Are the English Mission Societies fighting a war by proxy, with the Episcopal Church as the turf?

The Anglican Communion as a Post World War II Phenomenon.

The modern quasi-institutional entity, the Anglican Communion, is mostly a product of post World War II realities. It is after that war that there began to be the great surge towards national independence, the end of colonial church structures, extensive work by local missionaries for local expansion, and finally the rapid expansion of Provincial churches within the Anglican Communion. Almost everything about the modern Anglican Communion, save Lambeth and the work of various missionary societies that gave the patina of internationalism, is a product of post World War II concerns.

The Role of the English Missionary Societies in the spread of Anglicanism.

Prior to the Second World War the Anglican Communion was visibly present in the gathering of bishops at the Lambeth Conference, in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in the work of various societies that linked the work of one Church to that of a missionary territory or another church. The Missionary Societies provided the means by which general “Anglican” theological, moral and social positions found their way into the development of new Churches being formed all over the world. The Missionary Societies, working in turn with mission agents of the various churches, had the major voice in ecumenical strategies for evangelism and mission.

Unlike the “instruments of communion” that reflect a wide variety of viewpoints throughout the Anglican Communion of Churches, the mission societies were often able to express themselves in ways that carried sharper theological and strategic viewpoints. This is particularly true of the mission societies of the Mother Church – the Church of England.

The two primary ideologically differentiated societies – the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) 1701 and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) 1799 – arose about one hundred years apart in England and represented missionary engagements with quite different religious sensibilities.

Almost all that can be said about those differences without going deep into their histories ends up being caricature, but perhaps it is illustrative to life a paragraph from the “about us” pages of their web sites to show the differences between them:

From the USPG website: The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) enables people to grow spiritually, to thrive physically and to have a voice in an unjust world.

As an Anglican mission agency, we do this alongside churches and communities around the world, providing the resources - people, money and ideas - that they define as necessary to meet local needs.

Our work involves pastoral care, social action and supporting training programmes.”

From the Church Missionary Society Website:

“Jesus said: "Go forth to every part of the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation." CMS is a pioneering mission community with roots dating to 1799. We long to see the transforming fullness of Christ unfolding in every culture and we are committed to serious and sustained cross-cultural engagement.

We strive to share the love of God with all peoples and to gather them into the fellowship of Christ's Church.

That means that all members of CMS try to participate actively in Christian mission wherever they are, in their home country or overseas.”

The two statements are quite different: still, they both are statements of Christian organizations and most of the time tolerant Church of England folk would admit that.

With the USPG site, one has to look elsewhere on the welcoming page to find the clear reference to the Good News in Jesus Christ. It is there in the logo: “Living the Gospel” and when you click on the video Jesus Christ is named clearly as the source of authority for the work done. It is not an embarrassment or an afterthought. It is simply a given. USPG would have us understand that mission grows from a community already committed to the Gospel.

With the CMS site, one cannot avoid the link: “Jesus said: "Go forth to every part of the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15) This quote establishes the biblical mandate for the work of mission – howbeit from a source that is often considered the voice of the early church rather than the voice of Jesus. It is of course a parallel to the Great Commission statement in Matthew. But the CMS call to mission begins by establishing its authority, not as a “company” or corporation doing Gospel work, but as an outgrowth of a command from Jesus Christ.

Well, however the differences played out, my experience of the results was to meet Kenyan, Rwandan, Ugandan, Central African, and Nigerian church leaders and to hear them volunteer to me (without any lead in question on my part) that they were CMS or USPG, or sometimes one of the smaller agencies, all from the Church of England. The reader might want to check out the various mission agencies in England by looking at the Partnership for Mission web pages.

Again, it is not possible to avoid caricature, but with in very broad outlines, the CMS missions produced churches that were more evangelical – seeking transformation by conversion, conversion expressed in a change in moral condition, and USPG missions produced churches that were less evangelical and often more concerned for incarnational transformation, expressed in a life of prayer that lead to social action. The history of these two organizations also reflects the growth of empire at different stages: the SPG initially drive by the desire to provide churches for church adherents in the colonies, and CMS with its roots in the anti-slavery movement and its growth in the English evangelical ascendancy in the mid 19th Century was closely identified with British colonial practice. SPG started with ministry to the colonialists, CMS started with ministry to the colonized. Now, in a post colonial world both, along with the general missionary engagements of the Western Christian churches are subject to wide spread criticism for continued colonial attitudes.

