Global Christianity appears to be more vibrant than ever, while a gulf between churches in the Global South and Global North appears to be widening. Recently-published news of growing tension between Anglican leaders in the Global South and the Church of England, and increasingly frank public conversation about a potential separation in the global United Methodist Church are the latest signs of an ongoing trend.
Ten years ago, author Philip Jenkins, now Co-Director for Baylor University’s Program on Historical Studies of Religion, gave an address before the IRD Board of Directors entitled “Will It Stop at the Anglicans? The Prospects for Global Christian Schisms”.
Jenkins’ words then are as relevant as ever today. Here is a re-posted edited transcript of Jenkins’ address from March 26, 2007:
Today Anglicans in America are looking to Anglicans in Africa for help in their time of theological, ecclesial, and moral crisis in the Episcopal Church. At the same time conservative United Methodists are counting on African delegates at their next General Conference in 2008 to move their denomination into a more biblical and orthodox trajectory.
I have a Catholic friend who says that when he goes to mass all over the country, most often the celebrant is an African. Christian churches in Africa, Asia, South America are sending missionaries to Europe and North America.
Well, what are the implications of this for American churches and denominations and where is it leading us? To help us think through these and related questions, we’ve invited Dr. Philip Jenkins to address us this morning.
Dr. Jenkins is a distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University and specializes in a little bit of everything. I think it’s more accurate that he specializes in rather a lot of everything.
In addition to his history of Wales and the United States, Dr. Jenkins has written about terrorism, communism, fascism, cults, the new age, the question of the so-called “historic Jesus,” online pornography, clerical sex scandals, drugs, criminology, to name just a few subjects.
In fact, he has written over 20 books since 1983. The latest, God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam and Europe’s Religious Crisis, will be released this May by Oxford University Press.
The book is a third in a trilogy about global Christianity that began with The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity and New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South.
- JENKINS: Why do I write those books? Well, it keeps me off the streets. [Laughter] It’s a great honor to be speaking at IRD. It’s an organization that I’ve known about for a great many years and am a great admirer of the work.
Let me say right away I’ve deliberately chosen a very broad topic and I will speak for a while, but I’m sure there will be a lot more questions to surface.
When I think as a historian of schisms, I suppose the obvious one I think about is the Great Schism which began in 1054 between East and West and which remains unhealed today, close on a thousand years later. And if you look at that schism which seems to come from a totally different world, a different universe, in fact, there are rather more parallels than you may think. I always like to quote a conversation of a westerner—that is, a European, one of these upstart new mission churches—visiting the heart of the Empire in Constantinople a few years before the schism.
And the conversation between the patriarch of Constantinople and this emissary from the upstart church from Nigeria—oh, excuse me, I mean from Germany—has a very modern feel to it. And the patriarch basically says—I summarize—“Look, we have the theological education. You don’t understand these matters. Your faith is too young.”
And the person from the new church, the upstart church from Western Europe, replies: “Well, yes, our faith is young. That is, the faith of Christ should not be like a tacky worn-out garment. It should always be new. And, furthermore, heresies originate with you and are stamped out by us.” [Laughter]
And then you look at the issues that cause the schism, and what strikes you is how many of them revolve around what you can only call issues of culture, issues of approach, as opposed to very specific theological matters. And as I said, I think there are a number of parallels there.
Are we facing an Anglican schism? Yes, I think we are. I think it’s virtually certain. The type of language which has emerged in the last three years has become so stark. Bishop Nazir-Ali, an English Bishop of Rochester—by the way, Bishop Nazir-Ali [is] from a Pakistani Shiite family—has made the remark if you have two different religions in the same church, something has to give at some point. That’s a very interesting comment: not two different approaches, two different religions.
Archbishop Nzimbi of Kenya has said our [African] understanding of the Bible is totally different from theirs. We are two different churches. And I don’t know which is the least Christian example of language I have seen. Certainly there’s a lack of charity perhaps in the Nigerian statement about the U.S. Episcopal Church, which said: when a cancerous lump in the body has defied all treatment, the time has come for it to be excised. That’s harsh.
I don’t know that it’s any more harsh, though, than the statement of the gay pressure group in the Episcopal Church which urged the African bishops to stop monkeying around with the church and go back to the jungle they came from. I suspect the palm goes to the latter.
