Return to the Third World
Father Raymond de Souza describes the impact of demographics on the Anglican Church in the National Post. The upward trajectory in the number of Christians in the Third World has met the descending trend line of First World congregations and has inexorably shifted the center of Christianity away from Europe to Asia, Latin America and Africa. In a very short while, nearly 70% of Christians will be in the non-European world. As a result, the doctrinal compromises made by the Anglican leadership in the West to mollify their post-Christian flock will soon be under severe attack.
In less than 20 years, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, the world's 2.6 billion Christians will be comprised of 623 million Latin Americans, 595 million Africans, 513 million Europeans and 498 million Asians. The growth of Africa has been astonishing, from 10 million Christians in 1900 representing about 10% of the population, to some 360 million in 2000, representing about 50% of the population. In such a world, the concerns and cultural mores of the Upper West Side of Manhattan are marginal at best.
The consequences of the new majority has already provoked a crisis within the Anglican Church. Recently, Anglican bishops meeting in Tanzania have rejected the idea that "that homosexual acts should be judged morally licit, and even sacramental."
The big and getting bigger Anglican churches in Africa have kept to the constant Christian teaching that such acts are sinful. Between the two, the Archbishop of Canterbury has valiantly attempted to fashion a compromise. But of course something cannot be both a sacrament and a sin, so matters had to be resolved one way or the other. The plain meaning of the Tanzania meeting is that the leading Anglican archbishops have given the U.S. Episcopal Church a Sept. 30 deadline to recant of their approval of same-sex marriage and actively gay bishops. If they do not recant, the apparent consequence would be that the U.S. Episcopal Church will be expelled from the Anglican Communion, and those American Episcopalians who hold to the Christian heritage on such matters will be provided for in some other way -- likely to involve the same African archbishops who have insisted on calling the U.S. Episcopal Church to account. If that indeed happens in September, the Archbishop of Canterbury will have to finally decide whether to throw his lot in with the north or the south. If he opts for the north, he might find himself the last Archbishop of Canterbury to claim leadership of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Christianity has so often been described -- often by Leftists -- as a "Western" religion that it is easy to forget that its roots are in the Middle East and that the oldest Christian communities are in places like Iraq, Syria and Ethiopia. Recently, I engaged in a dinner table discussion with a Jewish friend who recalled the shameful behavior of Christians in Russia, Eastern and Western Europe in the years before and immediately after the Second World War. I wondered rhetorically how much of what is ascribed to "Christianity" was really European behavior as opposed to anything doctrinal. And now the question will be become sharper across the board as non-Europeans inexorably gain the majority in church councils.
There are two further implications Father de Souza doesn't address which will have a gradual but growing impact. The first will be the effect of the numbers and unapologetic style of Third World Christians in the current clash of civilizations between the West and Islam.
An oft-quoted Christian poet from Ghana, Afua Kuma, has a contemporary hymn that would no doubt drain the remaining colour from the pallid faces in a typical northern Anglican choir: "If Satan troubles us, Jesus Christ You who are the lion of the grasslands You whose claws are sharp Will tear out his entrails And leave them on the ground For the flies to eat."
For many Europeans (though maybe not to Americans like Donald Sensing) the days of the pistol-packing padre belongs to the pre-modern age. But as the International Herald Tribune's coverage of atrocities on the Philippine island of Basilan reminds us, Something Has Survived.
The Reverend Cirilo Nacorda, the Roman Catholic parish priest in this small seaside town, says he carries his .45-caliber handgun only when he's tending to his flock in nearby villages. Otherwise, when he's at home in his rectory here, his two bodyguards stand among the wooden pews of his church and keep watch. . Father Nacorda needs the protection these days. The stocky, 44-year-old native of this strife-torn island has ignited a firestorm of public controversy in the Philippines. He has angered both the military and local outlaws by accusing the military of being involved in kidnapping, the most lucrative, and deadly, business here on Basilan island, 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of Manila.
The second implication is more subtle. Many of the cultural products of Hollywood and the publishing industry are now tuned to be what will be an increasingly obsolete understanding of Christianity and Christians. The stock depictions of bumbling, hypocritical and flamingly homosexual clergymen might represent a certain reality in the Sceptered Isle of England but they would hardly correspond to Father Cirilo Nacorda. They would have to bring back Friar Tuck to get anywhere close.
Just how far out of tune many of the current assumptions about Christianity are turning out to be was illustrated by the recent ban by British Airways on employees who wore any symbols resembling a cross. It had initially suspended Nadia Eweida after she wore a small necklace with a cross over her uniform. But the airline rescinded its policy after meeting opposition from the Archbishop of York, of Ugandan origin, Dr. John Sentamu. Nor did he apologize for actions.
"Praise the Lord! I am grateful that BA has finally shown grace and magnanimity in this change of policy so as to enable their Christian employees to display their commitment to their faith. I welcome the efforts made by BA to allow the wearing of the Cross by those Christian employees who wish to do so. Nadia Eweida’s courage and commitment to her Lord is a challenge to us all that love and loyalty to Christ conquers in the end."
How could BA have gotten it so wrong? Probably by assuming what is no longer true: that the values of post-modern Europe are also the values of global Christianity.