…if, as I hope, Rev. Falwell’s passing will bring about a new chance to define what it is to be Christian – something more than simply saying no to abortion, no to gay rights, no to alcohol, no to coed dorms, and yes to politics – here is a fascinating place to start.
New Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson writes about how the African Anglican church installed a missionary bishop in the United States. That’s right – African evangelism of the United States.
Why? Well, it isn’t as some reported, simply a matter of battles over sexuality. Rather, Gerson writes, it is about a realignment of the Christian faith:
In 1900, about 80 percent of Christians lived in North America and Europe; now, more than 60 percent live on other continents. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. The largest district of the United Methodist Church is found in Ivory Coast. And many of the enthusiastic converts of Western missions have begun asking why portions of the Western church have abandoned the traditional faith they once shared. Liberal Protestant church officials, headed toward international assemblies, are anxiously counting African votes, because these new voters tend to take their Bible both literally and seriously.
This emerging Christianity can be troubling. Church leaders sometimes emphasize communal values more than individual human rights, and they need to understand that strongly held moral beliefs are compatible with a commitment to civil liberties for all. Large Pentecostal churches are often built by domineering personalities promising health and wealth.
But the religion of the global south has a great virtue: It is undeniably alive. And it needs to be. A mother holding a child weak with AIDS or hot with malaria, or a family struggling to survive in an endless urban slum, does not need religious platitudes. Both need God’s ever-present help in time of trouble — which is exactly what biblical Christianity claims to offer.
Some American religious conservatives have embraced ties with this emerging Christianity, including the church I attend. But there are adjustments in becoming a junior partner. The ideological package of the global south includes not only moral conservatism but also an emphasis on social justice, an openness to state intervention in markets, and a suspicion of American economic and military power. The emerging Christian majority is not the Moral Majority.
What does all of this mean? At its root, I believe it means the end of shiny, happy Christianity where God is viewed as someone who is there to just make you happy and where words are more important than deeds. Are we up for the change?