Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Religious Globalization

When I think of the term globalization, I think of manufacturing moving to China, call centers moving to India, Internet communities, and lower prices at Walmart. As I researched my novel, I looked at the impact of globalization on both religion and art. Luckily, Miranda Hassett's book Anglican Communion in Crisis, How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism was published just as I started my research. She documents globalization in the Anglican church from the eyes of an anthropologist (who happens to be an Episcopalian). I've mentioned Hassett's book in an earlier post. In this post I want to look more specifically at the impact of globalization on the Anglican church.

st thomas episcopal church front

Religious globalization has some economic basis. A simple analysis of the Anglican communion before its 1998 Lambeth conference holds that the conservative American Episcopalians paid the African Anglican churches for their votes against homosexual ordination.

Hassett provides a much more nuanced look at the interactions of the African Anglican churches with both conservative and liberal Episcopal churches. The familiar aspects of globalization were in play. The advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s improved communications between the America and Africa, and low-cost airfare made it possible for church members to travel and share views in person.

On the American side, conservative Episcopalians looked for allies who agreed with their view that scripture forbids gay clergy. Feeling marginalized in the American Episcopal church, they found Anglicans in Rwanda and Uganda agreed with their views.

On the African side, clergy had to manage the colonial stigma attached to the church. Their decisions to work with the conservative American Episcopalians probably had more to do with the perception that supporting gay rights appeared as further acquiescence to American culture and politics than with their actual concern about homosexual bishops and priests. As a practical matter, in 1998 there was no significant gay rights movement in Rwanda or Uganda, no openly gay seminarians aspiring to priesthood. Embracing America's conservative Episcopalians and allowing conservative American churches to leave the American communion and join the African communion was great public relations for African churches that strove to establish an African identity.

Of course, the African churches did gain economically from the alliances that formed with conservative Episcopalians. Hassett's book shows, though, that money was not the driving force for the alliances.

Things have changed since 1998. At the recent Episcopal General Convention, the church voted to embrace homosexual and transgendered ordination and supported development of rites for same-sex marriages. The Episcopal church has demonstrated a capacity to allow widely divergent points of view. It was, for instance, the only American denomination that did not split during the Civil War even when members had opposing views on slavery.

Other religious persuasions might want to steal pages from the Anglican church's playbooks on globalization and diversity. It has shown how to keep its communion largely intact by accepting international alliances, and by allowing divergent beliefs within a medium of common prayer.


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