There’s been a spate of articles in the secular press recently, keyed to a conference at Wycliffe College in Toronto marking the 50th anniversary of “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ.” (They’re a month late, but who wants to go to a conference in August anyway?)
If the only thing you knew about the Anglican Communion was what you read in these articles, you could be forgiven for thinking the end of the Communion is nigh.
That’s the message I have heard time and time again as I travel around the world church. (I’m writing this post in South Sudan, as a matter of fact, where I have been spending the last month with the church here.) But articles such as these propagate a narrative of disunity that has largely gone unchallenged.
Let’s look at what these articles have in common:
- They quote mostly bishops. Fair enough, I suppose, since bishops are leaders in the church. In my experience, however, bishops are far from the most interesting (or representative) people in the church.
- Relatedly, they quote mostly men. Most bishops are men. Of the Anglicans who speak English (and thus can be interviewed by reporters who speak only English), a larger percentage are men. But this neglects the viewpoints of the majority of Anglicans who happen to be women.
- They quote people who can travel. Articles like these are written by reporters who don’t leave the comfort of their home. They let the subjects come to them: attend a conference, interview a few people on the sidelines, go back to the office, and write it all up. What about people who can’t afford plane tickets, whose visa applications are rejected, or who are too busy in ministry to travel? When I was a reporter, I wrote several stories like this. I rarely found that they did more than scratch the surface.
- They call reporting “analysis”. (Like this one) If we’re going to analyze a topic, it seems that something more than merely quoting other people is necessary. For instance, the conference at Wycliffe featured a line-up of speakers of a decidedly conservative tilt. That fact is barely mentioned in the news coverage.
My new book, Backpacking through the Anglican Communion: A Search for Unity is born of precisely these frustrations. As I have traveled around the world, working and visiting and listening and praying with my fellow Anglicans, I have found stories that fundamentally challenge the narrative of disunity that is propounded in articles such as these. I have found these stories precisely by going past the bishops, men, and English-speakers who dominate stories such as these.
This is not to say that what these male bishops have to say is necessarily wrong. There’s truth in their comments, of course, but it is, at best, partial truth. Nor is it to say the Anglican Communion is in a perfectly unified body. Like other parts of the body of Christ, it has its own dysfunctions, idiosyncrasies, and broken bits that create a unique set of challenges.
But if we’re serious about being a worldwide family of churches, we need to start with an honest appraisal of the situation. Articles like these do nothing to help with that.
Backpacking through the Anglican Communion will be published in January 2014.