The Vicar’s Garden in the Global South

April 20, 2006 | 30 comments
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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…)

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30 Responses to The Vicar’s Garden in the Global South

  1. Mark IV on April 20, 2006 at 6:22 am

    Rosalynde,

    Interesting that I saw that same statement by Archbishop Orombi, and had many of the same thoughts you describe.

    I may not be right, but I see the establishment of area presidencies and offices as an attempt to shift at least part of the decision making out of SLC.

  2. danithew on April 20, 2006 at 6:53 am

    Rosalynde, I immediately had the same impression — that the remarks made by Orumbi will remind Mormons of the allegory of the olive tree(s) and some ideas about how South American/Central American LDS might contribute to building up the Church.

  3. Adam Greenwood on April 20, 2006 at 8:10 am

    The Global South is poor, patriarchal, intolerant, embraces the supernatural, looks for stability, etc. A church that too embraces North American concerns like wealth, ecumenicism, ‘liberal’ religion/moral concerns/family structures is a church that will become increasingly alienated from its Global South, like the Episcopalians. Or whose growth will be paltry.

  4. DKL on April 20, 2006 at 8:42 am

    Interesting description, Adam: “poor, patriarchal, intolerant, embraces the supernatural, looks for stability, etc.” The words that you use to describe the global south are the same words used to describe the American South not too long ago.

    There’s a funny thing that goes on all over the world, and it has been going on for centuries. People in the North saying the same things about people in the South, no matter where North is and no matter where South is. Whether it’s the American North and South or Mediterranean Europe vs. Northern Europe or the Northern Hemisphere vs the Southern Hemisphere, each defines itself in terms of the other, and (surprisingly) defines itself along the same lines. If we can generalize further, then the lesson we’ve learned in the United States is in interesting one: When was the last time that a Northerner was elected president?

  5. Julie M. Smith on April 20, 2006 at 9:04 am

    I read this article last night; had the same thought; was toying with writing a similar post today. Good thing you did–you are much better at coming up with titles than I am. :).

    I do think that the tone and emphasis, if not the doctrine and policy, of our church is shaped by its leaders to at least a small extent, and it does make one wonder how an increasing number of GAs from the Third World or Two-Thirds World or Global South or whatever they are calling themselves these days would affect the church. It is typical to complain of their social conservatism, but worth noting that a poor, politically oppressive agrarian background puts them much closer to the ideal reader of the OT and NT than someone who, say, went to grad school in biblical studies. ;) I imagine some of them have actually seen mustard seeds . . .

  6. Frank McIntyre on April 20, 2006 at 9:05 am

    Interesting post Rosalynde. I wonder if we’ll find the South to be largely populated with Ephraim or if their rise will coincide with the rise of other tribes of Abraham being declared in lineage blessings..

    DKL,

    I have at least one counter-example for you. Brazil’s North is the poor backwards part, while the South is the richer, well-developed part. I suppose you could reformulate your theory in terms of relation to the equator.

  7. DKL on April 20, 2006 at 9:45 am

    Frank, I said that it goes on all over the world, but that doesn’t mean that it goes on everywhere in the world. Like any other generalization, there surely are many, many exceptions–there are even places where no North/South dichotomy exists (e.g., in there is no notion of a South Massachusetts or North Massachusetts). It is the character of generalizations that they represent a distribution, and are therefore true in spite of counter examples (e.g., men are generally taller than women, smoking tends to shorten one’s life, people who drive more miles get in more accidents, etc.)

    That said, the North/South dichotomy holds true often enough to make us wonder how accurate these conceptions of Northern and Southern differences are. That’s my basic point.

  8. Frank McIntyre on April 20, 2006 at 10:00 am

    Oh I know all about generalizations and I am fine with them. I was pointing out that you might find that this one is actually related to a particular phenomenon– such as the equator or some kind of climate or something else. For example, it would be interesting to know how Australia or Chile divides things, if they do.

    As for examples and counterexamples, it is probably (but not certainly) worth noting that you actually only gave three examples to establish your case. So just one counterexample puts the general rule at only 75% correct :).

  9. Ed Johnson on April 20, 2006 at 10:43 am

    Another obvious counter example: England.

