Field Notes – Day 1: Does Hope for the West Lie in Africa?

on July 29, 2013

I sit at my desk looking out at the bright green ficus tree as the gentle breeze brings the smell of cookfires and city life.  I hear the sound of men making cloth through a process which includes pounding it with a large wooden mallet.  At $20 a yard, it is reserved for only the most precious occasions.  Of course I did not come to Mali for the sights, smells, and sounds.  I came to encourage the small but vibrant Malian church.  I also came to save the West.

In his book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?, Eric Kaufmann writes of the influence immigrant Christians are having in the highly secularized Europe.

“A quarter of the world’s Christians are now believed to be Pentecostals, who have grown by converting Catholics in Latin America, animists in Africa and Buddhists,    Shintoists and secularists in East Asia.  Many have immigrated to Europe.  Britain alone has 250,000, mainly immigrants.  In France, evangelical Protestants, largely Pentecostal, have swelled from 50,000 to 400,000 inside fifty years, chiefly through African immigration.

Catholicism and mainline Protestantism also benefit.  In Denmark, immigrants fill the once ailing Catholic churches and have prompted a demand for more.  In Ireland, Poles and Lithuanians are replacing the increasingly secular young Irish at Mass.  The Global South is also the sole engine of Christianity for the established Protestant denominations such as Anglicanism, symbolized by the appointment of Ugandan-born John Sentamu as Archbishop of York in 2005. …. In Britain, a tenth of all Christians attending Sunday service are now of African or West Indian origin, rising to 44 percent in London. Thanks largely to immigration and high immigrant fertility, Christian attendance in “secular’ London barely budged between 1989 and 2005, while it plummeted 40 percent in the rest of the country.” 

The church of the West in many ways needs the church of the Global South.  It is the United Methodist Church in Africa which has preserved the integrity and unity of the United Methodist Church in the US.  Other old-line denominations in the US have chased cultural affirmation at the expense of biblical orthodoxy which unsurprisingly has led to empty churches.

I am here in Mali to warn the African church not to follow the sad pattern of so many Western churches.  One of the most troubling patterns has been the willingness to abdicate to the State the responsibility of the church to care for the poor, the widow, and the orphan.

My first lecture began by showing how public policy is more than just elections. The Statists and their allies in certain Christian denominations and organization have undermined the churches responsibility.  I told how New York banned restaurants from donating leftover food to homeless shelters under the absurd logic that Health Department wanted to limit the salt intake of the homeless.  Similarly, the Malians shared how the government prohibits Christians from starting orphanages.  In both instances the church is restricted in carrying out its duty to the poor.  This strategic groups of pastors and ministry leaders from across West Africa have begun to see that politics is not just about elections; it is about a vision for society where people flourish in their gifts and vocations. It is a vision for human flourishing . Mutually energized by the interaction and thoughtful discussions, it looks like this will be a good week.

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