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BEYOND COLONIAL ANGLICANISM
The Anglican Communion in the Twenty-First Century
By Ian T. Douglas, Kwok Pui-lan
Church Publishing, Inc.Copyright © 2001 editors and contributors
All rights reserved.
The Exigency of Times and Occasions
Power and Identity in the Anglican Communion Today
Ian T. Douglas
Even to the casual observer, the 1998 Lambeth Conference of worldwide Anglican bishops was not the garden party of yesteryear. Following the conference, Anglicans in the industrialized West have had to wrestle deeply with the reality that the Anglican Communion is no longer a Christian community primarily identified with Anglo-American culture. Up until the summer of 1998, most Anglicans in the West could pretty well ignore the radical shifts in demographics that have occurred in the Communion over the last four decades and thus avoid hard questions of identity and authority. The cultural, economic, and political power of Western Anglicans shielded them from deeply engaging the realities of an increasingly diverse and plural church.
But Lambeth 1998 signaled a turning point for Anglicanism. In debates over international debt and/or sexuality, it became abundantly clear to all that the churches in the southern hemisphere, or the Two-Thirds World, would not stand idly by while their sisters and brothers in the United States, England, and other Western countries continued to set the agenda. Whether aided or not by some in the West who stood to gain ground in sexuality debates by siding with bishops in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific, Lambeth 1998 pointed out that a profound power shift has occurred within Anglicanism. For the first time ever, the Anglican Communion has had to face head-on the radical multicultural reality of a global Christian community. Old understandings of Anglican identity based on shared Anglo-American hegemony have broken down. Anthems of Titcomb and Tallis sung by boy choirs in chapels at Cambridge and Oxford can no longer hold Anglicans together. Even bishops taking tea with the Queen in the garden of Buckingham Palace during Lambeth is not what it used to be.
Astute watchers of Lambeth and the emerging Communion knew that such a profound shift has been in the works for decades. Speaking of the contemporary Anglican Communion, the Most Rev. Robert Runcie, past Archbishop of Canterbury, in his address to the 1985 General Convention of the Episcopal Church prophetically announced:
We have developed into a worldwide family of churches. Today there are 70 million members of what is arguably the second most widely distributed body of Christians. No longer are we identified by having some kind of English heritage. English today is now the second language of the Communion. There are more black members than white. Our local diversities span the spectrum of the world's races, needs, and aspirations. We have only to think of Bishop [Desmond] Tutu's courageous witness in South Africa to be reminded that we are no longer a church of the white middle classes allied only to the prosperous western world.
The changes in contemporary Anglicanism, from a white, predominantly English-speaking church of the West to a church of the southern hemisphere are consistent with the changing face of Christianity over the last four decades. Anglican mission scholar David Barrett has documented that in the year 1900, 77 percent of the 558 million Christians in the world lived in Europe or North America. Today only 37 percent of the close to two billion Christians live in same area. Barrett further predicts that in less than three decades, in the year 2025, fully 71 percent of the projected 2.6 billion Christians worldwide will live in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific. If we consider the church in Africa south of the Sahara, specifically, the numbers are equally astounding. In 1960, after a 150 years of Western missionary activity, the number of Christians in Africa was approximately 50 million. From 1960 until 1990, the Christian population in Africa increased from 50 million to 250 million! That change represents a five-fold increase in one fifth of the time, a fact not attributable to population growth alone.
What are we to make of this transformation in the global body of Christ? In particular, how has our own little corner of the Christian tradition, that part of the body of Christ that traces its origins to the holy catholic church first rooted in the British Isles and now known as Anglicanism, been transformed into a truly global Christian community? It is useful to reconsider our history.
For the majority of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century the Anglican Communion (as it existed) was dominated by Western churches. Chief among them were the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the United States, and the Anglican churches in Canada and Australia. Each of these four autonomous Anglican churches supported and controlled their own missions around the world. In the case of the Episcopal Church USA, the three biggest mission fields in the nineteenth century were China, Liberia, and Japan. From the 1850s to the 1960s mission was inextricably linked to Western colonialism and imperialism. This was especially true for the Church of England as the established church, for wherever the Crown went so too did the church.