It may seem inappropriate in some ways putting the split within the Anglican Church on the par with the Great Schism. [But] more believers numerically are involved in the present split than the former split. There are more Anglicans in the world today than there were Christians in the world in 1054.
The other fact, of course, is that the church is growing very fast in the Global South. It’s an obvious point that the numbers just cannot be stressed sufficiently.
When the U.S. Episcopal Church approved the ordination of Bishop Robinson, the Nigerians complained. I think the first response was: “Who are you to tell us this?” And then [the Nigerian Anglicans] told them who they were to tell them this. The Nigerian church had five million members in 1975. It’s probably around 19 million today. It will be 36 million by 2030. Back in 1979, they had one archbishop and 16 bishops. Today they have ten archbishops and 80 dioceses.
A week ago, I don’t know if you noticed the story that the Nigerian church had just ordained 20 missionary bishops. They ordained 20 bishops, not with dioceses. They were to go out and found dioceses.
So it’s a remarkable time of growth. And this is true across the board. You mentioned the Roman Catholic Church. A figure I’m always interested in is last year there were more Roman Catholic baptisms in the Philippines than in France, Spain, Italy, and Poland combined.
Some 30 percent of the world’s Roman Catholics today live in three countries: Mexico, Brazil, and the Philippines. You know the numbers are overwhelming.
And as you said also, the splits that we see within the Anglican Church are emerging in other denominations. When you look at the Anglican world, you’re not surprised to read a quote like this, where an African bishop, for example, denounces the official church for practicing “a secular, intolerant, bureaucratic fundamentalism inimical to the Word of God and familiar from various church struggles against totalitarian ideologies during the 20th century.” Again, very harsh language, but it’s not Anglican. It’s from a Kenyan Lutheran bishop denouncing the Lutheran churches in Europe.
And when you look at Africa, for example, the denominations that we are familiar with in the West do not make the same kind of sense, are not the same hard divisions. I often choose the Lutherans as an example for that. When the leading figure in the Lutheran Church in East Africa is a healer, a charismatic leader in the strict sense, and a prophet, you know this is not the Lutheranism of Garrison Keillor. [Laughter] This is a very different kind of world.
And just as American Episcopalians have turned to African allies, so have conservative European Christians. Yes, there are conservative European Christians. I sometimes tell people I’m writing a book on European religion, and the standard joke which I’ve heard many times is: “Must be a very short book.”
Well, actually no. There is more conservatism and orthodoxy in European religion than you may think. In issues of gay ordination, for example, Scandinavian Lutherans have turned to a Kenyan bishop called Walter Obare Omwanza. And you have a very similar kind of issue to what’s prevailing in the Anglican world.
So, we’ve seen this sort of division around the world and just as in the Anglican world, all the numbers, all the growth is in the Global South.
Just to illustrate this, I once heard a presentation by the Anglican primate of Central Africa. And if you want to imagine the difference in the religious worlds of North and South, I think I can offer you no better story than this. This is the only time in my life I’ve ever heard an archbishop threaten to go on strike.
And he had a very simple reason for this, which is, every week, he said, the same thing happens. They come to you and they say, “Oh Archbishop, will you come along and consecrate the new church?” So, you go along and there are hundreds of people there and they built this new church and it’s already too small for the congregation. And then they say, “Oh Archbishop, while you’re in the area can you come and consecrate another new church—and another?” It’s exactly like that in the [Episcopal] Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. Really? No, it’s totally different. [Laughter]
[The archbishop] also said none of his clergy had been paid in six months and also made the point that he had never yet presided over a funeral where there were less than 12 or 15 bodies.
And you think of the poverty and prevalence of death, epidemic, and the phenomenal church growth. It’s a very different kind of world.
[Among] Methodists, Presbyterians, different denominations, orthodox, traditional believers look to the Global South, and what I want to do today is to suggest how realistic—or perhaps not—some of these expectations are. So, I come bearing bad news, but mainly I think good news.
First of all, if I look within the Anglican Church proper, I’m not sure how far the Anglican realignment will affect the Episcopal Church, how many people would succeed in joining a new denomination.
For example, I attend an Episcopal church in Pennsylvania—a remarkably successful Episcopal church. Just two weeks ago we went from two Sunday services to three, which is not a common event in the Episcopal tradition in this country. And there is certainly a good number of people there who are deeply unhappy about the direction that the Episcopal Church is taking nationally.
