This week’s New Yorker features an interesting article by Peter Boyer on the crisis facing the Episcopalian Church in the United States after a New Hampshire diocese elected the openly-gay Gene Robinson as bishop. (This post, by the way, is not principally about gay issues.) Boyer describes a circuitous political maneuvering that will, in the coming months, either open or pave over a schism in the worldwide Anglican community, of which the Episcopalian Church is the American member: conservative Episcopalian bishops, objecting to Robinson’s ordination, hope to convince the worldwide Anglican Communion that the old liberal Episcopalian federation has already departed from the faith and that it ought to recognize a newly-formed, conservative Episcopal organization as the true church in America. But because these conservative American bishops are ideologically outnumbered both at home and in Europe, the success of their strategy depends entirely on an alliance with conservative African Anglican bishops who enjoy the momentum of a major shift in the global demographics of Anglicanism and a consequent shift in the balance of power in church politics toward the global South.
I was struck by a comment from Henry Orombi, the Archibishop of Uganda and a major political player. He said,
A hundred or so years ago, the fire was in the Western world. And many of their great people went over to the countries in the Southern Hemisphere, and reached out there, and planted seeds there. And then things changed in the Northern Hemisphere. … It now looks like the Western world is tired and old. But, praise God, the Southern Hemisphere, which is a product of the missionary outreach, is young and vital and exuberant. So, in a way, I think that what God has done is he took seeds and he planted them in the Southern Hemisphere, and now they’re going to come back, right to the Northern Hemisphere. It is happening. It is happening.
Orombi’s statement sounds to me remarkably similar, in its horticultural tropes and its rhetoric of rejuvenation, to passages from the Book of Mormon, including Jacob’s allegory of the olive trees and Nephi’s great historical vision and Christ’s words to the Nephites. These passages, at least in the context of a traditional hemispheric understanding of the Book of Mormon, seem to suggest a similar geotropic shift in relative spiritual power from the once-chosen, now-corrupt Gentiles (traditionally read as anglo North America) to the blossoming proselytized remnant of the seed Lehi (understood as ethnic South America).
The governance and institutional structures of the worldwide Anglican and LDS churches are almost entirely dissimilar, of course. But it’s still interesting to think about whether and how the LDS church could ever find itself in a similar geopolitical position, dealing with a decisive shift in ecclesiastical power to members from the global South—and what developments, political or demographic, could prompt such a shift. Would our super-centralized system ever allow such a development? And if not, how are we to read the hemispheric prophecies in the Book of Mormon?
(I’m going to let you all do the thinking on this one, since my baby seems to stir in her bassinette every time my brain begins to stir in my skull. I guess, then, over all, it’s a good thing it happens every twenty minutes or so…)