Conservative critics of the American church, especially bishops from the so-called Global South, protest that Episcopalians are allowing their faith to be adulterated by the culture. But the conservative bishops who abhor homosexuality are themselves acting in a cultural context. Experts on Christianity in Africa note that some bishops there don’t want to seem “soft” on homosexuality for fear of losing converts to Islam.
In its long history, Christianity repeatedly has been divided and subdivided, and most of the issues that led one group to part company with another were “inside” issues of theology — the authority of the Bible versus that of the pope, the role of “faith” and “works” in salvation, the nature of the sacraments. But others, like the dispute over American slavery that divided Northern from Southern Presbyterians in the 19th century, raged and resonated outside church walls. That is the case with the Anglican argument over gays, which is why so many non-Episcopalians — and non-Christians — are paying attention.