They would, however, never consider breaking away because so many of them would come from broadly a liturgical—if you like, Anglo-Catholic—kind of direction. They are tied to the building, to bricks and mortar. And they do not come from a tradition where it would be very easy to break away and worship in a high school gym.
And that is a problem. I think a number of them would also be a little uncomfortable with the charismatic directions of some of the more conservative Anglican churches. So really they must face a serious difficulty of being in a church where what the leadership says runs very contrary to their deepest convictions but it is hard to break away.
I don’t know if you remember a [New Yorker] cartoonist called [Ed] Koren. He used to do these spectacular furry monsters, very sort of friendly beasts with claws, and so on. And one of his cartoons was a couple sitting in an elegant drawing room, and one of these monsters was sitting on the other side of the room, and the man is explaining to a visitor: “We deal with it by not thinking about it.”
And that’s the motto of a great many conservatives within the Episcopal Church. Effectively, you have a kind of high church congregationalism, and what happens with the national ECUSA does not impact them. And there is as yet not sufficient motive to drive people into schism at the parish level.
And I think that’s a limitation on the potential on any kind of new denomination, at least numerically. If I was projecting the future of ECUSA, I would look at a slow, elegant Episcopal swan dive in terms of members.
But what are the prospects for other splits globally? In some ways, I see less of a chance of schism than what you might call the “southernization” of Global North churches.
When you look at the schism of the Middle Ages, East and West were separate worlds. It took months to travel from one to the other. People did not know what was happening in the other part of the world. Clearly, that’s not true today.
The North is in the South in the form of money, media, academia, soft power. The South is in the North in many interesting ways. Here are a couple of figures for you. Of the [Roman Catholic] priests in the United States today, 16 percent—one in six—are foreign born. If you look at the seminaries, nearly 30 percent are foreign born. They are Mexican, they are Nigerian, they are Vietnamese. If you want to look at a truly, truly conservative Catholic community, look at the Vietnamese. Look at some of the most important Catholic seminaries in California and the West Coast, some of which are nearly half Vietnamese in composition.
The United States Catholic Church did not officially lose its status as a missionary church until 1906, I think. And I actually wonder how much beyond its centenary it will be before it de facto resumes the status of a missionary church. Certainly its priesthood is strong in that way.
We’ve talked about some of the very large denominations, the Methodists and the Presbyterians. Look at many of the smaller denominations. I would not have to go more than a mile or two from where we are right now to give you some very interesting examples of “southernization.” The Seventh Day Adventist Church, for example, reached a million strong in 1957. Today it is 15 million strong.
In 1957 virtually all their believers lived in the United States. Today, one million live in the United States, 14 million live elsewhere. But of the one million in the United States, a substantial majority are Latino, Asian, African, and generally much more conservative on moral issues, doctrinal issues, theological issues, to the enormous puzzlement of older, white Anglo believers who long believed that this was their church.
And within Washington, for example, there have been many disputes where people have been very reluctant to accept women’s leadership at any level of the church.
In terms of South and the North, let me say something about Europe. We’re all familiar with many of the controversies in the United States. Can I urge you to look at the “southernization” of Christianity in Europe?
What’s the largest Christian congregation in Europe? Fascinating story—of course, it’s in Kiev, Ukraine. Of course, it’s run by a Nigerian. What else would one expect? [The Nigerian was] one of these young men who the Soviet Union brought over in the 1980s to be taught the ways of communism and to go back and revolutionize the Third World. Then the Soviet Union collapsed. Sunday Adelaja set up his church in Kiev with seven members; there are 30,000 presently. It’s an organization called these days the Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God. It is becoming a denomination in many countries.
It has stealth branches just across the river here. They are a little hard to track down, but they are there. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, “What do you do with congregations of 20,000 and 30,000? Are there not practical difficulties?” Well, fortunately no. This is the former Soviet Union.
The former Soviet Union built all these splendid halls for union gatherings and party congresses. So, in case you ever wondered what the historic role of communism was, it was to build buildings large enough for Pentecostal churches. [Laughter]
If you look in Great Britain, of the largest megachurches in Britain, I believe the four largest are all pastored by Africans. On a typical Sunday, approximately 50 percent of the believers attending churches in London are African or Afro-Caribbean, and that does not account for another probably eight percent or so Asian.
It is often presented as being the southern churches, the African churches, the churches of Southeast Asia throwing a lifeline to orthodox and traditional believers in North America. It’s a more subtle thing than that.
