Saturday, March 26, 2005

Where Faith Thrives

Nicholas Kristof has an amazing column about trends in Christianity.
So with Easter approaching, here I am in the heart of Christendom.

That's right - Africa. …

On Easter, more Anglicans will attend church in Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda - each - than Anglicans and Episcopalians together will attend services in Britain, Canada and the U.S. combined.

More Roman Catholics will celebrate Easter Mass in the Philippines than in any European country. The largest church in the world is in South Korea. And more Christians will probably attend Easter services in China than in all of Europe together.

In short, for the first time since it began two millenniums ago, Christianity is no longer "Western" in any very meaningful sense. …

This shift could be just beginning. David Lyle Jeffrey of Baylor University sees some parallels between China today and the early Roman empire. He wonders aloud whether a Chinese Constantine will come along and convert to Christianity.

Chairman Mao largely destroyed traditional Chinese religions, yet Communism has died as a replacement faith and left a vacuum. "Among those disappointed true-believer Marxists, it may well be that Marxism has served as a kind of John the Baptist to the rapid emergence of Christianity among Chinese intellectuals," Professor Jeffrey said. Indeed, it seems possible to me that in a few decades, China could be a largely Christian nation. …

People in this New Christendom are so zealous about their faith that I worry about the risk of new religious wars. In Africa, Christianity and Islam are competing furiously for converts, and in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and especially Sudan, the competition has sometimes led to violent clashes.

"Islam is a threat that is coming," the Rev. William Dennis McDonald, a Pentecostal minister in Zambia, warned me. He is organizing "operation checkmate" to boost Christianity and contain Islam in eastern Zambia.

The denominations gaining ground tend to be evangelical and especially Pentecostal; it's the churches with the strictest demands, like giving up drinking, that are flourishing.

All this is changing the character of global Christianity, making it more socially conservative. For example, African churches are often more hostile to gays than mainline American churches. The rise of the Christian right in the U.S. is finding some echoes in other parts of the world. …
To borrow a phrase from the community of faith, Heaven help us.

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