The American Interest
Religion & Other Curiosities
Published on January 11, 2012
Counting Christian Noses

In December 2011 the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life (Washington) issued A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population. Some of the data were developed in collaboration with the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (South Hamilton, Massachusetts). The two institutions are responsible for the bulk of reliable statistical information on religion worldwide. They are directed, respectively, by Luis Lugo and Todd Johnson. I happen to know these two gentlemen quite well. They are the religious nose counters par excellence. Ask them how many Lutherans there are in Mongolia, and how many Buddhists in Finland, they will within a few minutes come back with reasonably accurate numbers.

While the broad outline of the situation has been known for some time, reading the sheer mass of figures in the Pew report is startling. The ongoing comparison is between the years 1910 and 2010. Apart from marking the beginning of a century convenient for comparison, the earlier date is significant in itself. 1910 marked the date of the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. It was attended by about 1,300 delegates (all Protestants—Catholics and Orthodox were not invited), most from Europe and North America. The conference (whose centennial in 2010 was celebrated by a series of events) is now seen as the culmination of the Protestant missionary movement of the nineteenth century, and as a prelude to the ecumenical movement of the twentieth. Its official theme was “The Evangelization of the World in This Generation”. The mood was triumphalist, the expectations grandiose. Yet I doubt whether any of the participants could have imagined either the size or the shape of Christianity a century hence.

The world population has, of course, expanded enormously between the two dates. Thus the proportion of Christians in the world population has remained stable at about 33%. But the absolute number of Christians has increased very greatly, from about 600 million to about 2.8 billion. Christianity is by far the largest religion in today’s world. Muslims come second, at about 25% of the world population. Among Christians, about 50% are Catholic, about 37% Protestant. [These last figures should be taken with a grain of salt: Catholics tend to include as adherents all who were baptized as Catholics—even if, particularly in Latin America, many may now be noisily enthusiastic (mainly Pentecostal) Protestants. In the other camp, many Protestants (again especially Pentecostal ones) belong to informal groups meeting in private homes, storefronts, garages—and are thus hard to count. Therefore, the above total of Protestants is probably an underestimate. General advice: When counting Christian noses, have a good supply of salt at hand.]

If the size of world Christianity today is amazing, the distribution is even more so. There has been a massive shift in the geography of the religion. In 1910 two thirds of Christians lived in Europe. In 2010 26% lived in Europe, 37% in the Americas, 24% in Africa, 13% in Asia and the Pacific region. But this still does not give the full picture. The figure for “the Americas” is ambiguous, since it includes both North and Latin America. According to the Atlas of Global Christianity (2009—it, by the way, was co-edited by Todd Johnson), in 2010 there were about 283 million Christians in North America (United States and Canada), about 549 million in Latin America. The basic fact: About 1.3 billion Christians, 61% of the total number, live in the Global South. [This is without figuring in the fact that a considerable number of Christians in North America, Catholics as well as Protestants, are Latinos.] The most dramatic shift has occurred in Africa: Christians were 9% of the population in 1910, 63% in 2010. [This figure lumps together mainly Muslim northern Africa and mainly Christian sub-Saharan Africa. The percentage of Christians in the latter would be much higher: Sub-Saharan Africa is basically Christian territory.] Example: Nigeria now has twice as many Protestants than Germany, the homeland of the Reformation. Example: Brazil has twice as many Catholics than Italy, where the Vatican sits as it tries to make sense of the religious landscape. [It is hardly surprising that Pope Benedict XVI regards the “evangelization of Europe” as a top priority. Some African priests might be helpful for this project.]

To understand the importance of this geographical shift, one must look at the respective religious characteristics of Christianity in the two sectors of the globe. In recent years a number of influential works have described this, such as Philip Jenkins’ The New Faces of Christianity (2006) and Mark Noll’s The New Shape of World Christianity (2009). The slow-burning schism in the Anglican communion, with dissident Episcopal congregations in the United States putting themselves under the care of African bishops, has made clear that Christianity in the Global South is both theologically and morally more conservative. Thus African Catholics are rarely troubled by the issues (from papal authority to traditional sexual morality) which agitate their liberal coreligionists in Europe and North America. Thus African Protestants, across denominations, are largely Evangelical in their beliefs and values. More than that: Christianity in the Global South is robustly supernaturalist, while Christians to the north of it tend to constrict the supernatural components of the faith within an essentially naturalist worldview. This is most glaring in the case of Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. The Pew report lumps these two categories together—very plausibly, as the dividing line between them is artificial; the report claims that about 584 million Christians, or about 26.7% of the world total, fall under this category. However, what I have called “supernaturalism” is not limited to the Pentecostal/charismatic grouping. The Catholic Church, dramatically in Latin America, has always succeded in adapting itself to the supernatural beliefs and practices (“superstitions”, if you will) of indigenous people it baptized. And (largely Evangelical) Protestantism in Africa has been strongly infiltrated by charismatic supernaturalism—some scholars have coined the term “Pentecostalization” for this process.