If you read the coverage of the Episcopal issues in the Anglican world, there’s a great deal of puzzlement on both sides of the aisle at the behavior, the attitudes of [Archbishop of Canterbury] Rowan Williams. Rowan Williams seems to be a very liberal figure in many ways and yet, in the view of many liberal Anglicans, he seems to be bending over backwards to accommodate the Africans.
What is happening here? Well, of course the big factor which people do not give their attention to is that within the Church of England there are centers of enormous growth—evangelical churches, charismatic churches—without which the Anglican Church in England effectively would cease to exist. There are very well-known parishes which effectively make up megachurches in their own right. Holy Trinity Brompton, for example—which is the source of the Alpha course—St. Andrews Chorleywood, and a great many others.
A remarkable number of those draw their direct inspiration from Global South churches—and not the ones you expect. St. Andrews Chorleywood, for example, is founded by a British Anglican, David Pitchers. He is the fourth generation Anglican clergy, I believe.
But his ecclesiastical views were absolutely reshaped by spending time in Chile and learning from the Pentecostal revival in Chile. And that’s what he brought back to Chorleywood, making it one of the most successful parishes in Britain. A very charismatic church—very Pentecostal. Many of us have said in the past that it is a de facto branch of the Vineyard, a very close parallel to the American Vineyard.
The point I’m trying to make is that the South is in the North, very strongly in Europe and very strongly here, very strongly in terms of African churches, and so on.
I always encourage people who are interested in churches or Christian development, go to that wonderful resource that you may not use as much as you might—which is your Yellow Pages. Track down the African churches and the Asian churches and the Latino Pentecostal churches in your city. There are many of them.
Let me just look at some of the forces which are good news and bad news for the future here. Americans, Europeans turn to the Global South for leadership, for inspiration. How long can they rely on that inspiration?
The churches certainly are growing. The Nigerian Church, for example, is growing. The Ugandan Church is growing. But will there come a point when they might be as liberal, as soft on doctrinal issues as ECUSA? Could such a thing happen?
Well, there are a number of forces which are making for orthodoxy. One of them is Islam. The presence of Islam—in Nigeria especially, but in many of the other countries, in Kenya, in Uganda—means that it becomes extremely difficult for Christians to adopt what would be seen as decadent, Western positions, especially on the issue of homosexuality.
If the Kenyan church, say, announced a position like that of ECUSA—if it ordained an openly gay bishop, for example—that would be a catastrophe in terms of the confrontation with Islam. Muslims would lose not a second in pointing out everything we always said about the Western, corrupt nature of this church is now proven.
Don’t forget in West Africa especially the best recruiting tool for Islam is Hollywood. And I say that with no joke whatever, because it is so easy for Muslims to say, “Do you want your daughters to end up living in a world like this?” And the answer very commonly is not. The whole issue of a change in gender roles, the perception of decadence.
This is not a time for Christians in Africa to be going soft on some of these issues. Homosexuality is the key. And if you think about it, the more that remains a touchstone issue in Africa—at the same time attitudes are changing so fast in the West. So any criticism of homosexuality is becoming as unacceptable [in the West] as any manifestation of racism has become.
You know we’re so used to this as an idea. Many of us may want to stop and think how recently that has happened. Ten years ago, what do the opinion polls say about gay marriage in the United States? The answer is they say absolutely nothing because nobody raises it as a question. It isn’t on anybody’s horizon. Suddenly it’s become a civil right. And it will, I suspect, continue to become more mainstream.
So, something which is becoming a mainstream right in one part of the Christian world becomes absolutely unacceptable in the other, and that, I suggest, is the largest single reason why African churches, Asian churches will remain bastions of orthodoxy in that way.
A couple of other things: women’s leadership in the church is a much more open area. Many of the more conservative branches of the Anglican Church will not ordain women. But, for example, in East Africa, Presbyterians certainly do. There are many active women theologians.
One other thing that I would stress is that whether you’re looking at Africa or Asia the success of the churches is unthinkable without the extremely strong role of women’s lay leadership. Organizations like the “mother’s unions” within the Anglican Church.
Scriptural authority: homosexuality became such an explosive division between North and South because American tolerance appeared to run contrary to explicit scriptural prohibition. In some ways, that is a weak reed on which to rely indefinitely for this reason:
African churches especially are strongly charismatic. And that includes the liturgical churches. As I’ve said before, it can be very frustrating if you try and pin down a Nigerian Anglican on their position. “Are you evangelical? Are you Catholic? Are you charismatic?” And the answer is always, “Well, yes.”
