The Anglican Communion has nearly eighty-five million members spread around the globe. Until the mid-twentieth century, these were concentrated among the Anglo-American immigrant churches associated with the British Empire. But by the 1960s, this concentration began a dramatic shift towards Africa and, more recently, Southeast Asia. Derived from the steady and sacrificial work of missionaries in the century before, and then the even more remarkable work of indigenous evangelization and church-building, Anglican membership exploded in places like Nigeria, East Africa, and Singapore (which is a leader in missionary work in Asia today). Such demographic change brings with it inevitable cultural confrontations within the Communion.
But theological differences are even more decisive. Of the four Christian commitments that David Bebbington famously identified with Evangelicalismbiblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activismall but the last seem to have disappeared from Western Anglicanism. But the first three are the heartbeat of the rest of the Communion.
Recent struggles over sexuality are but expressions of this deeper theological imbalance, where Scripture, divine sacrifice, and transformed discipleship are at stake. The moral significance of all this, however, is just coming into view, as the Anglican Communion has almost reached its existential crossroads. After thirteen years of turmoil, I’d give it another two for the verdict. One set of opposing choices member churches have before themsame-sex marriage or support for the punitive imprisonment of gaysdemonstrates how the extremes have now brazenly unveiled themselves. The coming year will lay the groundwork for how these choices are made. Given the extreme directions in which things have moved, some Anglicans like me are uncertain what future for faithful witness remains. It is there, I am sure, but what will it be? Perhaps other Christians can help us here; certainly they can provide warnings.