If this seems a bit complicated, let me simplify: A few months ago I was talking about this North/South split with a Methodist minister in Boston. I said that, it seemed to me, the North could be put on the defensive over this split. When he asked what I meant, I said: “I would like you to explain to an African Christian why you do not raise people from the dead in your church.” I said that the African interlocutor might go on: “Jesus did. The Apostles did. We do. Why don’t you?”.

Of course this is an oversimplification (albeit, I think, a useful one). There are pockets of supernaturalism in America, as there are Christians in Africa whose notion of “superstition” is no different from that of a liberal Protestant in America. And admittedly, the question about raising people from the dead is a little extreme: It is a relatively rare event even among Catholic curaderas in Guatemala or Protestant charismatics in Nigeria. But the broader category of miraculous healing is empirically more applicable. Virtually all Christians believe, at least in theory, that God can heal illnesses, and most will pray for such healing if the occasion arises. But in America most Christians (even conservative Catholics and Evangelical Protestants) will assume that God heals through naturalist means—the hands of a surgeon, the efficacy of a drug. African Christians are much more likely to believe that a charismatic healer, by putting his hands on a sick person, can directly cause a miraculous healing there and then.

Behind all the numbers collected so assiduously by Lugo, Johnson et al. looms a vast challenge to the taken-for-granted naturalism in Europe and North America: The majority of global Christians (and, needless to say, the majority of all religious people in the world) question this naturalism, and behave accordingly. Will this challenge diminish with greater affluence and higher education?  Possibly.  Thus far it doesn’t look like it. Thus it would seem that an important dialogue is still outstanding. In recent decades there has developed a veritable dialogue industry, much of it initiated by official church bodies. There have been dialogues between Christians and Jews, Muslims, Buddhists—dialogues between Catholics and Protestants as well as agnostics, Lutherans and Calvinists, and so on. As far as I know, there has been no sustained dialogue between Christians in the two global regions—other than what must be sporadic exchanges in informal settings. I am not at all sure what would be the result of the outstanding dialogue. I am sure that it would be important. [Full disclosure: Our research center at Boston University has such a dialogue on the drawing board.]

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Boston University might start its research with all the former Episcopal churches that have split from their dioceses over the homosexual priest issue. When they split most of these congregations found an Anglican church in the global south to align with.

    I attended such a church in La Crescenta, California, formerly known as St. Lukes Anglican Church. They affiliated with the Anglican Province of Uganda. Their Bishop, a Ugandan Black priest, made annual visits to the U.S. to minister to his congregation.

    The church building of this church was taken over by the Episcopal Church in a court action. But the congregation still meets. Their story can be found here:

    http://www.americananglican.org/st-luke-s-of-the-mountains-la-crescenta-ca-disaffiliates-from-los-angeles-diocese-aligns-with-worldwide-anglican-communion

    The number of U.S. Episcopal churches that have split across the U.S. have mostly aligned with African Anglican churches. Your Boston University research might find a good starting point by doing a Google search. You will find a significant number of U.S. Anglican churches with as part of an African diocese that are in constant dialogue with each other.

    By the way, the whole concept of “missions” seems to be outdated and reversed with this trend. It is the African Christians who often are missionaries to the apostate Americans.

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  • WigWag

    This phenomenon of renegade Episcopal churches disaffiliating with the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. is just so interesting (or is it the Katharine Jefferts Schori and colleagues who are the renegades).

    But affiliating with the Ugandan Church seems strange. How many disenchanted Episcopalians would travel to Uganda on vacation? How many would welcome a Ugandan neighbor who wasn’t an Anglican? How many can find Uganda on a map? How many are interested in sampling Ugandan cuisine or listening to Ugandan music or viewing Ugandan art? How many can name the national capital of the country or can speak one of it’s native languages? How many are interested in charitable contributions to Uganda if those contributions are unrelated to missionary work.

    Yet these same Episcopalians are willing to look to Uganda and it’s Anglican prelate for spiritual guidance. Whether this signifies a lack of seriousness about their spiritual affairs or merely rank hypocrisy is not entirely clear to me. What is clear is that it’s bizarre.