If they’re charismatic, that means they are open to prophetic authority, which can provide the opportunity to revise strict scriptural prohibitions.
Let me give you an example. If you look at one of the leading independent churches in East Africa—like many of them led by women—the question obviously arises, “Does not St. Paul say here that women should keep silent in church?” And their response is very interesting: “I am absolutely obedient to the revealed word of God. I’m also open to continued prophetic inspiration.”
And I think on women’s leadership that would not be a major division. I keep coming back to homosexuality as the key to that.
Let me suggest a number of what you might call areas of danger, areas of concern for orthodox traditional believers in the North who hope that the Global South will continue to be a mainstay of orthodoxy. Orthodoxy on what? A number of issues.
One of the great danger zones in this matter is South Africa, and let me explain why. South Africa is economically, culturally, politically the most important African nation by far.
Ever since the end of apartheid, it is now obviously a black African country. And it has really resumed its natural leadership of the African continent.
If you look at the books that people read in Africa, the theologians who are influential, so many of them are based in South Africa—and actually in quite a liberal political climate.
And the publishing industry from South Africa is very substantial. One of the great differences between the United States and Africa is the sheer availability of books. We are overwhelmed by books; we are overwhelmed by reading.
If you think of an ordinary believer in, say, Nigeria, access to books is very limited. A pastor with a study version of the Bible is doing very well indeed.
If you look at seminaries, if you look at colleges, the books that are printed and are available often come from South African presses which are very open to feminist, gay, liberal theologies. South Africa is an interesting story.
I cannot stress the following sufficiently: so many of the partisan labels that we are used to in the Global North do not make sense in the Global South. When you call somebody a conservative, when you call somebody a liberal, very often those ideas are associated with packages.
If you tell me somebody’s views on gun control in this country, I make a pretty good guess about where they stand on issues of immigration and gay marriage. Ideas go in packages. If you say somebody’s a conservative in Africa, the question then is: “On what?” Somebody who is extremely conservative on gay issues, women’s issues, moral issues might by our terms be extremely liberal on social and economic issues, might be very willing to consider a great deal of state intervention, might be hostile to the kind of free enterprise capitalism which would go with American conservatism.
A friend of mine was talking the other day about visiting [Anglican] Archbishop Akinola in Nigeria. One of his first impressions was it would not be at all different if you were visiting the minister of development of an African country in terms of the business that was passing over his desk and the phone calls he was getting.
Issues of development seen in a global statist, bureaucratic, United Nations context are very widely accepted in the churches. And this actually has quite a sound theological basis from their approach in this way:
In the west we tend to have a left/right division. [On the one hand] we think of liberation theology, social activism, political activism, overthrowing unjust political structures. [On the other hand] we think of deliverance, spiritual warfare, casting out demons, healing.
A key to understanding most African, or Indian, or Chinese Christianity is that that division does not exist. The two are one. Liberation is deliverance. If there is a life verse of African Christianity, it is John 10:10, which is “I am come so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly”—life defined as trying to improve material life often through state, public intervention. So there are a number of potential areas of conflict over economic affairs.
I would also add one [observation] which has only struck me recently. In the year 2050, let me give you a list of the countries with the largest Christian population. By 2050, the largest Christian country should be the United States, followed in no particular order by Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, the Congo, Ethiopia, China, and the Philippines.
Let me make an observation about those countries. Most of them are within the tropics. Most of them are in the areas which stand to lose most severely from any damage caused by global warming, from drought, from the spread of deserts.
The lower a country’s latitude, the more interest it has in global warming issues, and very likely the more it will be willing to accept large scale global cooperation, presumably through the United Nations, as a means of combating and reversing this. To be a tropical country, between 23 [degrees] north and 23 [degrees] south—most of the Christian world in 2040 or 2050—is to have a vested interest in international cooperation, government intervention, and the severe limiting of capitalism or free enterprise.
I would also make [comment on] the nation of Israel. Conservatives in the United States [are] obviously very committed to Israel. There’s a very strong evangelical commitment, and that’s presently largely true of many African churches. My enemy’s enemy is my friend. Israel confronts Muslim enemies.
