Aaaarg! Say it ain't Zoll!

Bronze MedalSorry to have to bring this up again, but the mathematics of this Anglican population thing are not that difficult to master (even though we all know that these statistics are almost certainly inflated across the board). All together now!

One: There are about 1 billion Roman Catholics in the world.

Two: There are about 250 million or so Orthodox Christians.

Three: There are about 55 to 70 million Anglicans in the worldwide Anglican Communion (which remains intact, at the moment).

Why do I bring this up yet again (and again and again)? Because these errors have a way of living on, even when newspapers as important as the New York Times correct themselves, earning thankful cheers from your GetReligionistas.

If anything, it is even more important to note errors or strange language in Associated Press reports, since those travel around the world and appear in thousands of newspapers. Thus, consider this strange passage in a new report from Canterbury by Rachel Zoll, a reporter who usually draws the praise of this here weblog:

The 77-million-member Anglican Communion is a global fellowship of churches that trace their roots to the missionary work of the Church of England. It is the second-largest group of churches in the world, behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

Now wait just a minute.

Unless the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodoxy have reconciled and returned to full Communion -- a headline that I think I would have noticed -- wouldn't that make the Anglican Communion the third-largest group of churches in the world, behind (1) the churches loyal to Rome and (2) the Eastern Orthodox churches?

Perhaps this error was edited into the story, because the rest of this short early Lambeth Conference report contains the kinds of calm, balanced and accurate language that is typical of Zoll's work. Consider this summary:

The estimated 650 participating bishops will spend their days in Bible study and small group discussions meant to rebuild relationships damaged by the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the U.S. Robinson and a few other bishops were barred from participating in this month's conference.

The meeting was designed without any votes or legislation, and no one expects the Anglicans to resolve their problems by the assembly's end. Organizers instead hope their discussions will help clarify what direction they should take to stay together. ...

Anglicans have long held together divergent views of Scripture and ritual. But those divisions have been widening as churches in the developing world, where strict Bible interpretation is the norm, have become the biggest and fastest-growing in the communion.

With most of the Africans sitting out this conference, the rich and massive U.S. delegation makes up an even larger percentage of the Lambeth crowd than normal.

The spin at the moment is that this Lambeth will contain no news, only prayer, Bible study and healing. It is possible that the opposing strategy, for the traditionalists, is to see if the left side of the church can in fact remain silent and not create a wave of brash, candid headlines about its views. I hope that the news emphasis will be on the financial and theological ties that bind the English and American establishments, because that really is a big part of the global story.

Still, Simon Jenkins offered this stark set of statistics in a Times essay that veered into total cynicism:

Who cares if the Church of England tears itself apart this weekend? Its million active members in Britain are barely ahead of the Roman Catholics, from whose church it separated five centuries ago, and the 930,000 practising Muslims. Only 15% of babies are now baptised into the Church of England and few of them are likely to graduate to church membership.

Stay tuned. In this case, no news really would be good news -- for the Anglican powers that be.

Photo: A bronze medal.

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