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Lambeth 2022: Is White Privilege Making the Calls?

By David Goodhew

Amidst the heated comments of western bishops against reaffirming the 1998 Lambeth Conference’s resolution on sexuality, it is vital to remember how much “whiter” this Lambeth is than most recent Lambeth conferences. At Lambeth 2022 western churches hold influence out of all proportion to their size. Western bishops would be horrified to admit it, but their influence is a classic case of white privilege.

Micro-Dioceses

I am not always a fan of the language of “white privilege,” but it is certainly discernible here. Eight Episcopal dioceses in the USA have fewer than 1,000 people in church on an average Sunday as of 2019 (there are more “micro-dioceses” now). In 2019, the diocese of Northern Michigan claimed 385 attended its churches on an average Sunday — that’s fewer than a good many individual Anglican congregations. This cannot be serious. And these micro-dioceses are, mostly, led by white bishops.

In 2017, 10 Canadian dioceses — a third of all Canadian dioceses — had under 1,000 worshippers on an average Sunday. And they have shrunk further since then. Yet their (mostly white) bishops are busy opining at Lambeth.

Several Scottish dioceses are able to run North American dioceses close when it comes to the dubious distinction of being the smallest diocese, by attendance, in the Communion. The Bishop of Brechin felt able to speak out on Lambeth 1:10, but didn’t mention that the total attendance across his diocese, as of 2019, was 676 people.

Yes, a bishop’s episcopal charism does not depend on the number of worshipers in their see. But when almost all the micro-dioceses are in the west, and when western bishops are disproportionately present at Lambeth 2022, this is white privilege in action.

The Side-lining of Global South Anglicans

Over-representation of rich western dioceses is matched by gross under-representation of the Global South at Lambeth 2022 This happens in several ways.

Lambeth 2022 is taking place even though the bishops of half of African Anglicans have refused to come. Their dioceses constitute a third of the total Anglican Communion. Western bishops may say “it was their choice not to come.” But this is not a good look. That third of the communion is certainly not being listened to. The readiness of many western bishops to act as if Lambeth 2022 is “business as usual” is untenable.

Under-representation of the South happens in other ways. Whereas many western dioceses have tiny numbers and/or are shrinking, many dioceses of non-western Anglicanism have vast attendances. The Diocese of Singapore has planted across Asia. It has a deanery covering Nepal and Anglicans in Nepal number around 10,000. Though larger than many western dioceses, Nepalese Anglicans have no distinct voice at Lambeth.

Conclusion

The Canadian diocese of the Yukon had 199 people on an average Sunday in 2017 — across the entire diocese. And that number has probably fallen since then. North American Anglicans made up about 10% of the entire Communion in 1970. Fifty years on, they make up 2%, tops. These numbers need to be remembered every time western bishops speak.

The loud voices of many western bishops belie the fact that many western dioceses are smaller in attendance than not a few individual congregations elsewhere in the Communion. And most other western dioceses are shrinking fast. Yet their voice is heard loudly — whilst the voice of many Global South Anglicans is unheard or muted at Lambeth 2022.

The influence of a diocese should not depend solely on its size. But it cannot be detached from its size either. The Anglican Communion has created the equivalent of the “rotten boroughs” of 18th century England, where tiny numbers of electors could send people to parliament, whilst millions were disenfranchised. In Anglicanism, every bishop is equal — but some are much more equal than others.

This means that the Lambeth “calls” have no validity. Lambeth 2022 is like Lambeth 2008. It cannot speak. The whole Communion has not gathered since 1998. And if the mostly white bishops of Britain and North America try to get their way, despite the white privilege so operative at Lambeth 2022, there is a serious possibility that 1998 will turn out to be the last gathering of the whole Communion.

33 COMMENTS

  1. Zahl has it caught it exactly. We are in a different world in the Canada-US context when it comes to Bishops, stipends, workload, communicants, evangelism. That is to put no one down, but simply to register that for those who labor hard with vast numbers, even attending an event like Lambeth is an altogether different experience. ‘Voting by numbers’ on ‘calls’ requires very long math, given the disproportional ratios.

  2. I would just add that size isn’t necessarily an indication of biblical faithfulness. Many of the small dioceses in Canada, for example, are faithful to the received teaching on marriage. Diocese of the Yukon is a case in point, at least it was under their former bishop.

