Divorce is messy, and the lessons from a failed marriage are often complicated. Such was the case with December's split of the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AM) from its oversight in the Church of Rwanda. Until the 11-year-old partnership crumbled, it seemed to embody the potential for Global South church leaders to rise up and provide spiritual leadership in the developed world. Now?
"It would be unwise to draw any general conclusions for the future from a dispute that is clearly about particular human relationships," said Brian Stanley, director of the Centre for the Study of World Christianity at the University of Edinburgh.
The South Carolina-based AM (formerly AMIA) grew to more than 150 congregations. But the 2010 retirement of Rwandan archbishop Emmanuel Kolini—who had a strong connection with bishop Charles Murphy, AM's chairman—changed the relationship.
Suddenly, AM faced questions and accusations from Rwanda over the American association's finances, oversight, and long-term direction. The dispute reached a boiling point on November 30, when new Rwandan archbishop Onesphore Rwaje gave Murphy one week to submit to his authority. Murphy resigned instead.
"All the Christian churches are becoming increasingly global, and as they do, these kinds of crosscultural tensions … are likely to increase," said Douglas Jacobsen,author of The World's Christians.
AM launched more than a decade ago as an alternative to Episcopal Church infighting over biblical authority and sexual ethics.
"Americans entering into these relationships [welcomed] the rising dominance of righteous and spiritually gifted Southern Christian leaders," said Miranda Hassett, author of Anglican Communion in Crisis. "What's happening now … seems like a renunciation of that logic or narrative."
The breakup illustrates the complexity and difficulty of shifting denominational power across cultures and continents, other experts said. "Finances, communication, and leadership are exercised differently in different cultures," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, "which is why most denominations do not function that way."
A majority of the world's Christians now live in the Global South. Nonetheless, said Jacobsen, the incredible disparity in wealth makes it unlikely that African churches will make deep inroads in the American setting.
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