The Next ChristianityPHILIP JENKINS
In looking back over the enormous changes wrought by the twentieth century, Western observers may have missed the most dramatic revolution of all. While secular movements like communism, feminism, and environmentalism have gotten the lions share of our attention, the explosive southward expansion of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America has barely registered on Western consciousness. Nor has the globalization of Christianity and the enormous religious, political, and social consequences it portends been properly understood.
since the sexual-abuse crisis erupted in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church in the
mid-1980s, with allegations of child molestation by priests, commentators have
regularly compared the problems faced by the Church to those it faced in Europe
at the start of the sixteenth century, on the eve of the Protestant Reformation
problems that included sexual laxity and financial malfeasance among the
clergy, and clerical contempt for the interests of the laity. Calls for change
have become increasingly urgent since January, when revelations of widespread
sexual misconduct and grossly negligent responses to it emerged prominently in
the Boston archdiocese. Similar, if less dramatic, problems have been brought
to light in New Orleans, Providence, Palm Beach, Omaha, and many other dioceses.
The reform agendas now under discussion within the U.S. hierarchy involve ideas
about increased lay participation in governance ideas of the sort heard
when Martin Luther confronted the Roma Catholic orthodoxy of his day. They also
include such ideas as admitting women to the priesthood and permitting priests
Explicit analogies to the Reformation have become commonplace
not only among commentators but also among anticlerical activists, among victims'
groups, and, significantly, among ordinary lay believers. One representative expert
on sexual misconduct, much quoted, is Richard Sipe, a former monk who worked at
the sexual-disorders clinic at Johns Hopkins University and is now a psychotherapist
based in California. Over the years Sipe has spoken regularly of "a new Reformation."
"We are at 1515," he has written, "between when Martin Luther went to Rome in
1510 and 1517 when he nailed his 95 theses on the door in Wittenberg." That act
can reasonably be seen as the symbolic starting point of the Reformation, when
a united Christendom was rent asunder.
Historians continue to debate
the causes and consequences of the Reformatin, and of the forces that it unleashed.
Among other things, the Reformation broke the fetters that constrained certain
aspects of intellectual life during the Middle Ages. Protestants, of course, honor
the event as the source of their distinctive religious traditions; many Protestant
denominations celebrate Reformation Day, at the end of October, commemorating
the posting of the theses at Wittenberg. And liberal Catholics invoke the word
these days to emphasize the urgency of reform changes both broad and specific
that they demand from the Church. Their view is that the crisis, which exposes
fault lines of both sexuality and power, is the most serious the Church has faced
in 500 years as serious as the one it faced in Luther's time.
The first Reformation was an epochal moment in the history of the Western world
and eventually, by extension, of the rest of the world. The status quo
in religious affairs was brought to an end. Relations between religionsand governments,
not to mention among different denominations, took a variety of forms sometimes
symbiotic, often chaotic and violent. The transformations wrought in the human
psyche by the Reformation, and by the Counter-Reformation it helped to provoke,
continue to play themselves out. This complex historical episode, which is now
often referred to simply as "the Reformation," touched everything. It altered
not just the practice of religion but also the nature of society, economics, politics,
education, and the law.
Commentators today, when speaking of the changes
needed in the Catholic Church, generally do not have in mind the sweeping historical
aftermath of the first Reformation but they should. The Church has developed
a fissure whose size most people do not fully appreciate. The steps that liberal
Catholics would take to resolve some of the Church's urgent issues, steps that
might quell unease or revolt in some places, would prove incendiary in thers.
The problem with reform, 500 years ago or today, is that people disagree
sometimes violently on the direction it should take.
The fact is,
we are at a moment as epochal as the Reformation itself a Reformation moment
not only for Catholics but for the entire Christian world. Christianity as a whole
is both growing and mutating in ways that observers in the West tend not to see.
For obvious reasons, news reports today are filled with material about the influence
of a resurgent and sometimes angry Islam. But in its variety and vitality, in
its global reach, in its association with the world's fastest-growing societies,
in its shifting centers of gravity, in the way its values and practices vary from
place to place in these and other ways it is Christianity that will leave
the deepest mark on the twenty-first century. The process will not necessarily
be a peaceful one, and only the foolish would venture anything beyond the broadest
predictins about the religious picture a century or two ahead. But the twenty-first
century will almost certainly be regarded by future historians as a century in
which religion replaced ideology as the prime animating and destructive force
in human affairs, guiding attitudes to political liberty and obligation, concepts
of nationhood, and, of course, conflicts and wars.
original Reformation was far more than the rising up of irate lay people against
corrupt and exploitative priests, and it was much more than a mere theological
row. It was a far-reaching social movement that sought to return to the original nsources of Christianity. It challenged the idea that divine authority should be
mediated through institutions or hierarchies, and it denied the value of tradition.
Instead it offered radical new notions of the supremacy of written texts (that
is, the books of the Bible), interpreted by individual consciences. The Reformation
made possible a religion that could be practiced privately, rather than mainly
in a vast institutionalized community.