    • You might have mentioned that the Diocese of the Arctic has at least three bishops. However, I don’’t agree with your definition of “Biblical faithfulness.” I notice that we can use that loaded term whenever it suits. For example, we may use it to refuse marriage to some, but we seldom use it in our church in terms of tithing and stewardship. We know where the quicksand is.

  3. I find it odd to lament the over-representation of white, western voices when hundreds of African bishops voluntarily chose to absent, and, thus, silence, themselves.

    • You may have missed the part about those bishops struggling with a history of not being listened to or valued as other portions (yes, largely white portions) of the Anglican communion continued to move in a “progressive” direction against their pleading to remain faithful to their common heritage and practice.

  4. This piece is dreadful and simplistic. It appears that numbers should determine everything, including who is right and how to discern God’s call. Majorities are always right, we are told. Yet that is not Biblical, nor faithful. If majorities ruled the Church, we would all be Arians. Could any core doctrine be changed based on votes? It’s a shaky theory to test. We don’t really know what numbers even mean from one national church to another within the Anglican Communion. The criteria being used to count and differences from one province to another are unknown. If we disregard small numbers, then some parishes in dioceses would be ignored and some churches within the Anglican Communion as well, because we just want to listen to the “big dogs.” A very Western idea. But it serves the author of this piece well. So much for mutual acceptance and respect. “I win because I have the numbers.” When the Church has behaved this way, it has never been good.

  5. The hypocrisy in this is that it’s not as if western influence is not part of the Global South. ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion, but it is a part of GAFCON. So it’s not as if the Global South is truly separate from the wealthy (white) “North.”

  6. Why can’t the church consider rector/bishop combinations for micro diocese? Why can’t the church consider a blessing of life-long faithful unions and leave traditional marriage based on Genesis as being between a man and a woman? The state can make marriage any thing it wants which is why many of us do only church weddings and do not sign secular wedding licenses. Why do we continue to regard faithful committed same sex unions as perversion?

  7. Another thoughtless aspect of this article is where he uses the Canadian Diocese of the Arctic as an example of “western” domination, despite small numbers. These are INDIGENOUS Anglicans, with two of their bishops being Indigenous. You know, people Lambeth is showing concern for.

  8. I wish David Goodhew would turn his keen analytical abilities away from race for a moment and look at gender in this context. What do the bishops in the South think about women in leadership? For us in the USA and Canada that ship has long since sailed, and we celebrate the women in our churches’ leadership. Shall we be asked to back-peddle on that too?

  9. […] David Goodhew’s recent piece on white privilege at the Lambeth Conference highlights inequities which are also found at GC. He points out that there are eight TEC dioceses with less than 1,000 people in church on a Sunday (the 2020 data moves that number up to 14), 10 of the 30 Canadian dioceses with the situation, with similar statistics in Scotland. To put things in proportion, North America contains about 2 percent of the membership of the Anglican Communion, while it brought over 100 of the 650 bishops present at the 2022 Lambeth Conference. This should not be. […]

  10. If Anglicanism wants to have any semblance of order, they need to merge away at least half of the dioceses in the United States and Canada, maybe even more.

  11. I think this is a case of what can seem so fair being so foul… At first glance it can appear a noble appeal for some levelling up within the mainly irrelevant (in British culture) world of the Anglican Church. The term ‘White Privilege’ and its rightful opprobrium is bound to be met approval from most quarters, whilst at the same time initiating a subduing guilt, thus quietening negative comment from others.  However, I suspect this superficially honourable criticism on Goodhew’s part is more concerned with furthering his own theological and moral worldview and is (as is often the case with the pious) merely self-interest packaged in self-flattering virtue. The irony being, if the role of democracy and the Anglican Church in the UK is questioned, we should be asking why 26 Bishops (who are appointed by government in the first place) sit in the House of Lords and have a say in the formation of UK legislation, when only two out of every 100 Brits regularly attend an Anglican Church. But I suspect Goodhew’s democratic principles don’t extend to such awkward facts; many Anglican ministers have a habit of maintaining the self-glorifying belief that a piece of white plastic around their necks gives them a right to tell others what to do… with democracy conveniently forgotten when it contests their self-satisfied ego.

    Odd too that Goodhew presents a deafening silence on Anglicanism outside of England being part of a toxic heritage of cultural white supremacy and colonialism which destroyed indigenous religions and cultures by the imposition of a highly selective and self-serving Western morality. This is another irony Goodhew seems to blindly side-step in his eagerness to disguise the furthering of his own moral and political agenda in the shape of Woke virtue.  

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