There is, however, quite a strong tradition of seeing Israel as an imperialist country that oppresses Third World people, much as the European empires used to oppress Africans or Asians. And there is in some theological writing a kind of anti-Judaism—a tendency to see the enemies of Jesus in the Gospels as the Jews following their evil patriarchal religion. And when challenged on this, they [African Christians] are the first to say, “This has nothing to do with Jews.”
But there is that kind of rhetoric present there partly because there is no reality check. The only Global South nations which have any Jewish communities are Argentina and, once again, South Africa.
So let me suggest that there are many reasons why orthodox believers in the Global North can look with great help at Global South churches, but there are some pressure points. There are some issues of danger, and in terms of economics, the splits are potentially quite serious.
Let me end with a number of practical issues. Assume that these schisms happen. Assume that we see schisms within the Anglican world, within the Presbyterian world, within the Methodist world, even, who knows, within the Catholic world.
I think we already see ways in which the Western media are going to cover these stories in the most damaging possible way for conservatives, and I think it would be an awfully good idea to be prepared in advance.
I cite as “exhibit A” a story that appeared recently from a Reuters journalist who interviewed me and he was writing about my new Faces book. This is a very simple, friendly story, and he really liked my work. And he attributed to me a statement which is absolutely false—I had said nothing like this—but which reflected his view of the world and it was so obvious [to him] that I shared it.
“’While liberals base their belief on the New Testament’s message of love and inclusiveness,’ Jenkins said, ‘Christians in Africa are focused more on the Old Testament with its plagues, visions, and healings watched over by a stern and demanding God.’” I swear I never said that. [Laughter] I defy you to show me the notes. The point is when you see things from a certain framework, that’s how you will see it.
What are the main pressure points? One that I always struggle against is the effort at personalizing the conflict in terms of the imperial or papal ambitions of Archbishop Akinola in search of wealth and power.
I have a very simple answer to this. If Akinola wanted immense wealth and power, he could do it extremely easily. He could just do what a number of other clerics are doing, which is emphasize the enormous guilt of countries like Britain or the United States over the slave trade, demand full reparations, demand apologies, win the full support of the Western media, and no doubt earn himself a great many lucrative peace prizes and awards. If he wanted money or power, there’s an easy route to it. Not what he’s doing.
The other point I make, of course, [is] if Archbishop Akinola stepped under a bus tomorrow—which in Lagos is an extremely likely event—there are a dozen other primates who would occupy very much the same role. I look at Henry Orombi in Uganda just as an obvious example.
The other thing you can expect in the very near future in the media is a number of stories about the horrors of African Christianity and the way it falls short of any kind of authentic Christianity, and there are a number of pressure points.
One is the alleged tolerance of African churches for polygamy. Well, if you approve polygamy, why do you want to interfere when the U.S. church is tolerant of homosexuality? That’s one [argument].
The other one is very dangerous and that’s the response to the prosperity gospel in Africa, the kind of Pentecostalism which is often treated as a kind of “cargo cult.” You give us your money, and miracles will descend upon you.
Can I point to preachers like this in Africa? Does Africa have Elmer Gantrys? Yes, of course it does. However, I cannot stress sufficiently, if you look at the most successful churches that teach a prosperity gospel, they are much more subtle than this.
They will emphasize the good of the community. They’ll emphasize the role of faith. And why don’t they talk more about evangelical theology? Very easy answer: if you’re in an African society and you are used to ideas of sacrifice, blood, a price has to be paid, all those ideas are there and present and all you have to do is explain that Jesus is the true sacrifice, the true atonement.
In other words, as in the first or second century, so many of the basic theological ideas are there prefabricated and you do not need the same basic theological instruction. I suggest to you that prosperity churches are much more biblical and orthodox than they’re given credit for.
And I know for a fact that a sizeable number of Western journalists are in desperate search now of scandals they can dig up on African church leaders. Here’s a fascinating example: In the British Guardian the other day, Stephen Bates—who is a major player in these conflicts—was covering the [Anglican] primates’ meeting in Tanzania, where they demanded the U.S. church do certain things.
And he just threw in passing “…the 35 archbishops (two of whom are known to be gay themselves)….” No names. Who are these people? By the way, check with your lawyers before saying anything. But the potential slander is out there.
So, if anyone is interested in these issues of orthodoxy versus liberalism, the issues that so drive the IRD—explain the existence of the IRD—I would urge you to think very hard about these attacks, as they will come, and formulating a response.
