The future of the Anglican Communion hung in the air – or rather a whirlwind – of uncertainty, as Anglican Primates from around world met in Lambeth in mid-January 2016. In recent decades, the internal rifts over issues of human sexuality have revealed competing visions of Anglican identity that, in the light of the recent rhetoric by GAFCON and others, seem irreconcilable. The arguments by each side have been articulated theologically and biblically. Some appealing to a putative ‘Anglican orthodoxy’, others to a so-called ‘inclusive’ ethos. This conflict is not unique to Anglicanism. It exists in all major Christian denominations around the globe, highlighting the strong cultural nature of these views.

What seems unique to Anglicanism is the way that conservative Anglicans have used their purported numeric strength to legitimate a particular understanding of Anglican identity. GAFCON statements, from the 2008 Jerusalem Declaration onwards, have stressed both their numeric dominance and their unstoppable growth. This narrative, broadly accepted and largely unquestioned, underlines an implicit ‘numeric’ ecclesiology. That is, a vision of the church in which (membership) numbers play a key role in validating and perpetuating a particular vision. An ecclesiology of numbers, however, is a flawed ecclesiology. In the case of Anglicanism this is doubly so. First, because numeric growth and/or strength can be no basis to ascertain the legitimacy of a particular theology. And secondly, because the claim of representing the majority of active Anglicans in the Communion is, to say the least, highly questionable. This latter point is central to the article: ‘North to South, a reappraisal of Anglican Communion membership figures’. The findings of this article have attracted recent media attention (cf. Andrew Brown in The Guardian; Ruth Gledhill in Christian Today; Martyn Percy in Modern Church). However, its central point has remained elusive to most commentators. Only Percy has engaged with the main issue at stake. Namely, that if Anglicans are serious about staying together as a family, they cannot afford to alienate the majority of active Anglicans in the Communion (i.e. the Global North), at the expense of an exclusivist, conservative agenda, unable to live with diversity. The challenge which the Primates faced in January remains for the wider Communion: how to redefine their relationships in a way that honors the integrity and value of each member of the family, as well as their legitimate aspirations of being missionally faithful in their own contexts.

The full paper, published in the Journal of Anglican Studies, “North to South: A Reappraisal of Anglican Communion Membership Figures” by Daniel Muñoz can be viewed here free of charge until 31st March 2016.

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