    I’ve read that Uganda recently tried to outlaw homosexual sex and that for a time it was considering capital punishment as the penalty for those convicted of the crime. It is well known that the Anglican Church in Uganda supported the legislation although the Church obfuscated about whether the supported putting condemned homosexuals to death.

    Those disenchanted American Episcopalians must either be pretty desperate or they really most hate the “sin” of homosexuality as well as gay people.

    After all it seems that they would rather affiliate with a church that supports killing gay people than a church that wants to allow them to be priest or bishops.

    Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for their bizarre choice but it is hard to understand why any Christian would prefer to see homosexuals dead than married.

    It could be that I am missing something. If so, I would like to know what it is.

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  • Kris

    It is de rigeur for liberal Christians in the US to put down the snake-handling hicks in their own country, but it becomes much trickier to do so with African Christianity; one wouldn’t want to appear racist after all… I am greatly amused.

  • Wayne Lusvardi

    Wig Wag:
    The church I attended for a short while had its American church members visiting the Ugandan church and the Ugandan Bishop annually visiting the U.S. church even though conditions in Uganda were primitive by U.S. standards. There was no religious “vacationing.”

    As an interested observer, I would not characterize any of the American breakaway church members as “gay bashers” as you are trying to insinuate. I would call your accusations a smear.

    I found out that the “gay priest” issue was not an issue of sexual orientation, but church governance.

    Many of the breakaway church members were highly educated and would not meet a profile of “barefoot and living on Tobacco Road” as Prof. Berger describes the stereotype. Many were affiliated with Fuller Seminary which no longer can be considered some “Bible” seminary.

    By the way, in the long run the “familistic” centered Evangelical churches will overtake the liberal churches in pure numbers due to greater numbers of children. The liberal churches don’t typically have youth programs as the Evangelicals do. On a larger scale, this is the demographic problem of European decline.

    So the mainline Episcopalians may be winning in court and taking back church buildings from breakaway churches, but in the long run the more Evangelical members will likely win out, as evidenced by huge growth in Africa and South America.

    For those of us who try to find a middle ground in all this there often is no middle to be found institutionally, except in rare cases.

  • annababa

    The findings listed seem almost as worrying as they are illuminating – if we take the view that it is ‘better’ to go with naturalism.

    Should education eventually bring the Southern group closer in their interpretation of Christianity to that of the Northern group, might there then be the shift towards secularism anti-theism we are now seeing in the North? Is superstition followed by naturalism followed by atheism – or an ‘uprising’ of atheist thought – an inevitable pattern? Or, might more discomforts in the world drive religion further centre stage?

  • ari

    I’m wondering, too, about this “dialogue.” It seems to be a way to say established vicars meet for lunch. Our church has a sister church, a mission church in town, a partner church in a poor region, and that’s just for starters. The church down the street cycles African ministers through on a regular basis- not as an exotic plumaged bird- but as honored ministers with something worthwhile to say. Families from other nations move in, or visit. There is a framework of hospitality, that I don’t see elsewhere.

    I know one of the big Catholic churches in town is so diverse that it’s not even really a subject anymore- I can be surrounded by people from the four corners of the globe simply by exchanging the peace. As can they.

    How many Lutherans are there in Mongolia, anyway?

  • R.C.

    It isn’t better to go with Naturalism; if by that one means a purely materialistic worldview entirely incompatible with Christianity, or a watered-down Christianity which writes off miracles as exaggerations or fables.

    Naturalism, of that kind, is false. Miracles happen.

    I’m a relatively pro-science kind of guy; a computer software architect who reads the popularizations of quantum physics and string theory and cosmology for fun. I homeschool because the science and math at the local schools isn’t good enough for my kids. I’m confident that secular science has the age of the earth right, and that God used evolutionary processes to achieve the species we see, including ourselves.

    And it wouldn’t surprise me if the fire from heaven which consumed the altar on Mt. Carmel was a meteorite. (A God who has complete artistic control over the Big Bang can certainly plan ahead one little trajectory for the assistance of His prophet.)

    But my mother’s friend was faith-healed of Multiple Sclerosis one weekend, right here in the U.S.A., in suburban Atlanta. Why her and not everyone else with M.S.? Who knows? Why didn’t God prevent the Holocaust? Who knows? …although that free will thing always seems like a good answer for human evils. But then it’s hard to account for tsunamis under the same reasoning.

    So, there’s my mother’s friend.

    And there are the friends of friends who’ve personally encountered demonic activity (more harassment or “oppression,” I think, than “possession”).

    And there’s one family member who had a “locution,” I think the term is: An audible voice (not necessarily God’s, but perhaps an angel’s or a saint’s or something) giving knowledge or instruction from God.