So, the time has come to consider a response. Will we see global schisms? Yes, I think so. But more encouragingly in the long run, I think we stand the potential of enormous significant Christian growth around the world, and especially in what we’ve long regarded at that malarial swamp of religion which is Europe.
I’ll draw to a close there and open it up for questions.
QUESTION: Rick Wright of the Falls Church. You suggested thinking about media attacks against the African church. You obviously have thought about this some. What responses would you suggest?
- JENKINS: Well, as I said the first thing is the personalizing issue. There’s a widespread impression, I believe, that you focus on Akinola—depicted absolutely objectively with the horns and the beard drawn on. That’s the first point. But as I said, if he died tomorrow, there would be a dozen comparable figures. There’d be Kolini, there would be Orombi, and many others.
The comment is then made, “Why are they interested in these sorts of issues as opposed to the really important issues, the issues of poverty and human rights?” And then you say, “What do you think about David Gitari?” And they always say, “”Who?” And I say, “Well, exactly.” David Gitari is one of many African primates—very conservative on issues of sexuality and sexual preference—who risked his life on a daily basis for about 20 years to combat dictatorship in his nation of Kenya.
You look at the many African clergy who risk their lives against tyrants like Daniel arap Moi in Kenya [or] Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, who never get any coverage. So I always turn it back on the media and say, “Why? Why do you not cover those people? The fact that we don’t hear about those activities is not our fault; it’s your fault.” When in doubt, counterattack.
The other important one is the prosperity gospel issue. And it does not do to deny that there are abuses. But I always then say, “Well, let’s look at the worst condemnations of these churches, which come from African churches themselves who denounce this kind of activity at its worst as a gospel of cheap grace. A gospel of something like magic.”
We have to draw a sharp division between an Elmer Gantry church, if you like, and a church that really does believe that prayer is associated with conditions in the material world. And the question then is: “Well, if people don’t believe that prayer has got some kind of impact on health or prosperity, why do Americans pray?” If Africans teach a gospel of health and wealth, do I hear American churches preaching a gospel of sickness and poverty? I don’t think so.
But it is important to have responses on those kinds of issues, and very often it’s to turn it around on them and say, “Why don’t we hear about this? Well, you tell me.”
And it’s good to have specific examples—like Zimbabwe, for example. You ask a journalist, “Would you like to go to Zimbabwe and write hostile stories against the government?” I don’t think so. Only the churches do that.
QUESTION: Bob Parrott, Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. You mentioned that the enemy of Jesus was really not the Jews but was Satan. And we recall how one of his high church followers was told to “get thee behind me.”
Now, it’s our experience—some of us, certainly mine—in the Western world, no matter whether you’re talking to a liberal progressive or to a conservative, this is a subject that they just don’t approach. Like you said earlier, they take the position [that] “we just don’t deal with it.”
My question to you is this. In your experiences of the many schisms of the church, in the world, is there somewhere an orthodox bastion of serious Christian theologians who will deal with the subject of Satan vigorously as we deal with the subject of God?
- JENKINS: I don’t know where to being with that. To cite somebody who’s probably not often mentioned in IRD meetings, Jim Wallis makes the interesting point that if you go to the Bible and take out references to the poor, you’re not left with much. He’s absolutely right.
If you go through the Bible and take out references to Satan, exorcism, demons, and healings, you’re also left with a pretty thin pamphlet. And the Bible as it’s read in Global South churches is very, very conscious of the realities of Satan, of possession. And above all if there’s a key concept which drives African churches, Asian churches, it is healing. It is healing considered in a holistic way—healing of the body, of the soul, of the mind. And if you leave out one of those dimensions, you’re not offering a full and accurate treatment of Christianity.
I can certainly point to a number of African theologians who explored this, but perhaps the best way I can do it is look at the best expressions of popular theology, as any Methodist knows, [in] hymns. We currently today, I’ve argued, live in what might be the greatest ever age of Christian hymn writing or hymn composing. Much of it is not written. It is composed in an oral culture. Most of us cannot read these hymns.
But if you look at so many of these hymns and their basic ideas, they are ideas of deliverance, casting out evil, triumph over the devil, what is traditionally called a Christus Victor theology—a theology of Christ trampling the forces of evil.
Why is this? These [hymns] emerge from societies which prior to the coming of Christianity would be dominated by the idea of the absolute, invasive control of evil forces, curses, hereditary curses, ancestral evil and suddenly, as to the light being switched on, those forces are now cast out.
