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One Person - One Vote

“One man (or person) – one vote” has long been the cry of those seeking political equality. It began with an English trade-unionist and was picked up again during the period of decolonisation.

It is thought that there is something of the order of 60 million worshipping Anglicans in the world. Of those perhaps 7.5% come from North America, the UK, Australia and New Zealand (Aotearoa, NZ and Polynesia) and about 75% from sub-Saharan Africa- foremost Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan. The balance is made-up of provinces in Asia, South America and elsewhere.

The global 60 million are divided into Provinces and then dioceses and each diocese has a bishop. So far, so fair.

There are roughly 1,000 such bishops and it is these men and women who the Archbishop of Canterbury has invited to the Lambeth Conference. This is where the inequity begins.

For mainly financial and historical reasons, the numerically smallest provinces tend to have a much higher number of bishops per congregant, or to put it another way, dioceses in the smallest provinces have fewer people per diocese. So, the 7.5% have between them about 370 bishops, giving a tiny minority a vastly disproportionate number of attendees at the Conference.

Last week, it was announced that there would be simple majority voting at the Conference on globally important issues and it is then that the unfairness of the representation really starts to bite. This merits a little more exploration.

Several dioceses in The Episcopal Church of the USA have a total Sunday attendance less than 750 [1], whereas, the average diocese in Uganda has around 215,000 [2].

And as the old, and probably unfair, joke goes - the Sunday School at Nairobi Cathedral has more people in it than the whole Scottish Episcopal Church does on a Sunday. It is probably unfair… but weekly attendance in the Scottish Episcopal Church is thought to be down to fewer than 10,000 people [3] - even so they still get to send seven bishops to Lambeth - and one vote is one vote. If, however, the voting power was based on average Sunday attendance, each bishop from Scotland (seven) would have one vote and each bishop attending from South Sudan (sixty-one) would have about forty votes [4]. That really would even things-up. But it would also mean that the South Sudanese and the rest of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, for many of whom the unfairness is even worse, would have to be listened to, indeed, they would have almost total control.

Of course, what is good enough for sub-Saharan Africans is not good enough for the English. The Church of England has 'Representation Rules' to ensure that while each diocese is always represented in General Synod, to at least some extent, voting power always reflects the size of church attendance in the diocese. Under those rules the diocese of London sends many more representatives than that of Carlisle. However, what happens as General Synod meets there, under the chairmanship of Justin Welby, apparently does not apply when the Lambeth Conference meets under the self-same Chair.

Again, though, the position is in fact much more skewed than that.

About 350 bishops mainly from sub-Saharan Africa, but also from Australia and elsewhere, have refused Justin Welby’s invitation. Experience has taught them that their conservative views are not wanted and will not be listened to, so they won’t attend. Consequently, the 370 bishops from the 7.5% represent more than half of the 650 or so bishops present and the vast majority of those bishops will form a 'progressive' bloc.

Some would say that the obvious way to remedy the problem is that every bishop should have come to the Conference because, regardless of the inherent unfairness of the representation, the conservatives would still be a substantial majority. But that is to ignore the real politik, that if such a position had been established, then it is likely votes would not have been held for them to win.[5]

The final distorting feature is who has not been invited [6]. The Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church in Brazil have a combined weekly attendance of over 80,000 and more than thirty bishops but the have no voice or vote, despite being recognised as authentic Anglican provinces by just about every Anglican in the world… apart from the 7.5%.

Just imagine you were a bishop invitee to the Conference from, say Tanzania, would all this not make you arrive at the Conference feeling that your presence was rather undervalued compared to your episcopal colleague from Canada?

Or imagine you were a young woman worshipping in the vibrant church in Rwanda - how would you feel if you knew that your representation at Lambeth was 2.5% of that of a woman in the moribund Church in Wales? [7]

Would both Bishop and lay person see much else than that a combination of white, Western and financial privilege was being deployed to advance the agenda of white, Western, liberal privilege?


[1] The Dioceses of Eau Claire, North Michigan, West Kansas, East Oregon, San Joaquin, Central Ecuador all have their own bishop and have had fewer than 750 people attending services on a Sunday for more than five years. [2] Estimate of 8 million people worshipping each Sunday across 37 dioceses given by Provincial official 28/7/22 [3] - Gave Pre-Covid (2019) attendance figures of 11782 [4] South Sudan has 3.5 million people and 61 bishops, compared to 10,000 people and 7 bishops. [5] This was the tactic at the last Lambeth Conference held in 2008. [6] These Provinces were invited to send a representative as an ecumenical guest – but they would have had no voice and no vote. [7] Rwanda have approximately 1 million people (Wikipedia). Church in Wales had 26,110 in 2018, which had fallen by 15% in 5 years.

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