Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism

By Prevost, Elizabeth E. | African Studies Review, April 2008 | Go to article overview
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Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism


Prevost, Elizabeth E., African Studies Review


Miranda K. Hassett. Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and Their African Allies Are Reshaping Anglicanism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007. xiv + 295 pp. Figures. Notes. Index. $39.50. Cloth.

Hassett's study is a timely one. The recent extension of African ecclesiastical jurisdiction over dissident congregations in the United States seems to confirm an immanent schism in the Anglican Communion, in which a conservative American minority - allying with a global Southern Anglican majority - will break from the "liberal North." Indeed, the debate over the policy of the U. S. Episcopal Church on homosexuality has cast the Anglican Communion as an exemplar of the realignment of world Christianity, characterized by a corresponding polarization of liberal and conservative values. African archbishops have crucially shaped the terms of this debate within both the Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican Communion, inasmuch as the transformation of many American Episcopal parishes into "missionary churches" of African dioceses has reversed the legacy of colonial evangelization.

Drawing on the work of Philip Jenkins, Hassett sets out the terms of this "global-shift" model and shows that the partnership of American conservatives and African Anglicans is the result of neither a uniform social or theological orthodoxy nor an inevitable rise of Southern Christian authority. Instead, the globalization of conservative Anglicanism is the work of strategic coalition-building across space and culture (exemplified best by the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Bishops, when mobilization around the sexuality resolution supplanted a competing focus on debt relief and poverty, on which Southern Anglicans shared more common ground with liberal constituencies) . Meticulously researched, the book is based on (but not limited to) extensive fieldwork in an American dissident congregation and in the Church of Uganda, and the sources offer a range of perspectives among leadership, clergy, and laypeople. This comparative framework demonstrates how homosexuality is in fact the touchstone for a host of larger issues, which have as much to do with contests over material resources and power as they do with moral authority within the Anglican community.

At the heart of Hassett's intervention lies a critical investigation of the "global" as a frame of both analysis and experience. Hassett "writes against globalization" (10) by treating the development of Anglican globalism as the product of human agency rather than structural forces. She also situates the Anglican case within a widespread debate about whether globalization perpetuates or unhinges older forms of Western hegemony. The book's collective progression suggests the answer to this question.

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