    I haven’t myself ever had an audible voice, but I experience God “speaking” to me in that way that’s a little like the feeling you get when you see an expression on someone else’s face and you know exactly what they’re thinking.

    I once heard someone say that the difference between a religious person and a crazy person was whether they just talked to God, and whether God talked back. “If that were true,” I thought, “what on earth would be the point of being a religious person at all? The God of Christianity is perhaps unobtrusive, but not silent.”

    Anyway, my point is that some ongoing hints of the supernatural are NORMATIVE Christian experience. Not, I grant you, Hollywood special effects or anything — God doesn’t seem to think we’re up to that, most of us, most of the time. We’d get swelled heads or something.

    But “Naturalistic Christianity” is an oxymoron. Keep that in mind, lest you wind up like that silly apostate bishop in C.S.Lewis’s The Great Divorce.

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  • Frank Arden

    WigWag,

    It’s good to hear from you. I enjoyed very much the exchange we had upon Mead’s Faith Matters essay at Thanksgiving about Christian/Jewish ecumenism. You made me aware of some things I had not thought of for some time and motivated my opinions (I don’t know if you read my last post on the mater. I hope you did).

    Thank you for your serious and sincere comments. Your questions are quite sound regarding he “renegade” Episcopal churches. Indeed, one of our local Episcopal churches, Christ Church, Savannah (the oldest church in Georgia, 1733) was just rebuked late last year by the Georgia Supreme Court (as a matter of property title) after a majority of its congregation left the Georgia Diocese, with church property, for the protection of the Archbishop of Kampala, Uganda.

    As for your opening observation:

    “This phenomenon of renegade Episcopal churches disaffiliating with the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. is just so interesting (or is it the Katharine Jefferts Schori and colleagues who are the renegades).”
    I hold it is Madame Schori and her colleagues who are the renegades.

    And I should also say that the issue is not only about the election several years ago of Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, or about the ordination of women to the priesthood. It is primarily about the laws of the Christian faith, the Communion of the faithful, the Communion of Saints, the trespass of Ecclesiastic Law, and the abuse of too much democracy in solemn matters that should yield themselves in modest Communion with constitutional limits of the Church.

    It is also about the Church’s unyielding focus on political social liberalism and secular progressivism, in proffering social law over Ecclesiastic Law.

    In another post I said:

    “The See of Canterbury, a bumbling old intellectual who thinks Sharia Law ought to be accommodated by Statutory Law in the UK, has surpassed the foolishness of the Episcopal Primate, the Bishop of the ECUSA, Katherine Jefforts Schiori (Lear Jet pilot and oceanographer), who said to Episcopalians:

    ‘“Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development. That ought to be the primary focus.”’

    “A perfect example of liberal, progressive social law, think ye not?

    “What about saving souls?”

    I also said, “The bum fumbling intellectual of Canterbury and the Bishop of the ECUSA simply don’t understand that I have more in common (communion) with a poor black woman who worships under the pastoral leadership and spiritual protection of the Most Reverend Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Kampala, Uganda.”

    This sets up an interesting irony in the history of friction with the National Episcopal Church. Allow me to speak from personal experience about my own church, St. Johns, Savannah (1840).

    In the late 1950’s through most of the 1960’s efforts to desegregate southern institutions was the goal of the Civil Rights Movement. Decent southerners watched on television, with horror, the awful events in Mississippi and Alabama. Fortunately Georgia somehow escaped this nastiness and, in Savannah, there was no KKK or anything of that sort. I tend to think we survived under a live and let live, benign (perhaps banal?) provincialism.

    At the same time we heard the provocative rants of the Most Reverend James Pike, Bishop of California, drunkard, libertine womanizer, lawyer, secular intellectual, former agnostic, former Roman Catholic, TV personality, arrogant liberal, civil rights and LGB activist tell us how ignorant we were. He was right about segregation, though.

    We were segregated, but the heat of racial tension never reared its ugly head in Savannah as it did elsewhere. Other than going to a “separate, but equal” elementary school, the closest the issue came to me was when my church voted to leave the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Georgia Diocese in 1965 under the leadership (or influence?) of our much beloved rector, the Rev. Ernest Risley.
    I was eleven years old.

    Risley was a segregationist. Not that anybody in our church would have known he was, or cared, before the sweep of change forced southern men and women to choose on which side of history they would stand. Risley left no doubt when he said, “I believe that integration is contrary to God’s will.”