This backfires at times, particularly when the critique comes from those who were raised up in various countries with the expectations of close and supportive ties between church and state. The colonialist expectations that commerce, government and church would be closely tied gets transferred by some into similar internal relationships among church, state and commerce reflecting the adaptation of so called “imperial tendencies” within new Provinces and their leadership.

Knowing that anything said about these organizations is likely to involve a gross exaggeration, and understanding that not being English can lead to a misread of deeper divisions, I none the less want to risk suggesting the following:

(i) The distance, in the Church of England, between those who work for personal transformation by conversion and those who work for social transformation by incarnational living, was reflected in the major mission societies.

(ii) That distance, in a reasonable read of history, marked two quite different reformation understandings, puritan and a more broadly inclusive reformed ‘liberal’ model. It is hard to characterize this second form, except to say it was catholic but not as defined by a magisterium but rather by a national sentiment for the provision of religious life, or, as the puritans discovered, by the sentiments of the Monarch.

(iii) It is the broadly ‘liberal’ church model that constitutes the church of the Elizabethan compromise. But the compromise has never lead to a melding of the two streams of thought. The divisions between the two approaches continue into this day, domestically, as a major division point among individuals, congregations and dioceses. More importantly, those divisions carry forward into the former mission fields, now Provinces of the Anglican Communion.

(iv) The Church of England’s internal battle between neo-puritan evangelicals and liberals is “the Church at War” that Stephen Bates holds at the center of his book. It is close to tearing the Church of England apart and is only a close second to what seems to be a form of benign neglect as the most often stated reason for the predicted demise of the CofE.

(v) Both of the major mission societies in England were grounded in what might be called imperial triumphalism, the view that the spread of Christianity connected to the spread of empire was both appropriate and moral. That view was modified in the early 1900’s with the growth in the triumphalism of the declared intent of Christian mission to carry the gospel into all the world bringing both the good news and relief. The Edinburgh World Mission Conference of 1910 was filled with a western Christian optimism for “the evangelization of the world in this generation.” That optimism was only crushed by the Second World War and the manifest failure of western European (and to a large extent American) Christians to criticize the anti-Semitism and wide spread racism deeply engrained in the life of the various nations.

Given something like this as a basic framework, I believe we must address the possibility that the whole of the “mess” that constitutes the Anglican Communion as it currently exists is a product of unfinished business within the Church of England, unfinished business that occupies Anglican bodies throughout the world.

Acquired Ecclesial Dysfunction Syndrom:

In no way do I want to suggest that this unfinished business is any longer solely in the purview of the English Church. Rather it is, let us say, exemplified in the rifts within the Church of England and present in every other Anglican body of believers by virtue of acquired ecclesial dysfunction syndrome. Anglican Provinces are being informed more or less by the Gospel they have received and the Gospel received has been quite different in one place and another in part because the missionary work that brought the gospel was partisan at the outset and remained so. The dysfunctions of the Mother Church are acquired to a large extend by those churches it spawned.

It is also important to state at the outset that there are remarkable missionaries from all of these organizations, persons who incarnated the presence of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. One of the true wonders of missionary efforts by the Church of England’s mission societies, the Episcopal Church and other western missionary organizations is that the Gospel gets transmitted almost in spite of the imperial linkages that accompany them.

Two quite educated and articulate bishops from Africa illustrate the profound difference in how they came to understand their initiation or conversion into Christianity. Bishop Alpha Mohammed told a clergy conference in Delaware once in the 1980’s that he knew precisely the date of his conversion, which occurred on his reading the New Testament for the first time with a sense of comprehension in which he knew he was being called to new life in Jesus Christ. I am told he has used this illustration on other occasions. Bishop Desmond Tutu often recites his experience of witnessing Fr. Trevor Huddleston treat his mother with respect, naturally, and feeling called from that to a life of faith in the Church. That too has been a regular part of his testimony.

The variations in the theme as presented in the work of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of PECUSA.