And it’s that sense of victory which drives much Global South Christianity and explains the success of so much charismatic Christianity. I was actually last night talking to Jim [Tonkowich], quoting a Ghanaian hymn composed by a very productive woman named [unintelligible]. She has this wonderful hymn, and I was wondering where this would fit in the contemporary Methodist hymnal: “Jesus Christ, you are the Lion of the Grasslands. If Satan troubles us, your claws are sharp. You will tear out his entrails for the flies to eat.” [Laughter] Isn’t it wonderful to have a gentle woman’s touch in a hymn? [Laughter].
QUESTION: Jody Hassett. Perhaps you could update us a bit on the role of the increasing influence of Christian African missionaries in Europe.
- JENKINS: Well, there are two kinds of phenomenon in progress. One is missionaries and the other is people from Global South countries who settle in European countries and bring their churches with them. Not so much as a deliberate mission.
Far and away the most successful would be in Britain, where you have very numerous churches. And in some ways it’s a very sad story, because, for instance, you have these African churches coming from Nigeria and they would [say], “Oh, Anglican Church, this is home,” and they would be rebuffed there. And they were not made to feel comfortable, so they went off and formed their own churches.
Some of them were successful, belong to what’s called the Nigerian Aladura movement, great healing movement. If there is a set of initials that you need to know to look at the future of Christianity, it’s RCCG, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which is rapidly becoming a very impressive global denomination.
As some of you may know, the RCCG recently set up its headquarters in Texas in a town which up until the 1920s had as its official motto “the blackest land and the whitest people.” Where else would you put a Nigerian denomination? [Laughter]
And I offer you a suggestion: You know we often hear about the immigrant issue in France, and it’s always portrayed as if it’s a Muslim issue. There were the Muslim riots in November 2005. Look more closely at those Muslims or those Muslim areas, because you don’t have to go far in them to see the Congolese churches.
By the way—talk about the Nigerians—the Congolese have another vast missionary presence all over Europe. Some of the greatest megachurches in Europe—Filipino, Brazilian churches, and in some of the areas in Saint Denis—you see Christian churches everywhere. Many of the folks out fighting the police in November 2005 were young Africans who then went back to their churches. There’s a lot more poor Christians.
Germany has a very strong church network. One of my favorites it what’s called the Christian Church Outreach Mission, founded by a man called Bediako. He moved from Ghana, set up a church and a small prayer group—spread all over Germany. I love looking at its website because it lists all the great German cities—Hamburg and Dresden and so on—with a pastor. And of course they are all black Africans, the future face of European Christianity.
And what they have now done is set up missionary churches in Ghana, from Ghana to Germany to Ghana. Globalization in action. But basically anywhere you go in Europe you will see African churches.
You actually have the experience of going on the Paris Metro to some of these outlying areas. It’s absolutely normal where somebody will stand up and preach to the people in the train. Nobody thinks that’s odd. He will share the burden he has to share and will sit down.
I talk a lot about Africans. I could also take everything I’ve said and deliver a very comparable kind of address—just focusing on Asians, just focusing on Koreans, the world’s second largest missionary nation right now.
I could talk about Filipinos. If you ever go to a European hotel, take a second look at the waitresses and the bus boys and the people washing the dishes. Because if you talk to them, the odds are that they are members of one of the great Filipino international charismatic brotherhoods from within the Catholic Church—like El Shadai. People who live in a social world not unlike that of the Book of Acts where they move from city to city finding fellowship in those cell communities. Six million strong. Operates in 35 countries and there’s now finally a book on that.
Chinese, Koreans—it’s a very exciting time to look at European Christianity. There’s a remark you haven’t heard recently. [Laughter]
I know we’re drawing to an end but I wanted to make one remark which I sometimes quote mainly because it has the wonderful effect of drawing the interview to a stunned silence. [Laughter]
[Anglican Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini] has a quote, and I sometimes say, [if] you want to understand why this issue is so important for Africans, [if] you want to understand why they’re so upset over issues of homosexuality and scriptural orthodoxy, let me tell you a story.
Emmanuel Kolini is from Rwanda. He says he has an obligation to help Americans. Why? “Because when we had the genocide in Rwanda, no one came to help us. I’m not going to let you stand alone.” And the journalists waited for about 30 seconds. He’s comparing Rwandan genocide to this issue? Yes. And if you want to convey the seriousness, it’s a useful kind of idea.
I believe we’re drawing to an end at that point. Thank you very much.