    Under the headline:” Episcopalians: Secession in Savannah,” Time Magazine wrote on May 7, 1965:
    “St. John’s Episcopal Church in Savannah, founded in 1840, is the largest and richest parish in the diocese of Georgia, which encompasses the southern half of the state. It has also been steadfastly segregated. But the Episcopal Church’s Canon 16, as amended last October at the General Convention in St. Louis, bans the exclusion of any member from worship in any parish on racial grounds. Rather than obey the ruling, St. John’s is leaving the Episcopal Church.”

    Fortunately, cooler and more patient heads prevailed as the congregation of St Johns, my family included, returned to the National Church three years later. Risley then led a minority of St. Johns members to form the Independent Episcopal Church of St. Andrew.

    Here’s the irony: St. Andrews Independent Episcopal Church is now under the protection of an African, Anglican Bishop of Nigeria while Christ Church (and others) sought protection from an African Bishop in Uganda. As for St. Johns, we have moved way beyond or our past.

    Canon 16, while viewed by many as high-handed and intrusive to local church sovereignty, especially in southern churches, was in no wise inconsistent with Ecclesiastic Law. There is no biblical authority that holds the protection of Christ’s love and grace away from a man on account of his race. Being black is not a sin. Canon 16 was perfectly consistent with the emerging social law of the times and in no way inconsistent with Ecclesiastic Law.

    Here we come back to the issue of homosexuals. Whether you accept it or not, there is no doubt Ecclesiastic Law finds it a sin.

    You said:

    “It is well known that the Anglican Church in Uganda supported the legislation although the Church obfuscated about whether the supported putting condemned homosexuals to death.

    “Those disenchanted American Episcopalians must either be pretty desperate or they really most hate the “sin” of homosexuality as well as gay people.

    “After all it seems that they would rather affiliate with a church that supports killing gay people than a church that wants to allow them to be priest or bishops.”

    That’s pretty harsh, but to the point.

    I can only answer that homosexuals have always been in the Christian Church. It would be wrong for me, a sinner, to judge them. I have friends who are gay. Other than being pinched on my ass by a drunken gay fool in a Savannah tavern, I have never been accosted nor insulted.

    But neither Katherine Jefforts Schiori, Rowan Williams, any convocation of Clergy, nor Laity may change the ecclesiastic in favor of the secular no matter how appealing and tempting it may well be.

    I don’t know anyone who wants to kill gays and I don’t want to join the Ugandan or Nigerian Church but, who am I to presume that I can ignore an ecclesiastic sin simply because I find it inconvenient in the secular world?

    To the point, who are Schiori, et al to do this with the Bishop of New Hampshire?

    The Rev. Gene Robinson deceived, lied to, cheated and adulterated his wife for years before he finally left her and his children for his male lover.

    Had his lover been, instead, a woman, do you think Robinson would have been ever elected and consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire?

    Were there no other men of faith and virtue qualified for the job?

    If there were, then why were they passed over by the Episcopal Church?

  • Bebe

    The Pew Forum also notes that 78% of US citizens can be identified as Christian, yet the Protestant section is the most fragmented. As Mr. Lusvardi notes, the Episcopal denomination has seen such splits over the past couple of decades. I used to attend one of the so-called breakaway churches within the L.A. Diocese. It always amused me that this particular church announced its affiliation with the Uganda diocese, when there had never been a black person in its pews since its founding. When my church removed the sign, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You,” which graces nearly all Episcopal churches in the U.S., I moved to a church which retained the sign. After the California Supreme Court case handed a defeat to my former congregation over the status of its building and real property, I returned for mass. Their pastor had resigned for inappropriate conduct, and the sign had been returned. As the new pastor is a white South African, I am sure his presence negates the prior distasteful necessity of affiliating with the Ugandan churches. Today the three California churches in question, including the one Mr. Lusvardi speaks of, are part of their own Diocese of Western Anglicans since 2009. As for Fuller Seminary, it is well-known as a bastion of conservative Christianity, and is quite happy to remain within its little campus in Pasadena. I suppose its existence counters the liberal Claremont School of Theology, which is affiliated with the Claremont Colleges. The whole matter is all rather droll, and underscores the myth of a unified Christianity…regardless of what the numbers say.

  • Frank Arden

    WigWag,

    It’s good to hear from you. I enjoyed very much the exchange we had upon Mead’s Faith Matters essay at Thanksgiving about Christian/Jewish ecumenism. You made me aware of some things I had not thought of for some time and motivated my opinions (I don’t know if you read my last post on the mater. I hope you did).

    Thank you for your serious and sincere comments. Your questions are quite sound regarding he “renegade” Episcopal churches. Indeed, one of our local Episcopal churches, Christ Church, Savannah (the oldest church in Georgia, 1733) was just rebuked late last year by the Georgia Supreme Court (as a matter of property title) after a majority of its congregation left the Georgia Diocese, with church property, for the protection of the Archbishop of Kampala, Uganda.

