One percent can be a very powerful number. The enormous press attention to this controversy comes from three factors: Yes, it is the first historically large Christian denomination to move from tolerance to affirmation of gay sex; second, Episcopalians occupy a historic position as an elite and influential church in America, the church of the old WASP elite par excellence; and third, many rich and influential people are still Episcopalian, and media elites like to cover their own.
Missing from the coverage, which focused on the issue of homosexuality, is the larger undercurrent revealed in this debate. If traditional Anglicans in America do split off and place themselves under the authority of African prelates, it will represent the first visible, public example of what will likely be a large historical movement of reverse colonialism: the transfer of religious prestige and power from the dwindling West to the surging orthodox Christian communities in Africa and South America.
As Philip Jenkins points out in his seminal book, "The Next Christendom," the largest single block of the 2 billion Christians worldwide is in Europe -- some 560 million people. In 50 years that number will shrink to 555 million people, as divorce, abortion and low birth rates take their toll. Meanwhile, the number of Christians in Africa will grow to 633 million, just under the 640 million estimated in Latin America.
"In North America, at least, most visions of the coming century are based firmly on extrapolating familiar domestic conditions. The imagined future looks a lot like the American present, only with Western liberalism ever more in the ascendant," notes Jenkins. "Western Christians have since the 1960s expected that the religion of their Third World brethren would be fervently liberal, activist and even revolutionary, the model represented by liberation theology."
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.