  10. roland on April 20, 2006 at 11:12 am

    What is the rate of growth for the LDS church in Latin American vs USA? Is it possible that 20 years from now there will be double or triple the number of members down there than up here?

    Won’t that put some stress on the geo-political nature and attitudes of the church? This is already starting to bubble to surface in terms of immigration, educational and economic opportunities.

  11. Elisabeth on April 20, 2006 at 11:14 am

    Ed (#9), being born and raised (for 10 years) in Manchester, England – I’m offended by the propagation of pernicious geo-ist stereotypes.

    Sheesh, even Wikipedia is joining in: “Northerners are also supposedly characterised as a little slow, but overall down-to-earth and friendly.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_England

  12. David on April 20, 2006 at 11:17 am

    When I read Adam’s comment above (No. 3), I immediately thought that this sounds a lot like the New England that Joseph Smith grew up in. Maybe those prevalent population characteristics and attitudes are turning more of God’s children–wherever they live–to truth…

  13. Ronan on April 20, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Elisabeth,
    It’s grim up north, mate.

  14. A Nonny Mouse on April 20, 2006 at 11:55 am

    In Italy, though, DKL’s generalization holds true. Northern Italians view southerners as backwards, irrational, superstitious and uneducated. Southern Italians view northerners as being cold and callous. So make that 4/5. 80% is a low B, but it is a B…

  15. annegb on April 20, 2006 at 11:59 am

    I view Italian men as irrestisibel. Damn, I can’t figure out how to spell that. I must sober up.

    Also Italian food.

    But I’m just commenting on #13, don’t even know the subject.

  16. Frank McIntyre on April 20, 2006 at 12:00 pm

    Nonny, did you add in Elisabeth-offending English stereotypes? 4/6 is 66%. Not so great.

  17. Seth R. on April 20, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    It’s just an overall trend of history.

    Society rise to greatness, then grow fat and lazy, then are usurped by the more robust barbarians.

    Happened to Rome – could happen to the US and EU too.

  18. MikeInWeHo on April 20, 2006 at 12:20 pm

    COULD happen in the US and EU ? You’re too kind. Time to blame the gays!

    Not to be picky, but it’s the Episcopal Church. The members are Episcopalians, but the church is never called the Episcopalian Church. IMO, if they can avoid schism, it will be almost miraculous.

    Seems to me the LDS situation is closer to Catholicism, with SLC = The Vatican. Protestants were always much different in the way power is distributed, even the Anglicans (who I understand don’t all accept the label Protestant).

  19. DKL on April 20, 2006 at 12:48 pm

    Seth R: Society rise to greatness, then grow fat and lazy, then are usurped by the more robust barbarians. Happened to Rome – could happen to the US and EU too.

    You mean the EU has risen to greatness? I must have slept through that one.

  20. Dan Richards on April 20, 2006 at 12:52 pm

    MikeInWeHo–

    Even Catholicism is affected by the shift of Christianity to the global south. If I recall correctly, a number of Western European nations now have a priest deficit (like a trade deficit), and are importing priests from African nations to service parishes which would remain unstaffed if they relied solely on native-born clergy.

    The closest LDS correlate is probably missionary numbers. Most, if not all, European nations have a missionary deficit (they send out fewer missionaries than they receive). Obvioiusly, the US has a missionary surplus. I wonder if there are other countries with a surplus, and which countries these might be (Tonga? Chile?) Might there come a day when the US has a net missionary deficit? If the numbers shift dramatically to the south could we end up with a schism like the Episcopalialialialians?

  21. Brad Kramer on April 20, 2006 at 1:11 pm

    Don’t have time to make a long post here (you can all breathe your collective sigh of relief) except to say that there is a similar and veryhelpful discussion on this topic at LDSLF:

    http://ldsliberationfront.net/?p=115

    I also believe that this subject is very much related to John Fowles post on Market Dominant Minorities — especially in how it relates to Gentile/HoIsrael, last-first/first-last Bom prophecies:

    http://www.timesandseasons.org/?p=2998

    I’ll hope to make a more substantive contribution later.

  22. MikeInWeHo on April 20, 2006 at 2:59 pm

    Episcolalia ! Tongues with a British accent?

    I don’t see the LDS church going into schism in our lifetime. Way too centralized, not to mention afraid of losing control. Even if the membership winds up predominantly outside the U.S., that doesn’t mean control can’t be retained in SLC.

