinson was consecrated as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003, an event that helped convince several conservative Episcopal churches in the U.S. to look for alternative spiritual leadership. These breakaway parishes are now under the oversight of several African bishops, including Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. That country officially is the second largest province in the Anglican Communion by membership but probably the first in terms of active members.

Now that the Anglican Communion is majority African, and the vast majority of African Anglicans are theologically conservative, there is a real question as to whether the historical ties of the Anglican Communion are strong enough to counter the forces that seem to be pushing the church toward schism. The Lambeth and Global Anglican Future conferences could soon provide an answer.

This report was written by Luis Lugo, Director; Brian Grim, Senior Research Fellow in Religion and World Affairs; and Elizabeth Podrebarac, Research Assistant, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Source: Reported By Pew Forum On Religion & Public Life


Submitted by Allan (not verified) on
The Holy Bible is the Living Word of God. This belief is present in both the liberal/revisionist (lr) and conservative/orthodox (co) groups of Anglicans, however with very different interpretations. For the lr it means that as times, people and societies change, than so to may our interpretation of Scripture. For the co it means that the Holy Bible is meant to be relevant to all people of all times and all places, as part of our daily lives. Herein lays the great divide between lr and co groups. The lr is putting people ahead of Scripture and saying that God should change to better suit us. The co is putting Scripture ahead of people and saying that people should change to better suit God. The homosexual questions are merely the symptom of this discord. The understanding of the differences in the approach taken by the two groups serves very well to better comprehend why there is such a rift that the Communion is on the verge of schism. The lr claim that they are inclusive by accepting people as they are, whether they be homosexual seeking to be married, women seeking to be priests, divorcees seeking to be re-married, etc. The lr go on to accuse the co of being non-inclusive (and sometimes even intolerant) because the co continue to identify these things as being against the Will of God (which is the very definition of sin). The co claim to be open to all people as they follow the example of Jesus Christ who did not refuse anyone who was willing to give up their sinful ways. The challenge facing the co is that it is very difficult to tell a sinner that they are sinning (just as it is difficult to tell an alcoholic that they have a drinking problem) without coming across as being judgmental and critical. What makes this challenge even more difficult is the co people must acknowledge their own sins. So how does anyone do this without appearing to be a hypocrite? Ironically, hypocrisy is the fatal flaw for the lr group. For just as they claim to be Christians, they paint themselves into a corner. Christians, by definition proclaim Jesus Christ to be the Divine Son of God (as part of the Holy Trinity of Father Son and Holy Ghost) and thus is God. In Matthew 19:4-6, Jesus states that because God made them male and female, a man shall be united to his wife and the two shall become one. This clearly indicates, straight from Jesus Christ (and therefore straight from God) that marriage is a Holy Union of one man and one woman. How can anyone, be they lr or co, claim to be Christian and at the same time ignore this passage? This is just one example of the hypocrisy that the lr are afflicted with, and it is this hypocrisy that will be the ultimate demise of the lr group. For as a person grows and becomes more knowledgeable in the Faith, the person sees the inconsistency of the lr approach, and becomes disenfranchised. In this way the lr group wanes and declines. Alternatively, this same person matures in the Faith and in an adult like manner gains the ability to accept their own shortcomings. The inherent consistency of the co group serves as a supportive foundation upon which to further their own spiritual strength. In this way the co group flourishes and increases. Evidence of this is in the article accurately which reports that the lr parts of the Anglican Communion are in rapid decline, while at the same time the co parts are in rapid growth. Whether the two groups remain together, or separate, the eventual outcome will be the same. Although the lr group currently has the historical places of power, and the greatest amount of earthly wealth, its influence within the Anglican Communion is already diminishing, and it has already begun to sell off its capital assets in order to finance its current operating expenditures. The co group is already realizing its increasing importance and has established a more permanent source of resources (that go far beyond money, buildings and land). Eventually the lr group will shrink to the point of no longer being relevant, while the co group will grow to the point of being in complete control.

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