The Episcopal Church used to offer salvation—on the inevitable silver filigreed platter from Tiffany’s, served up with a spot of sherry and proffered with immaculate taste and manners.

A rougher-hewn brand of salvation—for the church itself, or failing that, a viable form of traditional Anglicanism—is now on offer in the United States. No silver platters, but lots of old-style religion. And its most incongruous, yet heartening, feature: African and Asian oversight.

Yes, the churches of Rwanda—of all seemingly God-forsaken places—and Southeast Asia, are running to the rescue of traditional Episcopalians bereft of reliable spiritual leadership and confronted with the likelihood that their church this summer, at General Convention, will validate the whole gay rights agenda.

On January 30, in Singapore, Rwandan and Singaporean archbishops, assisted by retired bishops from South Carolina and Tennessee as well as a Chilean prelate, consecrated two stoutly orthodox American priests as bishops. Bishops of what? Of no necessary place—and of any that might become necessary. The two—John Rodgers and Charles H. Murphy, III—are missionary bishops to the United States.

To the United States? What about all the good old ivy-covered Episcopal churches to be found in this country? Ah, that’s just it. Episcopalians have the churches without the tough, uncompromising faith that an earlier generation of Episcopal missionary bishops brought to a brand-new America.

A church whose most famous bishop is the staunchly heretical (and newly retired) John Shelby Spong, and which has become famous for its frantic accommodations to the secular culture, stands badly in need of some godly competition. Such competition it now will receive through the good and holy offices—if such they prove, and the prospects for that seem extraordinary—of Bishops Rodgers and Murphy.

So how did the Africans and Southeast Asians get in on this thing? The 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops—held not at Lambeth Palace, in London, but at Canterbury—threw into alliance conservative bishops from the United States, England, Africa, Australia, Asia, and South America. Old regional, cultural, ethnic, and linguistic differences receded into triviality. What mattered was the Gospel of Jesus Christ. American, British, and Canadian church leaders, swept away by feminist and gay concerns, looked on aghast at what their coreligionists thought of their theology.

A major irony: Africa is where the church is growing, not to say burgeoning; in the United States and Europe, it shrinks. American Episcopalians, the last time anyone toted this up, were barely more numerous (2.4 million) than American Muslims. African bishops, with little money but enormous congregations and the equally enormous task in areas like Nigeria of competing successfully with militant Islam, are especially keen to maintain the Christian moral tone. This means—never mind what American churchmen may say—rejection of the gay-rights agenda.

The Canterbury conference strongly affirmed the ideals of scriptural authority and heterosexual monogamy. America’s angry, outvoted bishops went home determined to do as they liked, never mind what the vast majority of worldwide Anglicans might say. Their dioceses declined to endorse the Lambeth resolutions. Bishops said in so many words that, if the Holy Spirit (an endlessly flexible and permissive Being, in liberal ecclesiology) led them to ordain gays, they would do so.

A little of this went a long way with the bishops they were criticizing, implicitly or explicitly. When, to their own vexations, the overseas bishops added the plight and pleas of sorely vexed traditional Episcopalians, the temptation to act was overwhelming.

Some conservatives regard the Singapore consecrations as precipitate and injurious to the cause they supposedly serve. But consider the delights and pleasures the action affords: overdue recognition of the United States, and its quasi-pagan society, as a missionary field; racial reconciliation at the highest level —a spiritual one—through white American obedience to brown and black bishops whose skin color and manner of speaking English matter not at all as compared with their courage and spiritual fidelity.

American parishes have already begun to affiliate formally with the overseas bishops who performed the consecrations. Anglicanism—which despite, or maybe because of, its vast influence, lacks unique doctrines and certain means of enforcement—is splitting apart. And this could be just the beginning. World Christianity would seem to be realigning itself—the religion of the Bible over against the religion (such as it is) of the editorial pages and talk shows and college seminars. Into the closet goes the old silver-filigreed platter. Who cares? It’s what’s actually on the platter that counts—right?