    As for your opening observation:

    “This phenomenon of renegade Episcopal churches disaffiliating with the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. is just so interesting (or is it the Katharine Jefferts Schori and colleagues who are the renegades).”
    I hold it is Madame Schori and her colleagues who are the renegades.

    And I should also say that the issue is not only about the election several years ago of Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, or about the ordination of women to the priesthood. It is primarily about the laws of the Christian faith, the Communion of the faithful, the Communion of Saints, the trespass of Ecclesiastic Law, and the abuse of too much democracy in solemn matters that should yield themselves in modest Communion with constitutional limits of the Church.

    It is also about the Church’s unyielding focus on political social liberalism and secular progressivism, in proffering social law over Ecclesiastic Law.

    In another post I said:

    “The See of Canterbury, a bumbling old intellectual who thinks Sharia Law ought to be accommodated by Statutory Law in the UK, has surpassed the foolishness of the Episcopal Primate, the Bishop of the ECUSA, Katherine Jefforts Schiori (Lear Jet pilot and oceanographer), who said to Episcopalians:

    ‘“Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development. That ought to be the primary focus.”’

    “A perfect example of liberal, progressive social law, think ye not?

    “What about saving souls?”

    I also said, “The bum fumbling intellectual of Canterbury and the Bishop of the ECUSA simply don’t understand that I have more in common (communion) with a poor black woman who worships under the pastoral leadership and spiritual protection of the Most Reverend Henry Luke Orombi, Archbishop of Kampala, Uganda.”

    This sets up an interesting irony in the history of friction with the National Episcopal Church. Allow me to speak from personal experience about my own church, St. Johns, Savannah (1840).

    In the late 1950’s through most of the 1960’s efforts to desegregate southern institutions was the goal of the Civil Rights Movement. Decent southerners watched on television, with horror, the awful events in Mississippi and Alabama. Fortunately Georgia somehow escaped this nastiness and, in Savannah, there was no KKK or anything of that sort. I tend to think we survived under a live and let live, benign (perhaps banal?) provincialism.

    At the same time we heard the provocative rants of the Most Reverend James Pike, Bishop of California, drunkard, libertine womanizer, lawyer, secular intellectual, former agnostic, former Roman Catholic, TV personality, arrogant liberal, civil rights and LGB activist tell us how ignorant we were. He was right about segregation, though.

    We were segregated, but the heat of racial tension never reared its ugly head in Savannah as it did elsewhere. Other than going to a “separate, but equal” elementary school, the closest the issue came to me was when my church voted to leave the Episcopal Church of the USA and the Georgia Diocese in 1965 under the leadership (or influence?) of our much beloved rector, the Rev. Ernest Risley.
    I was eleven years old.

    Risley was a segregationist. Not that anybody in our church would have known he was, or cared, before the sweep of change forced southern men and women to choose on which side of history they would stand. Risley left no doubt when he said, “I believe that integration is contrary to God’s will.”

    Under the headline:” Episcopalians: Secession in Savannah,” Time Magazine wrote on May 7, 1965:
    “St. John’s Episcopal Church in Savannah, founded in 1840, is the largest and richest parish in the diocese of Georgia, which encompasses the southern half of the state. It has also been steadfastly segregated. But the Episcopal Church’s Canon 16, as amended last October at the General Convention in St. Louis, bans the exclusion of any member from worship in any parish on racial grounds. Rather than obey the ruling, St. John’s is leaving the Episcopal Church.”

    Fortunately, cooler and more patient heads prevailed as the congregation of St Johns, my family included, returned to the National Church three years later. Risley then led a minority of St. Johns members to form the Independent Episcopal Church of St. Andrew.

    Here’s the irony: St. Andrews Independent Episcopal Church is now under the protection of an African, Anglican Bishop of Nigeria while Christ Church (and others) sought protection from an African Bishop in Uganda. As for St. Johns, we have moved way beyond or our past.

    Canon 16, while viewed by many as high-handed and intrusive to local church sovereignty, especially in southern churches, was in no wise inconsistent with Ecclesiastic Law. There is no biblical authority that holds the protection of Christ’s love and grace away from a man on account of his race. Being black is not a sin. Canon 16 was perfectly consistent with the emerging social law of the times and in no way inconsistent with Ecclesiastic Law.

    Here we come back to the issue of homosexuals. Whether you accept it or not, there is no doubt Ecclesiastic Law finds it a sin.

    You said:

    “It is well known that the Anglican Church in Uganda supported the legislation although the Church obfuscated about whether the supported putting condemned homosexuals to death.

