I think it is and will continue to. I was talking in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and a pastor there has visited Uganda a couple times and brings Ugandans over and wants to help them get their deliverance ministry going. The Presbyterian church we filmed in Ghana was lay-led, and most of the lay leaders who started this church were secondary school teachers in science. They were the intelligentsia of this provincial capital. One of them was invited to visit several of these Ghanaian Presbyterian churches in the Bronx to get their deliverance ministry off on the right foot.

If an American walked into one of the churches in Africa you filmed on a Sunday, what would they see and hear that they would recognize, and what would be unfamiliar?

A lot of the liturgy [would be familiar], if it were done in English (which would not be typical). There would be classic hymns they would recognize. Everyone would come in a line and dance forward at the offering. They're there for three hours--the service is a lot longer [than in America]. There's more music, and dance as a spiritual discipline.

Are there verses from the Bible that are in the forefront there?

They have a different set of emphases, scripturally. Some, like the older independent churches, use the Old Testament more. They take comfort partly in the fact that polygamy is a reality in the Old Testament. They continue that traditional practice.

How is polygamy addressed? Are African Christians OK with it?

The old independent churches in the rural areas practice it and find it legitimated in the Old Testament. Many of the Protestant African leaders in the mission-founded churches and new Pentecostal churches are totally against it and see it as a heathen practice.

Are they giving pulpit-pounding sermons against polygamy?

No, they are more indirect. There's ambivalence about seeing those people as Christians. The new Pentecostal churches, generally found among more urbane people, tend to write off all those independent churches as non-Christian. Polygamy's one of the things they find totally unacceptable.

But it's not something that is railed against or preached against. Many of them will have relatives out in the countryside who are much more traditional, for whom that's more acceptable. It's not something that's become such a divisive issue. They tend to let it rest, or laugh it off, like any point of tension that's just there and you can't do anything about it.

Having been there, what did you think of how polygamy plays out in real life? Here in the States, you don't really see it.

In the independent church, Zion Apostolic Church, where we filmed, we filmed in a polygamous household. The senior wife was the real love of this bishop. She is a midwife and a prophet in the church. They couldn't have children for 5, maybe 8 years. She recruited a wife from her family.

She recruited the wife? Does that often happen?

Yes, I would think this would be more typical than not. Marriage assumes a different form and romantic love and sex have different meanings when you move into that world. It's not the same as we imagine here.

For one thing, people are involved in their extended families so much. Women have their women's world--it's not just one-on-one with husband and wife. That's not where the action is or what's life all about. Wherever extended family ties are strong, the kind of feminism that emerged among an urban middle-class in the industrial world doesn't emerge and has trouble taking root.

Going back to polygamy, the senior wife--the midwife/prophet--recruits three other wives--two are relatives and one was a friend. The youngest was in an abusive marriage before and was out of that. This prophet-midwife inquired whether she'd be willing to be the youngest wife. She comes under the authority of the elders, the senior wives, especially the midwife-prophet, who she'll do domestic things for--go get water, which is a mile walk, make tea, and help out.

We filmed her and her kids playing as people would come for healing.

Another issue for Christians in Africa is AIDS. How are churches addressing it?

The country that reduced its rate of HIV most was Uganda. The president was concerned about his fighting forces, men out in the field getting infected by casual sexual encounters.

He worked through the churches. They didn't hand out condoms, they preached against it on moral grounds. I believe part of it was preaching abstinence.

I would see in local neighborhood cells-sections they were called in the Methodist church-neighborhood groups that would meet once a week and would pack someone's living room. In them, people were solving the problem of orphans with AIDS, helping that grandmother who's old and should be being taken care of by her sons and daughters, some have died and have left their little kids. She's trying to take care of them. They're all trying to help this grandmother out.
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