Once again, where do Anglicans rank?

10 lgOnce again,the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc has spotted another reference to the Anglican Communion as one of the world's largest and most diverse organizations. Which it is, of course.

The issue is where it ranks -- especially among religious bodies around the world. Here's the latest strange reference, care of the WalesOnline.co.uk newsroom. The reference that interests us is this one, in a piece under the headline "Challenge of a lifetime for Archbishop striving for unity" (which is an interesting headline, since Anglican leaders on left and right are striving for unity, only they are are using clashing doctrinal standards to define what "unity" means):

The Archbishop of Canterbury will come face-to-face with Anglican bishops from across the 80 million-wide communion.

These church leaders have gathered for the Lambeth Conference. Many of the men and women are angry with each other and baffled by his leadership. But the task facing the Welshman is to convince the radical liberals and alarmed traditionalists that their unity is worth striving for -- that they should remain part of this sprawling and chaotic family of churches. He meets them not as a Pope who must be obeyed, or the ultimate patriarch, but as a first among equals. He cannot dictate decisions but must strive for consensus.

The diversity of Anglicans is only matched by giant international organizations like the United Nations. But the Archbishop lacks the financial riches and physical might which world leaders can marshal to cajole and coerce their rivals.

Now that is not as bad as the reference that we saw the other day, when The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa., ran an essay by Bethlehem (Pa.) Bishop Paul V. Marshall that, as the Lambeth Conference loomed on the horizon, stated flat out:

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.

The Wales entry in this confusing derby is not statistically wrong, since it is so amazingly vague. But this "Anglican Communion resembles the United Nations" image could get out of control. And note that terrible phrase "linkage of human persons," etc. What in the world does that mean? Does Islam merely "link" persons" How about "Pentecostalism"? How about the doctrines written on Starbuck's cups?

Meanwhile, on the issue of the various Communions, GetReligion will gladly admit that almost all of the statistics are inflated and almost impossible to reference with a straight face. Still, when you look at the mainstream reference books, here is what you find: There are about 1 billion Roman Catholics worldwide, about 250 million or so Orthodox Christians and roughly 55 to 70 million Anglicans, depending on who is doing the counting.

By the way, GetReligion is not sitting out the Lambeth Conference, which is poised to get under way. We arejust trying to be patient.

Please remember that we are not a news site about religion. We are a blog that tries to critique the good and the bad in the mainstream presses news coverage of religious events and trends. We are very interested in errors of fact. When the Anglicans get rolling, help us look for the reporters -- not opinion writers -- who "get" the facts down in as accurate and fair a manner while covering a numbingly complex story with local, regional, national and global angles. Please look, especially, for stories that cover the Anglican left in a manner that is inaccurate or simply simplistic.

Photo: Anglican primates in 2005 meeting, care of the Anglican Communion news office.

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