Fling out the Banner! the National Church Ideal and the Foreign Mission of the Episcopal Church

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Fling Out the Banner! The National Church Ideal and the Foreign Mission of the Episcopal Church. By Ian T. Douglas. New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1996. vii + 341 pp. $29.95 (cloth).

The thirteenth Lambeth Conference that assembled in Canterbury last year brought together 740 bishops of the Anglican Communion. For the first time since the conference began in 1867 a majority of the bishops were from outside the West, with nearly a third coming from Africa and composing the single largest continental delegation.

To the pride of all in attendance Lambeth 1998 displayed colorfully the global face of Anglicanism. Less pleasing to a number of bishops from the older provinces, though, was the voice of the Conference on certain issues. In debates and resolutions the Two Thirds World bishops did not hesitate to set forth their own pressing concerns and to articulate firmly their differing theological views from others, especially in the area of human sexuality. In doing so, they made clear that the shift in the center of gravity of the Communion to the Southern Hemisphere, the epiphany of which was startingly glimpsed by many a decade earlier at Lambeth, was now an unmistakable reality and challenge for the future course of Anglicanism.

Forty years before, in fact, American Bishop Stephen Bayne had forecast this dramatic change in Anglican affairs in calling attention then to "the new self-consciousness and confident assertiveness of the indigenous peoples of the world" (An American Apostle, Valley Forge, PA, 1997, p. 66). In his post as the first Executive Officer of the Anglican Communion, Bayne enthusiastically undertook to promote the equal partnership of the so-called 11 younger churches" and to assure fully "their self-reliant and buoyant place" in the Anglican household. The principle of mutual responsibility and interdependence that he did so much to pioneer was based upon the fundamental conviction that there was no church which has not something to give and to teach, something to receive and to learn. Nothing was more detrimental to the developing mission and vitality of the Anglican Communion in the judgment of Bayne than what he termed a "cultural confessionalism" by which older churches nurture a continuing dependence on the part of younger churches and foil their liberties to enjoy responsible fellowship. The day had passed when the mission of the Communion should be identified exclusively with a particular nation or culture. The urgent necessity confronting Anglicanism in the last half of this century, he insisted, was to transcend national tradition or community and to grant dignity and respect to all churches, free from beggary, condescension or coercion of any kind (see An Anglican Turning Point, Austin, 1964).

The forces of cultural confessionalism certainly have played their role in the development of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The foreign missionary involvement of the Episcopal Church in the United States was governed mainly by such forces, according to Ian Douglas in Fling Out the Banner! For the greater period of our foreign mission work the spread of American democratic ways and values were a strong source of inspiration. This cultural confessionalism was enshrined, as Douglas relates, in the ideal of a national church adopted by American Episcopalians in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The allure that the Episcopal Church -alone might provide a point of unity for American Christianity, as forcibly enunciated by William Reed Huntington in 1870, excited passions as to not only the ecclesial and social advances that might be realized at home, but also to obligations abroad. The result was that by 1919 some 371 American Episcopalian missionaries were to be found serving overseas in the foreign field and the extra-continental missionary districts of the church. In the years between the two World Wars the Episcopal Church would support more foreign missionaries than in any other time of its history, reaching a peak of 486 evangelistic workers. …