Anglican wrangling about sexuality and authority in the church is missing the big picture about how the relationship between religion and society is changing, says a new book from the think tank Ekklesia to be published next week.
Christians need to be beacons of hope, not signs of decay, it argues, suggesting that the "conservative versus liberal" stereotype disguises a deeper tension between establishment religion and the Christian message of radical transformation.
It's called Fear or Freedom? Why a warring church must change, and has a preface by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (one of the truly likable faces of Christianity).
"The book contains essays by clergy, a peace activist, an equalities adviser and two New Testament professors," says Ekklesia. "It is aimed at substantially challenging the argument that will take place at the Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops in July."
The book's editor, Ekklesia's Simon Barrow, adds, "Many Christians and other onlookers are completely baffled by the nasty arguments within Anglicanism right now. These rows are missing four key ingredients: an understanding that 'top-down' models of the church are dying; that the world needs models of reconciliation and peacemaking, not examples of animosity; that many want to affirm gay Christians on deeply traditional grounds; and that disagreement without courtesy and love is destroying the credibility of the church's message."
Ekklesia says that the attempt by some Anglican leaders to exclude women, gay people and those they disagree with from church life disguises two larger crises. First, the end of the Christendom era, where Christianity could expect a privileged position in society, an idea that has been "exported" around the world; second, a global challenge to the use of religion to sanction oppression – "which leaves many people feeling that Christians behave less morally than others".
Fear or Freedom? will be on sale at the Lambeth Conference, which should be a barrel of laughts this year, with half of Christendom wanting to get its collective hands on Archbishop Rowan Williams's throat for his perceived inability to tell the American church where it can shove its acceptance of gay priests and bishops.