This move toward individualism,
toward the privatization of religious belief, makes the spirit of the Reformation
very attractive to educated people in the West. It stirs many liberal Catholic
activists, who regard the aloof and arrogant hierarchy of the Church as not only
an affront but something inherently corrupt. New concepts of governance sound
exciting, even intoxicating, to reformers, and seem to mesh with likely social
and technological trends. The invention of movable type and the printing press,
in the fifteenth century, was a echnological development that spurred mass literacy
in the vernacular languages and accelerated the forces of religious change.
In the near future, many believe, the electronic media will have a comparably
powerful impact on our ways of being religious. An ever greater reliance on individual
choice, the argument goes, will help Catholicism to become much more inclusive
and tolerant, less judgmental, and more willing to accept secular attitudes toward
sexuality and gender roles. In the view of liberal Catholics, much of the current
crisis derives directly from archaic if not primitive doctrines, including mandatory
celibacy among the clergy, intolerance of homosexuality, and the prohibition of
women from the priesthood, not to mention a more generalized fear of sexuality.
In their view, anyone should be able to see that the idea that God, the creator
and lord of the universe, is concerned about human sexuality is on its way out.
If we look beyond the liberal West, we se that another Christian revolution,
quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and
upscale urban parishes, is already in progress. Worldwide, Christianity is actually
moving toward supernaturalism and neo-orthodoxy, and in many ways toward the ancient
world view expressed in the New Testament: a vision of Jesus as the embodiment
of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness
upon the human race. In the global South (the areas that we often think of primarily
as the Third World) huge and growing Christian populations currently 480
million in Latin America, 360 million in Africa, and 313 million in Asia, compared
with 260 million in North America now make up what the Catholic scholar
Walbert Buhlmann has called the Third Church, a form of Christianity as distinct
as Protestantism or Orthodoxy, and one that is likely to become dominant in the
faith. The revolution taking place in Africa, Asia, and Latin Amrica is far more
sweeping in its implications than any current shifts in North American religion,
whether Catholic or Protestant. There is increasing tension between what one might
call a liberal Northern Reformation and the surging Southern religious revolution,
which one might equate with the Counter-Reformation, the internal Catholic reforms
that took place at the same time as the Reformation although in references
to the past and the present the term "Counter-Reformation" misleadingly implies
a simple reaction instead of a social and spiritual explosion. No matter what
the terminology, however, an enormous rift seems inevitable.
Northern governments are still struggling to come to terms with the notion that
Islam might provide a powerful and threatening supranational ideology, few seem
to realize the potential political role of ascendant Southern Christianity. The
religious rift between Northern and Southern Europe in the sixteenth century suggests njust how dramatic the political consequences of a North-South divide in the contemporary
Christian world might be. The Reformation led to nothing less than the creation
of the modern European states and the international order we recognize today.
For more than a century Europe was rent by sectarian wars between Protestants
and Catholics, which by the 1680s had ended in stalemate. Out of this impasse,
this failure to impose a monolithic religious order across the Continent, there
arose such fundamental ideas of modern society as the state's obligation to tolerate
minorities and the need to justify political authority without constantly invoking
God and religion. The Enlightenment and, indeed, Western modernity
could have occurred only as a consequence of the clash, military and ideological,
between Protestants and Catholics.
Today across the global South a rising
religious fervor is coinciding with declining autonomy for nation-states, making
useful an analog with the medieval concept of Christendom the Res Publica
Christiana as an overarching source of unity and a focus of loyalty transcending
mere kingdoms or empires. Kingdoms might last for only a century or two before
being supplanted by new states or dynasties, but rational people knew that Christendom
simply endured. The laws of individual nations lasted only as long as the
nations themselves; Christendom offered a higher set of standards and mores that
could claim to be universal. Christendom was a primary cultural reference, and
it may well re-emerge as such in the Christian South as a new transnational
order in which political, social, and personal identities are defined chiefly
by religious loyalties.
first Reformation was a lot less straightforward than some histories suggest.
The sixteenth-century Catholic Church, after all, did not collapse after Luther
kicked in the door. The Counter-Reformation was moving in a diametrically opposite
direction, reasserting older forms of devotion and tradition, and reformulating
the Church's controversial claims for hierarchy and spiritual authority. The Counter-Reformation
was not just survivalist and defensive, as is commonly assumed; it was also innovative
and dynamic. For at least a century after Luther's Reformation, in fact, the true
political, cultural, and social centers of Europe were as much in the Catholic
South as in the Protestant North. The Catholic states Spain, Portugal,
and France were launching missionary ventures into Africa, Asia, North
and South America. By the 1570sCatholic missionaries were creating a transoceanic
Church structure: the see of Manila was an offshoot of the archdiocese of Mexico
By about 1600 the Catholic Church had become the first religious
body indeed, the first institution of any sort to operate on a global
scale. Even in the Protestant heartlands of Northern and Western Europe
England, Sweden, and the German lands the heirs of the Reformation had
to spend many years discouraging their people from succumbing to the attractions
of Catholicism. Conversions to Catholicism were steady throughout the century
or so after 1580. It looked as if the Reformation had effectively cut Protestant
Europe off from the mainstream of the Christian world. Only in the eighteenth
century would Protestantism find a secure and then strategically preponderant
place on the global stage, through the success of booming commercial states such
as England and the Netherlands, whose political triumphs ultimately ontained
and in some cases pushed back the earlier empires.
