As you might have read this past week, the Episcopal Church was sanctioned by the wider Anglican Communion due to its recent changes in acceptance and ordination of LGBT individuals. A report can be read here (New York Times) or you can do a search to find one of the hundreds of other reports. I think this is a highly telling event in the history of the Anglican Church and the wider Christian Church in general.
First, I do not believe this has come as a result of some kind of big lobby from the Archbishop of Canterbury. This has come from lobbying from the Anglican Churches in the Global South. In the NYT piece, it’s noted that the Bishop of Uganda walked out of the meetings. Given the general acceptance of LGBT individuals in the Church of England, there are reports about a transgender priest, it makes no sense that this comes from the Church of England. No, I believe this is coming from the large body of churches in Africa, Asia, and South America. In these places, having attended school with some African students, my general impression is that those who would be considered “conservative” on LGBT issues in America would be “liberal” in the extreme in many of these nations. This has significant implications for the global church.
There has been concern expressed, though maybe not publicly, in the United Methodist Church about this upcoming General Conference and how the African Conferences will react to potential changes on the UMC’s position on LGBT issues; this beyond issues that will be faced in America. While there can be no crystal ball for us to glance upon in order to try to get answers on all these issues, the conservatism seen in the Global South will likely complicate issues and proposed changes for global churches. It will also have an impact on those inclusive churches who would want to grow out into more global denominations.
This is a big issue for the various churches. American and European churches are expanding into the Global South and now those churches are finding themselves often at odds with the political, moral, and theological positions of those southern Churches. In the case of the Anglican Communion, the historical Church of England is still numerically superior in numbers to the rest of the church (when adding in churches in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Canada, and the USA even more superior) yet if one looks at the make-up of the Anglican Communion, the politics seem dominated by those churches in the Global South based on the number of voting Bishops. This should be something for other global churches to view with care. It will be interesting to see this summer how the Global South conferences work within the UMC General Conference.
The Global South is a huge power in the modern church. I’m not sure if the English, Western European, and American institutions are ready to truly acknowledge that fact.