Bishops gather outside Canterbury Cathedral during a break between sessions on their first day of the Bishops’ Retreat at the 2022 Lambeth Conference held in Canterbury in the United Kingdom. Photo: Neil Turner for The Lambeth Conference. Thursday 28th July 2022

The average Anglican is a woman in her 30s living in sub-Saharan Africa on less than four dollars per day, says Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.

That African woman’s diocesan bishop probably isn’t present this week at the decennial Lambeth Conference of Bishops underway in Kent, England. It’s something worth keeping in mind as hundreds of vested Anglican bishops, more than 130 of whom hail from shrinking dioceses in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada, posed for a photo op that took nearly 90 minutes of arrangement.

These Anglican leaders could provide encouragement in strongly reaffirming the authority of Scripture, or they may be diverted to instead focus on issues of pressing importance to secularists in the West.

Notable Absence

Within the Global South there has been disagreement about participating in Lambeth. Some traditionalists dub this a “partial Lambeth gathering,” pointing to the large numbers of bishops from Africa that absented themselves in 2008 and again in 2022.

Missing this year are bishops from some of the largest and fastest-growing provinces of the 85-million-member global family of churches descended from the Church of England, which is the third-largest body of Christians behind Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. It’s difficult to know what percentage of the Communion is represented at Lambeth, although at least 200 bishops appear to have absented themselves out of a total 883 diocesan bishops.

The average Anglican is a woman in her 30s living in sub-Saharan Africa on less than four dollars per day. 

Bishops from several African dioceses have declined invitations to participate in Lambeth this year, noting that sharing in fellowship with the six invited bishops in open same-sex relationships, or with those who consecrated them as bishops, would excuse unbiblical behavior. The African bishops cite the invitation of bishops in same-sex marriages as conflicting with both the historic teaching of the churches and the Lambeth Conference’s 1998 statement on Human Sexuality where bishops resolved that the conference “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions” and rejected homosexual practice as “incompatible with Scripture.”

Others from traditionalist provinces, including South Sudan and the Indian Ocean, are present but decline to take communion alongside revisionist bishops in conference worship services, noting this would imply a unity that has in reality been shattered.

Shifts of Influence

The real news isn’t what’s happening at Lambeth. On the ground, the center of gravity for global Anglicanism has shifted. A booming and orthodox Global South seeks to fill a vacuum left by a declining and revisionist Global North.

In southern regions where Anglicans minister, vibrant churches now serve as missionary outposts to unreached people groups that have yet to hear the gospel but may well form the Anglican Communion’s future. Nepal had no Anglicans 30 years ago but now has many thousands. Nigeria’s Middle Belt was home to relatively small numbers of Anglican Christians at Nigeria’s independence but now is home to millions.

Anglican populations in places like Rwanda, Uganda, and Nigeria (the latter comprising nearly 42 percent of all Anglicans in sub-Saharan Africa) are a far cry from stereotypes of affluent and culturally liberal Episcopalians. The Global South’s growing churches, which mostly espouse orthodox teaching on the authority of Scripture and the identity of Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God, stand in stark contrast to the shrinking numbers of Anglicans in the Global North. Those 130 dioceses in the U.S. and Canada now account for only about 2 percent of global Anglicans, but they wield disproportionately large financial resources and the influence that comes with it.

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