Churches that owe their beginnings to work by American Episcopalian Missionaries did not seem to have the same evangelical – liberal (although that term is not quite right) split. As organizations such as the South American Missionary Society and Sharing Our Ministries Abroad entered the picture this changed. But at the outset the US missionaries did not seem to carry the same partisan agendas. This is because most of the work of Episcopal Church was done by one united mission society – the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America: the DFMS-PECUSA. Following the full amalgamation of several smaller mission societies and the formation of the National Council that single mission agency acted on behalf of the whole Episcopal Church. It was inclusive of a wide variety of missionary personnel working from different theological vantage points. Some would argue, and perhaps with some merit, that DFMS missionaries were “bland” or not evangelical enough. But there have always been some who were, and they were part of the general mix.

Following World War II, and in particular following the increasing social activism of the Episcopal Church during the time of the Viet Nam War and the Civil Rights Movement, several smaller mission societies were founded in the Episcopal Church, often with roots in English evangelical societies. These were often formed in the belief that the Episcopal Church, through DFMS, was failing in either its evangelical responsibilities or was suffering a failure of nerve. The South American Missionary Society (1976) is one such example.

As the accelerated push for greater inclusion continued, admitting persons previously considered unacceptable or second class into the leadership of the church, seemingly without reference to matters of conversion, these US mission societies aligned themselves with conservative evangelical leaders in the US and abroad and with similar organizations of persons in England. These newer mission organizations were willing to “take sides” in the emerging clashes between evangelicals and liberals in the United States.

A number of these US organizations joined in a partnership, one which included the DFMS, called the Episcopal Partnership for Global Mission, EPGM. Formed in 2000 this partnership has been overtaken by the controversies within the Episcopal Church and several of the organizations have left EPGM for an association of agencies related to the Anglican Communion Network. This move has effectively placed SAMS and other agencies in a adversarial relationship to the DFMS.

The DFMS, on the other hand, attempts to represent the mission interests of the whole of the Episcopal Church, both evangelical and conservative as well as the more liberal and progressive. The DFMS has tried not to present itself as the equivalent of the ‘liberal’ mission agencies of the Church of England.

The result of the separation between the evangelical / conservative groups (which often think of themselves as orthodox) from the DFMS, the alignment of those groups with their equivalent agencies in England, and their continued close association with Global South evangelical / conservative agencies and Provinces, has contributed to the perception that the Episcopal Church’s missionary efforts are NOT inclusive of evangelical / conservative perspectives. They are inclusive, but not doctrinally ordered to the satisfaction of those perspectives.

The close connection of “realignment” agents – the Anglican Communion Network, the American Anglican Council, the Anglican Mission in America, the Common Cause Partners, etc – with these mission organizations has had the effort of identifying the US conservative / evangelical missionary efforts with the CMS tradition in the Anglican Communion, and thus with “CMS” churches in Africa and SAMS churches in Latin America.

Admittedly this sketch is limited in its scope, but it points in the direction of a direct question to the Church of England Missionary Societies, namely, “Are the English Mission Societies the source of the virus that has infected the whole of the Anglican Communion thereby reproducing the struggles within the Church of England on a world wide basis?”

If so, perhaps the Episcopal Church might consider the possibility that it is catching a second wave of missionary infection, whereby the conflicts within the Church of England are carried over into the Episcopal Church by “foreign” mission societies. SAMS, Sharing our Ministries Abroad (SOMA), AMiA, ACN and now CANA (the Convocation of Anglicans in North America) are in this instance carriers to America of one party in the English conflict. For that infection to have maximum impact the DFMS is turned into the ‘liberal’ enemy in the US, against which these societies are fighting, just as the English evangelical societies are fighting against the more liberal mission societies, as well as the Established Church mission offices there.

The cure may well be to let the infection play itself out. There is no reason to suppose that the evangelical /conservative groupings (the realignment crowd) represent any more than ten to fifteen percent of the Episcopal Church. Let them hold to their so called biblical based morality which gives no evidence in the past of being against slavery, and little evidence in the present of being against physical punishment of children, subjugation of women, exclusion of women from office in the church, sexual expression outside narrow limits within marriage, criminalization of all consensual sex outside marriage between a man and a woman, and severe limitations on freedom of speech and religion.