  23. forresta on April 20, 2006 at 5:33 pm

    No doubt control will be retained in SLC. But what of the influence of the larger world on the church. There’s a (very) loose corollary between the inherent tension between personal revelation and formal, church-wide revelation, though I’m way too tired to dip into the details of all that rot. I’m interested to see how much control the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are willing to give up to the Stakes and Districts of the church in “outlying” areas. They’ve had to make some adjustments because of sheer numbers (cf 2004′s announcement that under some circumstances, Stake Presidents can make decisions regarding the restoration of Priesthood blessings to excommunicated members) and, though I don’t see the brethren bending on the fundamentals (I sincerely hope not!), I could see them giving Stakes and Districts a little more control over decision-making on the local level. If they do, what will the church look like in ten or twenty years? More importantly, what kind of influence would the Stakes and Districts in the “far reaches” have on SLC and on church policy as a whole? Or will it have absolutely no impact at all?

  24. Seth R. on April 20, 2006 at 6:11 pm

    Sorry DKL, EU should have read “Europe.” That solve it for you?

    MikeWei,

    No, I wouldn’t blame it on the gays. I don’t ascribe to that camp. I’ve got bigger fish to fry than the homosexuals. I’m honestly more worried about the “Christian megachurch” movement than I am about homosexuals. But I don’t think there’s any one thing you can pinpoint as the main cause for Rome’s fall, or America’s inevitable fall.

  25. a spectator on April 20, 2006 at 6:21 pm

    Here in upstate NY, we have a former Episcaplian congregation that has joined the Anglican Church of Uganda (although so far their church property has not) and a significant number of African Catholic priests and nuns doing their work here.

    While African church-goers are generally thought of as socially conservative, this is only true in some matters. For example, they are more conservative about homosexuality but much less conservative about heterosexuality–it is quite common for African priests and nuns to have sexual relationships, sometimes with each other, sometimes with commoners. They see sex as a more inevitable part of life than the vatican would want them to. It is my understanding that the situation is south America is similar. I wonder how that dynamic could affect the overall church (or churches) when more people from these areas, with this background, and perhaps sharing these attitudes, rise to power or at least significant numbers.

  26. DKL on April 20, 2006 at 6:51 pm

    Look, if the Africans want to control the Anglican church, I say, “Let ‘em!”

  27. Christian Y. Cardall on April 20, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    what developments, political or demographic, could prompt such a shift

    It will begin with a linguistic change: an article in the issue before latest of Dialogue (my first, obtained with DMI-Dave’s mediated internet discount! But I also ordered BYU Studies for the first time, in time to get the WoJS issue, thanks to your plug) predicts that Spanish will become the majority language in the Church in, I can’t remember, 2015 I think, or at least sometime between 2015 and 2020. Spanish will be spoken in General Conference, and not long thereafter RoastedTomatoes will rejoice as care for the world’s poor truly takes center stage. You heard it here first.

    The similarity with Jacob 5 of the Archbishop’s comments is bone-chillingly striking. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.

  28. MikeInWeHo on April 21, 2006 at 1:42 am

    #24 The Christian mega-churches definitely deserve their own string here.

    Is America’s fall inevitable ?

  29. greenfrog on April 21, 2006 at 9:26 am

    Yes, but so, too, are spring, winter, and summer.

  30. Adam Greenwood on April 24, 2006 at 6:13 am

    “Spanish will be spoken in General Conference, and not long thereafter RoastedTomatoes will rejoice as care for the world’s poor truly takes center stage. You heard it here first.”

    This may be, but see two grounds to hesitate. First, language changes take awhile to percolate upwards (where there is a hierarchy, both de jure and de facto, as here) and language changes tend to be slow in religious matters where there is a quasi-canonical language (for us, English, the language in which the Book of Mormon was revealed and the revelations and the endowment were given). Second, while I’m sure that the Church becoming poorer and more global will ipso facto mean that care for the world’s poor gets more important, I think its a mistake to assume that its the members abroad who would be driving the change or that caring for the world’s poor would take center stage. As the Anglican controversy shows, caring for the poor is often not necessarily the main concern of converts in the Global South. They’re not rice Christians.