Exploring the Anglican Communion at EDS

This Spring Term, Dr. Kwok Pui Lan (William F. Cole Professor of Christian Theology and Spirituality at EDS) is teaching a course titled “Teaching Critical Issues in the Anglican Communion.”

Studying the Anglican Communion

In this course, we examine a variety of issues, including the crisis of Anglican identity, the shift of Christian demographics to the Global South, autonomy and interdependence, mission and partnership, economic justice, women’s struggle for leadership, human sexuality, and ecumenical relationships.

We are fortunate to have people from different parts of the Communion in the class: Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, the Bahamas, and the USA, who all add to the richness of our discussions. For example, when we discussed economic justice, we shared what the Anglican and Episcopal Churches in various places have done to address poverty and the debt crisis.

Real Issues, Teachable MomentsTeaching Critical Issues in the Anglican Communion

Two weeks before the class began, the majority of the Primates of the Anglican Communion expressed their disagreement with The Episcopal Church’s position on same-sex marriage. The Primates asked The Episcopal Church, for a period of three years, to “no longer represent [the Anglican Communion] on ecumenical and interfaith bodies [and to] not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

This occasion provided a teachable moment for the discussion of authority and structure of the Communion, and the relation of The Episcopal Church to the global church. I tried to help students understand why sexuality is such a hot-button issue in the Communion from a historical perspective: the Church has debated on issues such as polygamy, divorce, and contraception in the past, before homosexuality came to the forefront.

It is important to look at the matter at hand not just from the perspective of The Episcopal Church, but also from that of the Global South, where church leaders sometimes hold different views on issues surrounding human sexuality. For instance, we had an impromptu role-play in class in which a student took the role of a bishop from the Global South telling the class why he was against homosexuality, and students came up with different responses to his arguments.

Broadening Perspectives on the Anglican Communion

This course provides a critical lens to look at the history and development of the Anglican Communion coming out from a lengthy period of colonialism. One of the textbooks for the course is Beyond Colonial Anglicanism, edited by the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, bishop of the Diocese of Connecticut and former professor at EDS, and myself. This book is one of the first that uses a postcolonial perspective to look at the history and the future of the Anglican Church.

I have invited alumnae the Rev. Dr. Brian Jemmott (DMin ’09), New Jersey canon missioner to historical black churches, to be a guest speaker on racism in The Episcopal Church and the wider Communion, and the Rev. William Roberts (MDiv ’79) to speak on issues in the Anglican Church in Israel and Palestine. My former colleague the Rev. Dr. Stephen Burns will join us via the Internet from Melbourne to speak about liturgy in the Anglican Communion.

At EDS, we help students to become global leaders of faith communities. If we can find ways to continue to work together despite geographical, theological, and cultural differences, we can be a witness to God’s inclusive love and fellowship.

This article has been condensed and edited from an interview conducted with Kwok Pui Lan.