Writing for The Guardian, Giles Fraser captures a common view of the Anglican Communion:
All this means that the bishops won’t be able to do a damn thing about their clergy having same-sex marriages…. And when this happens, the toys will be thrown from many a Nigerian church pram. The fiction that is the Anglican Communion will be over and we can go back to being the Church of England, rather than the local arm of the empire at prayer. And thank God for that.
This view sees the Anglican Communion as a distraction from the real business of being the Church of England. If only, the argument seems to be, we could stop concerning ourselves with the views of those Nigerian bishops, then we could really be the church we’re meant to be. It doesn’t matter how many toys are thrown “from many a Nigerian church pram.” We need to distance ourselves from global relationships.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where we can’t ignore global relationships. Our iPhones embody this. The next time Giles Fraser uses his smartphone, perhaps he can consider the global relationships it represents, from the rare minerals that are mined in distant corners of the world to make its capacitors function to the Chinese factory workers who assemble it. When you get dressed in the morning or tap out your next tweet, think about all of the people around the world who have touched your clothes and phone before you. Whether we like it nor, in the twenty-first century we are enmeshed in global relationships. And many of these relationships are a long way from the model of mutual, trusting, and truthful relationships set forth in the Bible.
But there’s another possible view here. What if instead of seeing the Anglican Communion as a distraction, we saw it as an asset to our mission to the world? What if the Anglican Communion could present to the world a model of relationship that is different from the world around us, a model that emphasizes wholeness and relatedness, rather than brokenness and fracture? Don’t you think if the world church was offering this kind of model, people might look at it and say, “Hey, look at what they have going on over there. I want to be part of that!”
Anglicans are, of course, singularly failing to grasp this opportunity at the moment. In part, our failure is a result of the poverty of the Communion’s discourse, a discourse that has been defined by a very small group of men (many of them bishops) who are very successful at making their voices heard, issues statements, and denouncing various actions.
The trouble is, of course, most Anglicans are neither bishops, nor men, nor specialize in making their voices heard. It is this reality that prompted me to write Backpacking through the Anglican Communion, a book that tries to give voice to those at the local level of the church around the world. When you move beyond the men who dominate the current conversation, you find many voices offering a variety of opinions on issues of sexuality, gender, and a whole lot else—and this as true in Nigeria as anywhere else. The Anglican Communion is a lot more complex than our discourse makes it out to be.
So the right thing to do is not to turn our backs on our sister and brother Anglicans. The right thing to do is to start listening to those voices which have not yet been heard and moving towards the rich, global relationships to which God is calling us.