Thursday, August 11, 2005

Here is an interesting article from the Church of England newspaper. I found it of interest...


An old man with a long, grey beard and pointy hat stands on a stepladder in the town square, haranguing the crowds. Is he some kind of lunatic? No – or at least, perhaps not. He’s the Wizard, regarded by critics as a ‘living work of art’ and officially recognized as ‘national wizard’ by the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Despite having been born and raised in England, the Wizard has successfully become one of New Zealand’s most recognizable and beloved figures, and his lectures – delivered outside the cathedral in Christchurch – are always popular attractions. When not preaching his idiosyncratic politics or casting rain spells (something that would no doubt infuriate Agobard of Lyons), the Wizard is devoted – and, indeed, charged by the government – to devising ‘a new and improved universe which puts New Zealand on top of the world both physically and metaphysically’. The most well-known manifestation of this is his world maps, which subvert traditional symbolism and expectation by the simple method of being printed upside down, with the south at the top. On this scheme, all the recognizable landmasses disappear, to be replaced by an unfamiliar world, one that seems to have a lot more sea, and which is dominated by areas such as South America and the Philippines. New Zealand, naturally, comes out on top. Something like that is happening to Christianity today. Over the past century, its centre of gravity has been slowly but undeniably shifting, until the southern hemisphere has overtaken the northern in importance. The religion originated in the Middle East and flourished in Europe and, later, in North America. But it is now waning in those areas. Islam has long been the dominant religion in the Middle East, and Europe is becoming increasingly secularized. Christianity remains very strong in North America – but the religion is gathering pace in the southern hemisphere, especially in Africa. A century ago, nine per cent of the continent was Christian; today it is 46 per cent. As the religion grows and spreads, its character changes. We have seen examples throughout my book of Christians adapting their faith to match their situation and cultural background, and nowhere has that been more striking than in Africa. In many ways, the African church hearkens back to the early church far more than in other continents. Whereas Christians elsewhere are divided between conservative and liberal, most African churches tend to be theologically conservative – holding to the traditional doctrines, rather than trying to reinterpret or abandon them to fit a modern worldview. At the same time, they have integrated Christianity into a traditional African worldview, one where the supernatural plays a major role. It is sometimes supposed that Christianity in Africa is simply a hangover of the imperialist age, something that got imported and pasted over the indigenous culture. We have already seen that the situation is not so simplistic – that there was Christianity in Ethiopia, for example, over 1,500 years ago; and in Congo it was indigenous people such as King Alfonso who were enthusiastic about Christianity and sought to promote it. And the nature of African Christianity today also gives the lie to the notion that it is simply a European import that doesn’t belong there. Christianity in Africa is, typically, authentically African, combining the worldview and the culture of traditional African religions with the new beliefs of Christianity. In some parts of Africa, over 10 per cent of the population still practise old, indigenous religions, and that has a huge influence over how newer religions such as Islam and Christianity are perceived and how they manifest themselves. And this means that a different kind of Christianity is developing and becoming dominant. In the West, many Christian theologians have sought to find a new way of thinking of Christianity – a non-supernatural way – in the belief that the old ways are no longer appropriate; but in Africa, they are not only surviving but thriving. Similar changes are taking place in South America, where the old domination of the Catholic Church is no longer as assured as it once was. As in Africa, Protestantism, and in particular the energetic, celebratory style of Pentecostalism, is becoming more and more popular. And as the churches in the developing nations become more vibrant, and those in Europe less, so the former are increasingly dictating the future of Christianity. The largest Anglican Church in the world, for example, is the one in Nigeria; and this means that the African members of the Anglican Communion are more and more able to exercise influence over the Anglican Church as a whole. That has been especially noticeable in recent debates over the Church’s attitude to homosexuality, and the liberal approach of many European and American Christians has sometimes been overruled by the much more hard-line, conservative attitude of many Africans. And the people who are filling the churches of Africa are different from the faithful of the old world. In particular, they tend to be a lot poorer. This means that African Christianity is not only doctrinally conservative and open to the notions of the supernatural, but it is especially concerned with this-world issues, with issues of poverty and justice. We have already seen the role that African Christianity played in opposing apartheid in South Africa, and Christian leaders in Africa continue to take a prominent role in opposing what they regard as abuses of power or injustice. Pius Ncube, for example, is the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, the second largest city in Zimbabwe. He is one of the few public figures in the country to take a consistent and vocal stand against the policies of Robert Mugabe, the controversial Zimbabwean president. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Mugabe’s role oversaw a decided erosion of human rights: his political opponents were silenced or even killed, creating an effective one-party system. In particular, Mugabe’s attempts to confiscate land from white farmers and give it to black ones has received international condemnation, as did his prosecution of his predecessor for ‘unnatural sex acts’ – Mugabe’s term for homosexuality. But Mugabe refuses to accept that his policies have led to food shortages and starvation in Zimbabwe, and bitterly attacks Western governments that impose sanctions on his regime. He also dismisses the condemnations from church leaders, including Desmond Tutu in South Africa (‘an angry, embittered little bishop’) and his own Pius Ncube (‘another Tutu who thinks he is holy, but he is telling lies every day’). Ncube was educated by the Jesuits in Zimbabwe when it was still called Rhodesia, after the English colonialist Cecil Rhodes. He returned to the country in the 1970s and has repeatedly called for Robert Mugabe to stand down, accusing him of wrecking the country’s economy and not caring whether his people live or die. Naturally, Ncube lives a dangerous life as a result, with government spies sitting in his church taking notes during his sermons and sometimes warning him to stick purely to ‘religious’ subjects. Much of the rest of the Catholic Church in Zimbabwe has failed to speak out against the government, and as a result, Ncube has become something of a marginalised figure; but the priests in his own archdiocese have loyally stood by him. In 1960, the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan said in Cape Town: “The wind of change is blowing through the continent.” He was referring to the new post-colonial situation in Africa, as former colonies regained their independence. Today, the wind of change continues to blow, as many African countries, just like Zimbabwe, continue to struggle with the legacy of the imperialist era. At the same time, major problems such as the Aids epidemic, endemic poverty and national debt remain to be solved. In these uncertain times, the growth and vitality of the Christian churches throughout Africa can hardly fail to play a major role in the years to come. Figures such as Desmond Tutu, Pius Ncube or Janani Luwum (the Archbishop of Uganda, whose stand against the dictator Idi Amin saw him arrested and murdered in 1977) represent the growing voice that Christianity will undoubtedly continue to have in African society and politics in the years to come.
–Jon Hill, The Church of England Newspaper

1 comment:

Jennifer/Claire said...

But from what I understand, Nigeria and South Africa do not necessarily agree on questions of moral theology. I could be wrong, certainly, but this has been my impression.

There is greater complexity than this piece indicates.. the differences not only lie between Global North and Global South but also within each.

I'm also never quite sure why quantity is seen to be correlated with quality. It is certainly a position of power in our culture of number crunching, but having fewer communicants doesn't mean that God isn't working in a particular place. (And the converse is also true: having more members doesn't mean God isn't working there either.) Of course, I would also say that having more money doesn't mean much either...