When United Methodists argue about sex and marriage, these doctrinal struggles usually evolve into clashes between progressives in America and conservatives in the growing churches of the Global South, especially Africa.
When Anglicans knock heads over the same issues, the loudest voices on the doctrinal left are from America and Europe, while most of the conservatives are from Africa and Asia.
It's safe to call this an ecclesiastical trend, especially in light of recent debates about marriage, family and sexuality in the largest Christian flock of all -- the Roman Catholic Church. Consider, for example, the salvos delivered by Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea at the recent National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.
Catholics are now witnessing, he argued, the consummation of "efforts to build a utopian paradise on earth without God. … Good becomes evil, beauty is ugly, love becomes the satisfaction of sexual primal instincts and truths are all relative. So all manner of immorality is not only accepted and tolerated today in advanced societies, but even promoted as a social good. The result is hostility to Christians, and, increasingly, religious persecution.
"Nowhere is this clearer than in the threat that societies are visiting on the family through a demonic 'gender ideology,' a deadly impulse that is being experienced in a world increasingly cut off from God through ideological colonialism."
Cardinal Sarah is not the first prelate from the Global South to use "demonic" language in a public-square battle over marriage.
During Argentina debates in 2010, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio said efforts to legalize same-sex marriage are "not simply a political struggle," but part of an "attempt to destroy God's plan." The legislation, he added, was a "move of the father of lies who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God."
The "father of lies" reference was drawn from the Gospel of John, chapter eight, in which Satan is called "a liar and the father of lies." Bergoglio, of course, softened his language -- but not his doctrinal views -- when he became Pope Francis.
Reacting to Cardinal Sarah's remarks, Michael Sean Winters of the liberal National Catholic Reporter said they contained few surprises, in large part because the "so-called National Catholic Prayer Breakfast" is actually a kind of "GOP at Matins" formality.
While praising the cardinal's views on economic justice and the radical individualism that shapes modern life, Winters claimed that he showed a tendency to "cherry-pick" Francis quotes that served his purposes, while ignoring "forward-thinking items" popular on the left.
Clearly, Sarah is not enthusiastic about the "winds of change" unleashed by Pope Francis, wrote Winters, who is currently part of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at the Catholic University of America. Cardinal Sarah, for example, offered no sense that "God is active in the lives of all people, no sense that people who … think same-sex unions, while different from traditional marriage, should nonetheless be seen not as demonic but as an appropriation of healthy values into a situation that is different from that conceptualized by moral theologians for most of the last 20 centuries."
As for the African prelate's reference to transgender "bathroom wars," Winters added: "I would love to see the look on the cardinal's face if, while using the men's room, Caitlyn Jenner walked in."
While Cardinal Sarah mentioned other hot-button political issues, he placed a quotation from Saint Pope John Paul II at the heart of his remarks -- "The future of the world and the Church passes through the family."
"This is why the devil is so intent on destroying the family," said Sarah, who in 2014 was named leader of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis. "The rupture of the foundational relationships of someone's life -- through separation, divorce or distorted impositions of the family, such as cohabitation and same sex unions -- is a deep wound that closes the heart to self-giving love unto death, and even leads to cynicism and despair. …
"This is not about abstract ideas. It is not an ideological war between competing ideas. This is about defending ourselves, children and future generations from a demonic ideology that says children do not need mothers and fathers. It denies human nature and wants to cut off entire generations from God."