All of this began to change, however, in the 1960s, for with political independence for countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Pacific came the desire for ecclesial independence for the mission fields. Over time the missions grew into autocephalous Anglican churches in their own right, ostensibly autonomous from their "mother" churches in England and the United States. With the increase in the number of member churches in the Anglican Communion, Anglicans began to search for new ways of coming together, new ways of relating to one another as the body of Christ. The Anglican Congress of 1963, held in Toronto, Canada, was a watershed for the contemporary Anglican Communion. This meeting of Anglican lay people, priests, and bishops from every corner of the globe embraced the influential and far-reaching vision: "Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ" (MRI). MRI proposed a radical reorientation of mission priorities and stressed equality and partnership between all Anglicans. It stated in part:
In our time the Anglican Communion has come of age. Our professed nature as a world-wide fellowship of national and regional churches has suddenly become a reality.... The full communion in Christ which has been our traditional tie has suddenly taken on a totally new dimension. It is now irrelevant to talk of "giving" and "receiving" churches. The keynotes of our time are equality, interdependence, mutual responsibility.
"Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence" stood as a challenge to the Anglo- American preeminence in the Anglican Communion during the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. The Rt. Rev. Stephen Bayne, Bishop of Olympia (Washington, USA) and the first Executive Officer of the Anglican Communion, played a central role in the development of MRI. He knew that the changes afoot in the Anglican Communion of the 1960s would require a radical readjustment in understandings of Anglican identity and mission. Recalling his diocese in the United States, Bayne reflected on the changes in thinking that needed to occur if Episcopalians were to live into the truth of MRI.
They [the people of the Diocese of Olympia] need, as I need, to rethink the whole meaning of mission, and that as this happens, the cost of it in the abandonment of old ways of thinking and old comforts and old priorities is going to be very great. Many people in the Diocese of Olympia between 1947 and 1960 had the feeling that the Church was an association of people, a kind of memorial association for a deceased clergyman named Christ, whose ideals were important and who was an early supporter of the "American Way of Life." To such people mission was something you did for somebody else. Mission was a way of keeping God in business.
Unfortunately, Bayne's challenge to the church in the United States has remained largely unheeded. MRI remains a goal to be achieved rather than a reality that is lived. The prime question for Anglicans today is how does mutual responsibility and interdependence play itself out in a community of thirty- eight equal and autonomous churches? What are the challenges prohibiting us from realizing the vision of the 1963 Anglican Congress? I believe that there are two significant and related forces, one political and economic, the other philosophical and theological, that stand in the way of the Anglican Communion's genuine embrace of mutual responsibility and interdependence.
The first force prohibiting our living into the vision of a mutually interdependent community in Christ is the ongoing legacy of colonialism. As mentioned above, the Anglican Communion, for the bulk of its history, has been closely linked to of Western colonialism. If one considers a map of today's Anglican Communion, this fact is undeniable. The majority of Anglican churches lie in areas of the world that at one time or another were territories of either England or the United States. With the advent of political independence for colonies in the southern hemisphere, the missions of the Church of England or the Episcopal Church USA "grew up" into autonomous churches of the Anglican Communion. These churches were no longer to be considered outposts or provinces of the Church of England or the Episcopal Church USA. Although many of these countries where the newly independent Anglican churches have come into being still suffer at the hands of economic colonialism (witness the sin of international debt), by and large with political independence has come ecclesial independence. Whether Anglicans in the West are prepared to accept it or not, the Anglican Communion today has begun to move from being a colonial church to a postcolonial reality. As a result, the political and economic structures of power associated with colonial dominance have begun to lose their efficacy in the new Anglican Communion.
The second major force that hinders an embrace of the new Anglican Communion lies in the ongoing dominance of the philosophical and theological underpinnings of modernity. Whether one marks the beginning of the Anglican Communion at 1784 with the consecration of Samuel Seabury as the first bishop of an autonomous Anglican church outside of the British Isles, or with the first Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 1867, the Anglican Communion as a family of churches is approximately 200 years old. The Anglican Communion therefore is a thoroughly modern phenomenon—with "modern" understood as the age of modernity, the last 500 years, the Age of Enlightenment.