    “Those disenchanted American Episcopalians must either be pretty desperate or they really most hate the “sin” of homosexuality as well as gay people.

    “After all it seems that they would rather affiliate with a church that supports killing gay people than a church that wants to allow them to be priest or bishops.”

    That’s pretty harsh, but to the point.

    I can only answer that homosexuals have always been in the Christian Church. It would be wrong for me, a sinner, to judge them. I have friends who are gay.

    But neither Katherine Jefforts Schiori, Rowan Williams, any convocation of Clergy, nor Laity may change the ecclesiastic in favor of the secular no matter how appealing and tempting it may well be.

    I don’t know anyone who wants to kill gays and I don’t want to join the Ugandan or Nigerian Church but, who am I to presume that I can ignore an ecclesiastic sin simply because I find it inconvenient in the secular world?

    To the point, who are Schiori, et al to do this with the Bishop of New Hampshire?

    The Rev. Gene Robinson deceived, lied to, cheated and adulterated his wife for years before he finally left her and his children for his male lover.

    Had his lover been, instead, a woman, do you think Robinson would have been ever elected and consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire?

    Were there no other men of faith and virtue qualified for the job?

    If there were, then why were they passed over by the Episcopal Church?

  • WigWag

    Greetings Frank Arden; nice to make your acquaintance again. Surely it cannot be theologically acceptable in a church that is part of the Anglican Communion to suggest putting consenting male adults to death for the “crime” of committing anal intercourse. In Uganda does the Anglican Church advocate capital punishment for other sins? Are women adulterers subject to the death penalty in Uganda like they are in Iran or Saudi Arabia or does the Ugandan Anglican Church have a theological rationale why homosexual sex as opposed to a myriad of other sins is so uniquely egregious that it alone justifies death?

    Is a Ugandan Prelate who can’t bring himself to object to the death penalty for gay sex really more acceptable as a spiritual leader than one who you believe has strayed from scripture like Jefferts Schiori?

    Surely with a little creative thinking disaffected American Episcopalians can come up with some other solution than looking to either Jefferts Schiori or the Africans for spiritual leadership.

    Fortunately the United States has a thriving and heterodox religious environment. Wouldn’t it be better for Episcopalians who can’t abide the Jefforts-Schiori approach to cleave to another denomination rather than accept the spiritual authority of a man who thinks anal sex is so uniquely horrendous that those who engage in it should be killed.

    If I am missing something, please tell me what it is.

  • WigWag

    One other point that I would make, Frank Arden is that while the Archbishop of Canterbury may in fact be a bumbling old fool who is sympathetic to Sharia Law, it seems to be the African Prelates, especially in Uganda who agree with Sharia provisions calling for the death penalty for those who engage in homosexual sex. Why is the Archbishops theoretical musings about Sharia being applied to English Muslims less acceptable to you than the acquiescence, if not advocacy of a Ugandan Prelate who specifically agrees that Sharia Law is correct in calling for the execution of homosexuals?

    I don’t doubt for a minute that the Archbishop and Reverend Jefforts Schiori have strayed from either tradition or Scripture and I do not doubt for a moment that they worship at the alter of politically-correct multiculturalism. But isn’t the sympathy of the Ugandan Church and it’s leaders for executing homosexuals also an innovation of relatively recent vintage that has little support in Scripture? Regardless of one’s views on the sinfulness of homosexual sex, where is the unequivocal Scriptural authority that justifies executing homosexuals who engage in anal intercourse? Yet African Anglican Prelates, especially in Uganda just couldn’t bring themselves to express outrage at the prospect.

    Is there any example of the Anglican Church supporting capital punishment for homosexual acts, at least in the last 150 years? When Oscar Wilde was tried in England for the “crime that dare not speak it’s name” the Anglican ecclesiastical authorities may have been diffident, but they certainly didn’t advocate that Wilde be executed. On his deathbed, Wilde converted to Roman Catholicism and was welcomed into the Church.

    Wilde, one of the greatest artists of the past two centuries, was treated abysmally by British society and British institutions (including the Anglican Church) ended up being so ashamed that within 50 years numerous English notables including John Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, E.M Forster and several others could live more or less freely and out in the open about their homosexuality.

    But as poorly as he was treated, perhaps Wilde was lucky; if it was the Ugandan Prelate that so many American Episcopalians now look to for spiritual guidance, who was charged with passing his sentence, Wilde would have been hanged.

    Perhaps Jefforts Schiori is an innovator in the worst sense of the word but by remaining silent as Uganda debated whether homosexual sex should be punished by death, it seems to me that the Ugandan ecclesiastical authorities were also innovating in a very troublesome way.

