In his watershed analysis of the rapidly emerging Christian movements in the Global South titled The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, religious sociologist Philip Jenkins discerned that, regardless of the paternalistic interpretations that Christian observers in Europe and North America may cling to, “the emerging Christian world will be anchored in the Southern continents.” A careful scholar, Jenkins relied upon the best available data while weaving his thesis. And it is for this reason that his work serves as one of the premiere harbingers of what has, seven years after he wrote, come to pass. Those of us familiar with Jenkins work who attended the GAFCON in Jerusalem were very much aware that the event served, in many respects, as a sign that the future Jenkins so accurately described is now present with us.
GAFCON was a uniquely global experience. During my week in Jerusalem as I served as a delegate or “pilgrim” to the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), I often reflected on Jenkins’ analysis. Individuals whose skin is darker than mine dominated every meeting, every worship service, and every foray into the Israeli countryside. Organized and orchestrated primarily by Christian leaders representing third-world Anglican Provinces, the conference and its place in history should not be underestimated by revisionist or orthodox Christians. The nearly 300 bishops representing 25 nations who turned out for the gathering oversee more than half the Communion’s adherents and perhaps more than 2/3rds the active Communion. Much more than a demonstration of support for orthodox Anglicans in North America, GAFCON is emblematic of a Global South Christianity come of age.
The ironies surrounding GAFCON’s issuance of its highly controversial Jerusalem Declaration are manifold. Consider, for example, the movement’s affinities with liberation theology. Phillip Berryman recognized liberation theology in broadest terms as “an interpretation of Christian faith through the poor’s suffering, their struggle and hope, and a critique of society and the Catholic faith and Christianity through the eyes of the poor.”
For decades, Western liberals saw in the Global South a tool and an ally to help advance their radical social/political agenda. The third world churches received their “generous subsidies” and were, they were certain, duty bound to embrace Marxist inspired liberation theologies that would abet their own world view. A remarkably paternalistic class, these same liberals now feel betrayed by a Global South Christianity who have rejected Marx and have expressed keen desire to maintain a conservative theological position. Recent commentary regarding the “GAFCON rebels” published by Anglicans in the United Kingdom and North America indicates that the gloves have come off and that a head-on collision between what remains of well-monied Western revisionist Christians and the economically poor, disfranchised emerging Southern orthodox is inevitable.
Why, precisely, have Global South Christians rejected Western ecclesiological neopatrimonialisms? In effect, at Jerusalem the South declared that the colonialist methods of maintaining the Anglican Communion represent a catastrophic failure. Heretical Western bishops openly teach with impunity that Christ was a sinner and that he was not raised from the grave while theologically faithful bishops like Dr. William Jackson Cox are publicly disciplined and then jettisoned from the church. All the while, the Archbishop of Canterbury observes what is happening in silence or, on occasion, calls on Anglicans to continue “listening” or to participate in “gracious conversation.”
Lean southerners have been “listening” to their well-fed, tony neighbors for a long time and as a matter of courtesy will continue to do so in the future. But as Episcopal Church leaders deposed priests by the score and drove biblically-focused congregations from their buildings, the Global South bishops grew steadfastly aware that these calls for gracious conversation, for bringing their “exuberance to the larger party” while their deadlines for clarity were being ignored were red herrings, obfuscatory techniques designed to buy time and hopefully fatigue the opposition.
The Western scheme has failed. Now fully empowered, well-educated, and shrewd, our third-world counterparts are serving notice that they are no longer willing to sit idly while Lambeth continues to engineer decadal stall tactics ( e.g., boundless gracious discussion sessions) designed ultimately to protect the worldly interests of an aggressively anti-orthodox American Episcopal Church.
The Western liberals seem incapable of recognizing the rapidly shifting paradigm occurring in their midst. Their ears now appear dull, their eyes dim (Isaiah 6). Having sloshed through their plans for the colonials over cocktails, few seem all that interested in listening to the narratives of their Global South neighbors. Few seem inclined to consider even the stories of martyrdom that many in Africa and Asia are able to share. Western liberals now find themselves in the unenviable position of explaining why they are unable to abide the third world’s critique and the liberation they discovered in the Gospel. They must now find ways to explain to them that they are not, indeed, the oppressors.
Whether they are heard or no, the economically poor of the third world have broken their shackles and will, in time, play a dominant role in the Anglican Communion. As Jenkins predicted, Christendom is increasingly finding its anchor in the Global South. Following GAFCON, it now seems plausible that, in due course, it will find its compass there as well.