The rest of us, the overwhelming majority of the people of the Episcopal Church, will continue to argue our way forward to the new possibilities and insights that God presents in the interchange of understandings of faithful believing that are expressed in Christian assembly. We will believe that God will so direct our doings, and so correct our errors, that we can continue to be a faithful community embracing a wide diversity of opinions.

The realignment crowd will try to make the issue one of what it means to belong to the Anglican Communion. We will make the issue one of what it means to be faithful to God’s call to us. The realignment crowd will try to infect us with the dysfunction within the Church of England in the hope for a coup d’eglese. We must counter by saying we will have none of it.

I am, and have always been, committed to being part of the Anglican Communion. But that commitment is not as great as my commitment to being part of a missionary community always willing to grow in its inclusiveness by its willingness to be informed by both “domestic and foreign” concerns, and by the witness of faithful Christians within its common life.


  1. Mark,

    Is it possible to see this conflict going back even further to differences within Protestantism (with a healthy dose of Catholicism thrown in) at the beginning of the Reformation?

    There have been very broad caricatures that we are dealing with the difference between a Calvinist (or neo-Calvinist) and a more Catholic/sacramental theology that reflects important differences between, say, Calvin's Geneva, early Lutheranism, and, of course, the Catholic influence, all of which influenced the formation of Anglicanism.

    As you point out, of course, this would have played out later in the British context, and, as a result in the mission fields of what became global Anglicanism.

    What struck me most about your argument here is the notion that the Elizabethan Settlement never reconciled the primary theological differences that seem very much at the heart of the current crisis. Human sexuality then is the current focal point for a centuries-old rift.

    My other thought is that this puts many of the former colonial churches birthed in the 19th century, including a number of the African provinces, in the awkward position of a colonial/neo-colonial/now post-colonial conflict not ultimately of their own making. But perhaps that is simply the legacy of that hideous beast known as imperialism.

    Perhaps I'm only echoing your argument here, but my wonder is if the roots can be traced that deeply. Maybe more learned historians can answer that question. But let me know if you feel I'm stretching the point too far.

    Thanks for this, and the space for a bit of free-form thought!

  2. This discussion about missionary societies generated dozens of comments at Fr. Jake's...

    I'd just like to add that SAMS (and if you allow me, I'll be a bit bold here) was a poison in my province, stimulating schism and dissentions. They have a parallel agenda, which crosses diocesan and international boundaries...

  3. An "infection," Mark? What have you been doing, watching old episodes of Star Trek?

    Your posting illustrates exactly the point - that TEC has left the Anglican Communion, not the other way around. TEC does not share at the national level a zeal for the Great Commission and it seems incapable of grasping why the church has been in decline.

    If you are a franchise selling hamburgers and you start selling "Escargot on a Bun," while still advertising your a burger joint, well, you can expect your numbers to decline. To then make the case that Escargot is a perfectly legitimate food is fine - but it ain't hamburgers. TEC has become "Escargot on a Bun."

    Seriously, there has been a global "Great Awakening" and for some who have slept through it and are only now waking up, to "dumb it down" as being all about politics is another fine example of revisionist history.

    You could have saved yourself a lot of time, Mark, and just gone to Plano Dallas in 2003 and seen for yourself - not looking under the beds for "agents" or "infections" or "imperial tendencies" or "partisan agendas" or any other such things. No one has been hiding. It's called "the renewal" and it's been going on for over forty years. Now, because of the Time Magazine Persons of the Year - it's global.

    It is becoming clearer that TEC would rather not be in the Anglican Communion if it's full of all those agents of infection with imperial tendencies hoisting partisan agendas up the church flagpole. I can see now more than ever why TEC changed its name and put up all those international flags at General Convention and your essay illustrates that reason far better than I could.

    We are indeed two churches - practicing completely different religions. The symbols are similar, but as the new PB says, why just keep the old religion in an awfully small box?

    A separation has occurred - but who left who? It sounds like you think its all the missionaries fault for screwing up TEC's lovely plans. "If only England hadn't sent the stupid missionaries to Africa rather than the enlightened ones, things would have been so much better for us," isn't that what you are really saying?

    So now we're blaming the missionaries. Golly. What's next?


