The Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc, kind friend

coffeecoveredkeyboardI received a lovely and witty email this morning from GetReligion co-founder Doug LeBlanc, who still lingers out there in cyberspace doing that copy editor thing that he does. This is a guy that knows what makes me laugh.

The email’s caption was a warning: “Set your morning beverage aside before reading.”

Doug didn’t need to worry, since the Eastern Orthodox fast before going to Divine Liturgy. Thus, I did not have a cup of tea in hand when I read his note (and I do not drink coffee). Still, I appreciated the kind thought and he had found a rather amusing error in a mainstream newspaper.

The email contained a link pointing me to an essay in The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., written by the Rt. Rev. Paul V. Marshall, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Bethlehem. The subject was the truly global nature of the upcoming Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade event which is supposed to bring together the bishops of the Anglican Communion.

Thus, this powerful voice in the Episcopal Church establishment wrote:

Women and men along a large chain of human connection are about to link at Lambeth in England. I invite readers accustomed to praying to keep us in mind.

Seldom do I use this space for purely denominational issues. When I do, it is usually to make a larger point. Next to the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion is the world’s third largest linkage of human persons, cultures and geography. While the American branch of the Communion is the relatively tiny Episcopal Church, Anglicanism is the major expression of Christianity in much of Africa.

Doug knew that the sentence that would send me into orbit was in that second paragraph, in large part because of a debate that your GetReligionistas had a few years ago with the New York Times and its excellent corrections team. That sentence: “Next to the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion is the world’s third largest linkage of human persons, cultures and geography.”

Now the reference in the Times went like this:

The Episcopal Church is a small but rich and powerful member of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, the second-largest church body in the world, and is presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury.

What’s the problem? Well there are about 1 billion Roman Catholics and about 55 to 70 million Anglicans, depending on who is doing the counting. However, there are also 250 million or so Christians in another large, global and very multicultural body — the ancient churches of Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Times corrected the error and The Morning Call needs to do the same. However, note that the Eastern Orthodox are not alone in being left out of the bishop’s view of global culture and Anglicanism’s place in it.

LeBlanc played around at Adherents.com and proposed this list of some other religious groups or bodies of people that are, well, a notch or two larger than Anglicanism on the global scheme of things. I mean, the bishop’s fuzzy language does not even limit itself to religion.

So Doug writes:

– Islam: 1.5 billion
– Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist: 1.1 billion
– Hinduism: 900 million
– Chinese traditional religion: 394 million
– Buddhism: 376 million
– primal-indigenous: 300 million
– African Traditional & Diasporic: 100 million

That’s not even counting such linkages as the BBC, the NFL, Wal-Mart, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, tobacco companies, Google, Harpo Productions or McDonald’s.

LeBlanc has a point, a whole bunch of them in fact. A correction is needed. It’s a slam dunk.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    That’s not even counting such linkages…

    . I’m sure the Church of the Subgenius and the Flying Spaghetti Monster contingent won’t want to be left out either.

  • Mark

    I understand the argument that “atheist” etc is in fact a faith rather than no-faith, but is “Secular/Nonreligious/Agnostic/Atheist” really a “linkage of human persons, cultures and geography” in the sense Bp Marshall means? It’s hard to figure out just what the bishop really means, of course — that’s part of the problem. But the three organizations he listed at least have a defined formal structure, unlike several of the counter-examples.

  • http://www.americanpilgrimage.com Matthew Streib

    Fantastic point. I always have wondered about why the “Five major religions” of the world are normally listed as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism. Why is Judaism there? Compared with Confucianism, Chinese traditional religion, and many, many others, it’s tiny. It’s an important religion, but is it “major?”

  • http://www.americanpilgrimage.com Matthew Streib

    On the other hand, there’s a big problem with your argument. You can’t compare Anglicanism with Islam, Buddhism, or many others. Anglicanism is a subset, and should be compared with Shiite Islam, Theraveda Buddhism, etc. That’d be fair. I talk more about your post on my blog, American Pilgrimage.


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