The philosophical constructs of the Age of Enlightenment elevate rational thought and the modern scientific method to a place of preeminence and authority. Trusting in the reliability of human reason, Western scientists, one by one, seemed to unlock the inscrutabilities of nature. The subjugation of the natural world gave way to the advent of manufacturing and the Industrial Revolution. By the end of the nineteenth century the West, with its political, economic, military and industrial might, had been able to claim both knowledge of and power over peoples and places in all corners of the world.
Subjugation perhaps properly defines the order of the Enlightenment; subjugation of nature by human intellect, colonial control through physical and cultural domination, and economic superiority through mastery of the laws of the market. The confidence with which the culture of the West approached the world to appropriate it reflected in the constructs of science, industry, and empire that principally represent the wealth of the period.... The scientific catalog of racial otherness, the variety of racial alien, was a principal product of the period.
Enlightenment thought and colonial domination go hand in hand, with the former giving rationale to the latter and the latter ensuring the world view of the former.
The Anglican Communion has historically traded on the power of Enlightenment thought as much as it has on the power of Western colonialism. Anglicanism, up until very recently, has rested on the philosophical and theological formularies of the Enlightenment that value either/or propositions, binary constructs, and dualistic thinking. Anglicans formed in Enlightenment thought pride themselves on being able to figure things out, to know limits, to be able to define what is right and what is wrong, who is in and who is out. Modern man (and I use this non-inclusive term deliberately) values clear lines of authority, knowing who is in charge, a hierarchical power structure. Pluralities and multiple ways of seeing the world are an anathema to modernity and thus to many who have been in control in the Anglican Communion for most of its history.
But all of this is changing as the majority of Anglicans today are located in places where the constructs of Enlightenment thought have less efficacy. I do not mean here that sisters and brothers in the South and those who are more free from the constrictions of modern thought are less educated or caught in a world of superstitions, as the Rt. Rev. Jack Spong, now retired Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, asserted at Lambeth 1998.15 Rather, the majority of Anglicans in the world today are able to live in multiple realities, which include Western Enlightenment constructs as well as their own local contexts. It is important to emphasize here that the marginalized in the West, especially women, people of color, gay and lesbian individuals, have always lived multiple realities, their own particularities and that of the dominant culture. It is only those in power, historically heterosexual, white, clerical, males in the West, who have the privilege of believing and acting as if there were only one reality, their own! The movement within Anglicanism from being a church grounded in modernity and secure in the Enlightenment, to postmodern or extra-modern reality is as tumultuous as the shift from colonialism to postcolonialism.
The transition in the Anglican world from colonialism to postcolonialism and from modernity to postmodernity is terrifying, especially for those individuals who historically have been the most privileged, most in control, most secure in the colonial Enlightenment world. The radical transition afoot in the Anglican Communion is terrifying, for it means that Anglicans in the West—especially heterosexual, white, male clerics—will no longer have the power and control that they have enjoyed for so long. They thus feel anxious, confused, lost in a sea of change. The movement from being a colonial and modern church to that of a postcolonial and postmodern community in Christ, with its concomitant specter of loss, is vigorously countered by those who have been historically the most privileged in the Communion. Various attempts to reassert control, reassert power, put Humpty Dumpty back together again, with all the King's horses and all the King's men, are dominating inter-Anglican conversations at this point in history.
Two attempts to maintain old structures of power and privilege in response to the changing face of Anglicanism are particularly insidious and thoroughly un- Anglican. The first is a rather diffuse attempt to claim "historic documents" of the church as authoritative for all time. Driven by fear of change, some want to look backward to a perceived simpler time to claim clear definitions of what it means to be an Anglican today. There are increasing attempts in various corners of Anglicanism, especially in the West, to raise the Thirty-nine Articles or some other theological affirmation to be the defining statements of what Anglicans are and are to believe. What results is a new confessionalism, as insecure individuals and those who fear loss of power in these changing times struggle gallantly to nail down Anglican theology and beliefs. Armed with clear doctrinal definitions and limits, the same folk are then able to count who is in and who is out. Control is reasserted, ambiguity is overcome, and traditional authority is maintained.
Excerpted from BEYOND COLONIAL ANGLICANISM by Ian T. Douglas, Kwok Pui-lan. Copyright © 2001 editors and contributors. Excerpted by permission of Church Publishing, Inc..
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