Sarah Dreier on Anglicans, Lutherans, and African Churches
Date: May 14th, 2017

In recent years, movement towards progressive policies and values on gender and sexuality have caused cultural rifts within the Anglican (Episcopalian) Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA).  Such tension is most apparent among their affiliated churches in the Global South, most notably Africa, with some African clergy becoming very outspoken against the policies adopted by Anglicans and Lutherans in Europe and the United States.  Sarah K. Dreier, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Washington, engages research on transnational organizations to explore how these tensions arose and how they are being managed.

As often is the case, we begin our conversation exploring how our guest came to study her topic of interest.  Ms. Dreier talks about the influence her parents had in her intellectual development and how certain mentors at Northwestern University also helped to shape her interests about the world.  Sarah took these interests into a professional career working for religious non-governmental organizations, which further piqued her interests in the topic of how transnational groups in the developed North relate to their counterparts in the developing South.  Sarah details some of the cultural changes that are manifesting themselves in policy changes within the Anglican Communion and the ELCA with a specific eye towards same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and women’s issues.  Such changes have caused rifts within these denominations in Europe and the US, but have really risen concern within many parts of Africa such as Kenya and Tanzania, where Sarah did much of her dissertation fieldwork.

We then shift track a bit to discuss recent scholarship on transnational organizations, with Sarah pointing out that many researchers have not paid much attention, until recently, to how various development efforts by transnational groups headquartered in the OECD nations are received by the recipients of these efforts in the Global South.  She regales us with a story wherein she was working with an African official of a Lutheran Church on a malaria initiative when the bishop told Sarah, at the outset of their interview, that he needs the ELCA to back down from their homosexual agenda, revealing that this cultural issue was of a huge importance to him and many others within his church.  We explore this tension further and Sarah lays out her reason for why some African churches have been vocally opposed to these cultural issues whereas other ones have not.  She explains that African churches that have a relatively stable source of funding outside the transnational network are more capable of raising critical voices as it doesn’t endanger their long-term viability as an organization as much as churches that are more reliant on international funding.  Moreover, the presence of religious competition in the form of Pentecostals, evangelicals, and other charismatic religious movements that are growing rapidly in Africa, puts pressure on the African Anglican and Lutheran churches to signal their solidarity with the cultural norms of their home populations (which, by various polls, are overwhelmingly opposed to more progressive views on gender and sexual issues).  When some Pentecostal ministers point to the policies of the Church of England and/or the ELCA and tag their local African affiliates as being part of the “gay church,” leaders of these mainline African congregations are compelled to signal their distance from their transnational partners.  Many African Anglican and Lutheran members view the progressive doctrines as a “neo-colonial imposition,” an interesting conundrum in that both the Anglican Communion and the ELCA have been very critical of past colonialist practices.  Tony then asks why some of these African churches don’t simply “go Pentecostal” and leave their denomination, prompting Sarah to provide an interesting response about the long-term benefits of a mainline denominational affiliation.

We further discuss how religious officials in Europe and the US are trying to do to respond to these concerns.  While these officials have tried to note that such progressive policies are really only contained within Europe and the US, Sarah points out that “everything flows across borders,” making the situation rather difficult to manage.  Sarah closes with some thoughts about what she has learned throughout her investigation of this topic and notes how culture is very dynamic and constantly shifting.  Recorded: May 8, 2017.

Disclosure:  Tony is serving as a member of Sarah’s dissertation committee at the UW.


 Sarah K. Dreier’s personal website and bio at the Dept. of Political Science, University of Washington.

Lutheran World Federation (mentioned in podcast).


John Rees on International Development and Faith-Based Organizations.

Carrie Miles on Religion, Gender, and Missionaries.

Mari0n Larson on Bubbles, Bridges, and Multi-Faith Engagement.

Torrey Olsen on Faith-Based Humanitarianism and World Vision.

Jamie Aten on Religion and Disasters.

Robert Priest on Witchcraft Accusations in Africa.

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