As Pope Tawadros takes charge of his ancient Church, Coptic Christians face challenges both within Egypt and from worldwide changes in Christian and Muslim countries.

Since 2010, Egypt has been participating in the international movement called “the Arab spring,” which has overthrown authoritarian governments like that of Mubarak. Young Copts would prefer that Tawadros not act as their political spokesman, as Shenouda did, but instead limit his work to spiritual matters. They hope instead to express their views directly through the newly developing political process in Egypt.

However, the prospect that the Muslim Brotherhood may bring a more explicitly Islamist agenda to the governance of Egypt has increased feelings of alienation among some Copts. An attack on the Coptic cathedral in Cairo in early April, during which government security forces seemed to side with a Muslim crowd, seemed to bode ill.

In recent years, the Coptic Orthodox Church has experienced huge growth in North America and Europe, thanks primarily to immigration from Egypt (which events in Egypt may accelerate). The election of Tawadros took place so long after Shenouda’s death in part because officials had to find some way to include the numerous Copts outside Egypt in the process, unnecessary when Shenouda was elected in 1971.

Like so many Christian communities, the Coptic Church (despite its close associations with Egypt) is becoming a transnational religious community, one that crosses the boundaries of nations and even continents.

Copts in Europe and North America are exposed to a greater variety of Christian believers than is found in Egypt and do not live in a predominately Muslim culture. The issues that they face differ significantly from those confronting their brothers and sisters in Egypt, and some Copts are actively encouraging non-Egyptians to join the Church.

In the twentieth century, the Coptic Church made its “Egyptian” character a strong component of its identity; unlike the Muslims, the Church argued, the Copts represented continuity with the Egypt of antiquity. The growing number of Coptic Christians outside Egypt and the changing political scene within Egypt are now forcing the Church to express its identity in new ways that will likely be less nationalistic.

The Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Anglican Communion

The fifth-century debates over Christ led to the first great division of Christianity. The Church of the East held to a strong “two-natures” theology; the Coptic Orthodox (as well as Syrian and Ethiopian Orthodox) Church adhered to the “one-nature” teaching; and the followers of the Pope in Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople followed the modified “two-natures” creed of Chalcedon.

And already in the fifth century the Latin-speaking Christians affiliated with Rome and the Greek-speaking Christians loyal to Constantinople were drifting apart, a separation seemingly sealed by mutual excommunications in 1054.

The second period of dramatic division in Christianity began in October 1517, when the German monk Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses in Wittenberg.

During the following decades a series of reform movements resulted in new Christian communities in Europe, usually grouped together under the label “Protestant:” most prominently “evangelical” (Lutheran) churches in parts of Germany and Scandinavia and “reformed” (Calvinist) churches in Geneva, France, the Netherlands, and Scotland.

Among these “new” groups was the Church of England.

Of course, the Church of England was not really new, and in many ways not much about Christianity changed for English Christians. What did change was King Henry VIII’s declaration, ratified by Parliament, that he, not the Pope in Rome, was the Supreme Governor of the Church in England.

On the one hand, Henry’s assertion arose from very particular circumstances: he wanted his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who had not given him a son and heir, declared invalid, and the Pope refused to do so. Also, after first defending the Church against the criticisms of Luther and other reformers, Henry began to find attractive certain Protestant teachings, especially on worship and salvation.

On the other hand, Henry’s break with Rome (like those of other rulers in Europe) represented the culmination of a long struggle between the papacy and “secular” rulers over control of church offices and properties. Kings like Henry felt that they had their office from God and that they (not the Pope) were ultimately responsible for the salvation of their subjects.

In any event, after a period of turbulence, legislation under Elizabeth I institutionalized the subordination of the Church of England to the monarch, and the break with Rome became final. During Elizabeth’s reign and afterwards, distinctively Anglican (from the Latin for “English”) forms of theology, worship, and governance took shape.

As a colonizing power, England brought its version of Christianity to lands across the globe, including the Americas, Africa, Australia, and India. As these colonies became independent in the eighteenth and later centuries, their Anglican churches became independent of the Church of England, although they continued to share the basic elements of Anglican thought and practice.

As an association of such churches, the Anglican Communion is a Christian remnant, so to speak, of England’s past as a colonial power. Today it claims some 80 million Christians worldwide. Of these only about 30 percent live in the United Kingdom, while about half live in Africa.

Each member of the church of the Anglican Communion is independent and has its own leading bishop or primate. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as the primate of England, serves as the spiritual leader of the entire Communion, but he lacks the direct institutional authority of the Roman Catholic or Coptic Popes. Still, Anglicans look to him to articulate and foster unity and harmony within the Communion.

Even if the Anglican Communion is a global Christian community, the selection of a new Archbishop reflects the Church of England’s status as a state church. The Prime Minister nominates someone from a short list prepared by a committee made up of prominent clergy and laypersons. And, ultimately, the Queen, as the Supreme Governor of the Church, approves the appointment.

When Justin Welby was chosen in November 2012, the public learned of his appointment through a press release, which was followed by a press conference with Welby. It would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast with the dramatic selection of Pope Tawadros in Cairo by the hand of an ordinary boy just days earlier.

The relatively secretive process, under the auspices of the political leaders of the United Kingdom, appears at odds with the global character of the Anglican Communion, over 60 present of whose adherents live in Africa, Oceania, and Asia.

Indeed, it is the diversity of global Anglicanism that poses the greatest challenge for Archbishop Welby.

While Anglican churches in the northern hemisphere (Britain, the United States) experience declining attendance and grow more liberal in matters of gender and sexuality, those in the southern hemisphere (especially Africa) evince great spiritual energy and remain committed to more conservative views.

In recent years homosexuality in particular has divided the Anglican Communion. The election of openly gay Gene Robinson as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire in 2004 shocked conservative Anglicans.

Bishops from Africa, led by Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria (2002-2010), have boycotted official meetings of the Anglican Communion and organized alternative events for themselves and other disgruntled bishops from around the world. Some African bishops and their allies have ordained bishops in the United States to lead more conservative Anglicans here. U.S. Episcopalians are chafing at what they see as interference from outsiders in their religious community.

Globalization has affected the Anglican Communion in complex ways. Electronic forms of communication, rapid travel, and Christian growth in the former “Third World” have diversified the Communion and enabled closer relationships among Anglicans across the world.

At the same time, now the election of the bishop in a relatively small diocese in New England gets the attention of and provokes action by the Primate of Nigeria. It is uncertain whether and in what form the Anglican Communion can survive in the years ahead.

The Roman Catholic Church and its Pope

The Roman Catholic Church remains by far the largest community of Christians in the world, with over one billion adherents. And much like the Anglicans, it owes its expansion in no small measure to the expansion of European colonial power from the 1500s on.

Globalization presents challenges for it as well. Europeans and North Americans may be more aware of the problems associated with clerical sexual abuse, but on a larger scale the Church faces some profound questions raised by its changing global demographics.