    It is a mystery to me how American Episcopalians who have voluntarily accepted the spiritual leadership of the Ugandans don’t find this troubling.

  • Frank Arden

    WigWag,

    I agree with you in all aspects of your post.

    In an earlier post you said, “Those disenchanted American Episcopalians must either be pretty desperate or they really most hate the “sin” of homosexuality as well “as gay people.

    “After all it seems that they would rather affiliate with a church that supports killing gay people than a church that wants to allow them to be priest or bishops.

    “Perhaps there is an innocent explanation for their bizarre choice but it is hard to understand why any Christian would prefer to see homosexuals dead than married.

    “It could be that I am missing something. If so, I would like to know what it is.”

    What I was attempting to do was to give a little history from a personal perspective of the frustrations conservative Episcopalian churches have had with the ECUSA for fifty years.

    It is palpable, but it’s really not about gays.

    And yet, I can make no sense of the urge to associate with any African church simply because they hold Scripture more compatibly with my own congregation than ECUSA

    Culture matters, too. Much, much more. It is inconceivable to me that I would ever be comfortable associated with church that thrives in a political and cultural environment that seeks to punish gays and women for sexual crimes.

    The problem is with the succession of bishops and the “laying of hands” from ancient times of the Roman Church on down. Many Episcopalians feel this line of succession has been tainted by Schiori, Robinson, et al.

    I even know of an assistant rector of a local church who refuses to greet the Bishop of Georgia on his visits to his parish and is sent discretely on a mission to preach at another church a hundred miles away to avoid unpleasantness. I’m serious!

    What to do?

    I think the best course is the middle way. fortunately my church is potent enough to growl loud enough to keep these secular fancies of the National Church away from our door. Unlike many Episcopal churches, we at St. Johns maintained the right to use the 1928 BCP when other churches were being intimated to discard it in favor of the modern 1979 revision.

    And I think our Bishop knows we will growl if trespassed upon. He doesn’t want any more controversy in his diocese and will leave us alone. That’s the most (and quite a bit) we can hope for.

    I sometimes wonder if the utopian social planners at the top still think the Robinson affair was worth all the trouble; all the rankling and saber rattling. I don’t know what more damage they can do now other than issue ill-advised secular pronouncements that ignore Scripture.

    When the Bishop of Georgia visits my church we make the effort to double our attendance that Sunday and most greet him cordially (as a few slip out the back door) after the service, but we will respectfully disagree with him and his superiors and he knows it.

    We worship in a historic old church. Our parish house is a 150 year old mansion next door that Sherman used as his headquarters after his March to the Sea. We are a place of old things who know controversy is as old as the Christian Church itself. We know, or should know, that the blood on the door of church history has always been the result of intolerance.

    Tolerance in itself will not replace firm belief and adherence to Scripture, but it is better than blood.

    Perhaps we can make a small difference by setting an example of Christian tolerance and patience for those who, in their mortal arrogance, “know not what they do.”

  • WigWag

    Your church, Frank Arden, sounds like a fine place to worship and seems to be a storied place. I have homes in Queens, New York and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and spend quite a bit of time driving between the two. I do stop in Savannah on occasion and although I am Jewish not Episcopalian your church sounds like an interesting place to visit on a Sunday morning. Perhaps someday I will have the opportunity to do just that.

    What I dont understand is why disaffected Episcopal churches have to look to Uganda or Nigeria. Why not Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong or South Africa?

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  • Frank Arden

    Wigwag,

    Such kind words!

    You would be perfectly welcome to attend St. Johns. If you do, I should hope that you would make yourself known to our clergy, and others, and attend the coffee hour in the Greene-Meldrim House after the service.

    Better yet, I hope you contact me before your visit so that you could attend with me as my guest. I’d be delighted to meet you and introduce you to my family. Perhaps we could have lunch and get acquainted. I can be found on Face Book. I promise I won’t blow your cover!

    By the way, thank you for using Oscar Wilde as an example of unjust punishment, who’s only crime was loving another man. He would be lovingly accepted today in my church if he didn’t mind praying with the rest of us with all our sinful imperfections.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

  • Paul D.

    I must say that the rise of Pentecostalism in places like Africa is worrying — especially with the concordant increase in activities like witch burnings and parents mutilating children or burying them alive for being “possessed” by the devil.

    The last thing superstitious African tribal beliefs need is corroboration of their superstitious worldview by Western Christians with the addition of the threat of eternal hell.

  • http://hesperado.blogspot.com/ Hesperado

    Dear Prof. Berger,

    Speaking of religious noses, how would yours be counted?