  4. I've recently been reading again Anglican Moral Choice, edited by Paul Elmen. The chapters describing the differences in the ethical perspectives in the 19th Century between Maurice and Tractarians, and Evangelicals (largely after the success of the work to end slavery) strongly indicated to me that the issues were present at least that far back.

    Perhaps the real roots are in the dissatisfaction of some over the generations with the Elizabethan Settlement. There has been some oscillation from generation to generation as to whose dissatisfaction was addressed; but there have always been some. However, to highlight the dissatisfaction, each party has been prepared to ingnore, if not outright discard, the other arm of the Anglican tradition.

  5. Baby Blue seems to have conveniently forgotten that only card-carrying, certified schismatics were allowed into the hallowed confines of Christ Church, Plano for the 2003 love fest. Maybe you should have had us all over, converted us to your new/old Faith, and then you wouldn't be facing the unpleasentness of slapping +Lee in the face to toadie up to ++Akinola.

  6. I recall seeing Kevin Jones of EveryVoice at the Dallas 2003 gathering. He was with us in the press room.


  7. baby blue gets weirder every day.

    the pressure of sitting in her darkened hovel waiting for the process server to show up must be getting to her.

  8. BB,
    While you are right that a global reawakening has been happening, and many globally "northern" Anglicans have been caught unaware, the sentiment that, as you put it,

    "We are indeed two churches - practicing completely different religion"

    is dangerous to the faith, as it seems to imply you renounce the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds, and would wish that we do likewise. The "we are two churches" talking-point among Anglican wingnuts is material heresy at best: there cannot be two churches, there is only one body of Christ.

    You are entitled, I suppose, to separation and even to legal recourse in the service of preaching the Gospel, and in doing so the Church of Nigeria in North America remains part of the church--but it only separates from TEC at the instittional level. A deeper separation is impossible, if CANA wishes to remain in communion with Christ.

  9. There is an old joke about a priest saying something outrageously silly is in the Bible only to be told, quietly by his curate that God did not say that. He responds, "Well He would have if He had all the facts!"

    Which may explain Baby Blue's interpretation of both the Bible and recent events. Jesus never untook a schism, or even an impared communion. St. Paul makes it clear that the temple authorities tossed him out, not that he left.

    As to the hate-the-liberals-fest in Plano, it is easy (as Jesus observed) to love the folks on your side. The kingdom requires that we love those on the other side. There was not a lot of that on offer in Plano.


  10. All that you have said seems sensible & quite plausible (& I am certainly far too ignorant of what has gone on in missionary organizations after I entered the monastery to make any comment whatever).

    That puritan element has always felt compelled to exclude those who weren't "pure enough" (but historically, it has usually led to their departure, of course).

    I am told that one observor at Carey's Lambeth fiasco refered to it as "the revenge of the Church Missionary Society."

  11. You've a point. It is a subtle point - delicately flavoured - but it's a point. The honking big bottle of Heinz's Ketchup on the table though is not the proxy war being waged on American turf by the descendents of 19th and 20th century missionaries but the proxy war being waged around the world by by the two living, breathing, networking halves of the Episcopal Church of the United States which represent two halves of the United States of America. These are red and blue Americans for whom the several cultures of the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian must in the long run come to heel in one position or t'other. Akinola et al are merely mercenaries. Those of us who are not Americans face within our national Church bodies similar groupings - with roots in most cases that have nothing to do with the United States. Until America gets its civil war over with, however, we are all at risk of being dragged into it - with being given the choice of adopting the 'liberal' package or the 'conservative' package according to the definition of nationals of another country and another experience.

  12. The above post referring to turf wars fought by red and blue voters in the Piskie church was written by me. I wasn't attempting to be anonymous - just lazy.

  13. Mark,
    interesting analysis, and I can see some of it here. I'm an American in Newfoundland, which in its colonial days was SPG mission field. The underlying culture is very much establishment, with catholic undertones, and very little evangelical activity. In more recent years, as a reaction against inroads by the Pentecostals and Plymouth Brethren, and with more clergy trained at Wycliffe (the local seminary, Queens College, having closed down for a time), there has been an upsurge in evangelical tendencies and resultant conflicts, and now SOMA and ARM (Anglican Renewal Ministries) are building active presences.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.