Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Global South as an Anglican Designation

An exploration in understanding what is behind a new expression

Though the expression, “Global South,” has been in use for a decade or more in the spheres of international relations, global economics, third-world development, and the like, its use in Anglican ecclesiological discourse is very recent. To refer to “The Global South” as one of the various constituencies of the Global Anglican Communion of Churches is now common; but; it has only been so for four or five years. (see the essay by Dr Poon listed at end of this article.)

Further, the economic and political use of the expression refers solely to the poorer countries of the world, the so-called developing nations, situated south of Europe and the U.S.A. (see for details of all this the work of “The Center for Global South” at American University in Washington D.C. founded in 1992); but, the Anglican use strangely includes both the provinces that are in developing countries and one or two that are in developed countries (e.g., S E Asia).

Today, 2008, the constituency called the Anglican Global South is generally associated with both a conservative theology and also opposition to the liberal-progressive agenda in sexuality of provinces in the West, especially North America. This has not always been so, for the original stance of this grouping was a continuation of the former South-South Encounters of representatives of Anglican Provinces not in the West or the North. As such it had admirable aims and sought primarily to do justice to the vocation and experience of being Anglican outside of the West and North and after colonialism. This explains why the relatively affluent province of S E Asia is in The Global South.

Totally separate from the work at, and between, the South to South Encounters, and beginning before the Lambeth Conference of 1998, continuing during that Lambeth Conference, and then more intensely afterwards, has been the persistent work of various American “ambassadors.” They have both made visits to Africa and Asia, and also invited to the U.S.A. bishops from these continents. The aim was to enlist these overseas bishops as orthodox allies in the battle being fought in and around The Episcopal Church over the innovations in sexual practice and ethics.

It is important to recognize that this enlisting process was going on before “The Global South” as an Anglican reality, that is, actually self-consciously emerged and was recognized as a distinct entity with this name. However, after its emergence , and with the arrival of the major, disturbing event of the election of Gene Robinson as a bishop in the U.S.A., some of “The Primates of the Global South” immediately adopted a definite position of opposition to the American innovations, and some provinces (e.g., Nigeria and Uganda) led by determined primates took the further step of declaring themselves out of communion with the Episcopal Church. In all this they were in close touch with the U.S.A. Anglican “ambassadors” and relied on them wholly for their information and interpretation of the complex American religious scene.

Since 2004 it has seemed as if the whole Anglican Family worldwide was in crisis. The situation as seen from London or New York or Lagos has been fluid and changing as the so called Windsor Process has been in play, and the Episcopal Church has resolutely defended itself. The crisis has affected provinces around the world in different ways. We can see today, in 2008, after several years of this Process, with more to come at Lambeth 2008, that the present Anglican Global South is no longer fully united in terms of facing this crisis. It is now very clear that it is composed of provinces that, while agreeing that the new Western approach to homosexual practice is wholly wrong, do not share a common view of Anglican ecclesiology, and, in particular, of the relation of autonomous and interdependent provinces to one another in one worldwide fellowship.

Some provinces definitely plan to stay active within the Global Anglican Communion and have their bishops attend Lambeth. They plan to continue to work towards a Common Anglican Covenant in what they know will require much patience and will be often frustrating. Thus they intend to continue to uphold the general aims of the former South to South Encounter and work through the normal channels of the Anglican Communion, while developing their own unique cultural dimensions of Christian insight, worship and witness.

Other provinces (or more precisely, the primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya) apparently want to re-define what is the Global Anglican Communion, how its members relate to one another, and what are its aims and objectives. They have planned a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for June 08 under the name, Global Anglican Conference (GAFCON), to take counsel together and to agree upon where they will start in their new mission. These primates regard the Lambeth Conference of 2008 as too compromised a gathering to serve in any vital sense as a council to further the true mission of the Church in the world. Thus they feel a duty to be absent. Further, they believe that the present Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be trusted, and the special claims for his See have no real meaning for today.

These Primates have also decided that the way to go in terms of organization is not the old Anglican route, related to the old workings of the British Empire and to the ancient See of Canterbury; but, rather, making use of modern communication and globalization strategy, they intend to reduce or eliminate over-much dependence upon “Process” (patient negotiation and debate in synods and councils) and of old geographical divisions. In fact, this is a movement where the leaders appointed by God, that is, the primates and patriarchs of East and West Africa, lead from the front following a new rule-book.

The two approaches within The Global South are obviously very different and at odds with each other, and it seems that “The Global South” as a distinct Anglican entity will have a very short life, unless there is a change in major circumstances soon.

In conclusion

Within the USA, and its extremely varied and competitive Anglicanism, there is obviously support for GAFCON in Common Cause, CANA, AMIA and ACN , even as there is frequent talk in these circles of the obsolescence of the See of Canterbury and the need to reform the so-called “colonial” structure of the Anglican Communion. However, there is the beginnings of support for those provinces of The Anglican Global South, which have decided to be at Lambeth 08 (e.g., S E Asia & Tanzania) and seek to be a part of the “Process.”

What may not be widely known or understood, except by those who are familiar with the work of AAC, Ekklesia and other organizations in the 1990s and up to 2002, is this: That American advocacy, consistency and generosity played no small part in preparing the way for the origin and development of The Global South and its agenda, but also in the very recent GAFCON movement. Further, from The Global South Anglican Institute in Uganda, itself led by Americans, has come very strong propaganda for the reform of the Anglican Communion. Thus the entrance into the mainland of the U.S.A. by the Provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya to establish missions, networks and churches is in fact the fruit of the great efforts before, at, and after Lambeth 1998 by “ambassadors” to build strong relations with “orthodox” overseas Provinces.

One cannot change history! The facts are reasonably clear as to the American influence upon the emergence of the strong-minded and militant dimension of The Global South constituency. However, there are a few of those, who supported and encouraged the AAC and Ecclesia in the 1990s in their making ties with overseas bishops, who wish now that the seed sowed by their efforts would not have germinated in such a way as to produce the fruit called “Gafcon”! Rather that it had produced a more moderate fruit growing in all the provinces of The Anglican Global South and leading to a sharing of this as holy desert with the whole Family of Churches.


For further reading:
M.K. Hassett, Anglican Communion in Crisis, Princeton University Press, 2008; $39.95

and March 12 2008

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