The changes that Catholic
and other reformers today are trying to inspire in North America and Europe (and
that seem essential if Christianity is to be preserved as a modern, relevant force
on those continents) run utterly contrary to the dominant cultural movements in
the rest of the Christian world, which look very much like the Counter-Reformation.
But this century is unlike the sixteenth in that we are not facing a roughly equal
division of Christendom between two competing groups. Rather, Christians are facing
a shrinking population in the liberal West and a growing majority of the traditional
Rest. During the past half century the critical centers of the Christian world
have moved decisively to Africa, to Latin America, and to Asia. The balance will
never shift back.
The growth in Africa has been relentless. In 1900 Africa
had just 10 million Christians out of a continental population of 107 million
#151; about nine percent. Today the Christian total stands at 360 million out
of 784 million, or 46 percent. And that percentage is likely to continue rising,
because Christian African countries have some of the world's most dramatic rates
of population growth. Meanwhile, the advanced industrial countries are experiencing
a dramatic birth dearth. Within the next twenty-five years the population of the
world's Christians is expected to grow to 2.6 billion (making Christianity by
far the world's largest faith). By 2025, 50 percent of the Christian population
will be in Africa and Latin America, and another 17 percent will be in Asia. Those
proportions will grow steadily. By about 2050 the United States will still have
the largest single contingent of Christians, but all the other leading nations
will be Southern: Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
Ethiopia, and the Philippines. By then the proportion of non-Latino whites among
the world's Christins will have fallen to perhaps one in five.
shift is even more marked in the specifically Catholic world, where Euro-Americans
are already in the minority. Africa had about 16 million Catholics in the early
1950s; it has 120 million today, and is expected to have 228 million by 2025.
The World Christian Encyclopedia suggests that by 2025 almost three quarters
of all Catholics will be found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The likely
map of twenty-first-century Catholicism represents an unmistakable legacy of the
Counter-Reformation and its global missionary ventures.
actually understate the Southern predominance within Catholicism, and within world
Christianity more generally, because they fail to take account of Southern emigrants
to Europe and North America. Even as this migration continues, established white
communities in Europe are declining demographically, and their religious beliefs
and practices are moving further away rom traditional Christian roots. The result
is that skins of other hues are increasingly evident in European churches; half
of all London churchgoers are now black. African and West Indian churches in Britain
are reaching out to whites, though members complain that their religion is often
seen as "a black thing" rather than "a God thing."
In the United States
a growing proportion of Roman Catholics are Latinos, who should represent a quarter
of the nation by 2050 or so. Asian communities in the United States have sizable
Catholic populations. Current trends suggest that the religious values of Catholics
with a Southern ethnic and cultural heritage will long remain quite distinct from
those of other U.S. populations. In terms of liturgy and worship Latino Catholics
are strikingly different from Anglo believers, not least in maintaining a fervent
devotion to the Virgin Mary and the saints.
European and Euro-American
Catholics will within a few decades be a saller and smaller fragment of a worldwide
Church. Of the 18 million Catholic baptisms recorded in 1998, eight million took
place in Central and South America, three million in Africa, and just under three
million in Asia. (In other words, these three regions already account for more
than three quarters of all Catholic baptisms.) The annual baptism total for the
Philippines is higher than the totals for Italy, France, Spain, and Poland combined.
The number of Filipino Catholics could grow to 90 million by 2025, and perhaps
to 130 million by 2050.
demographic changes within Christianity have many implications for theology and
religious practice, and for global society and politics. Te most significant
point is that in terms of both theology and moral teaching, Southern Christianity
is more conservative than the Northern especially the American version.
Northern reformers, even if otherwise sympathetic to the indigenous cultures of
non-Northern peoples, obviously do not like this fact. The liberal Catholic writer
James Carroll has complained that "world Christianity [is falling] increasingly
under the sway of anti-intellectual fundamentalism." But the cultural pressures
may be hard to resist.
The denominations that are triumphing across the
global South radical Protestant sects, either evangelical or Pentecostal,
and Roman Catholicism of an orthodox kind are stalwartly traditional or
even reactionary by the standards of the economically advanced nations. The Catholic
faith that is rising rapidly in Africa and Asia looks very much like a pre-Vatican
II faith, being more traditional in its respect for the power of bishops ad priests
and in its preference for older devotions. African Catholicism in particular is
far more comfortable with notions of authority and spiritual charisma than with
newer ideas of consultation and democracy.
This kind of faith is personified
by Nigeria's Francis Cardinal Arinze, who is sometimes touted as a future Pope.
He is sharp and articulate, with an attractively self-deprecating style, and he
has served as the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue,
which has given him invaluable experience in talking with Muslims, Hindus, Jews,
and members of other faiths. By liberal Northern standards, however, Arinze is
rigidly conservative, and even repressive on matters such as academic freedom
and the need for strict orthodoxy. In his theology as much as his social views
he is a loyal follower of Pope John Paul II. Anyone less promising for Northern
notions of reform is difficult to imagine.
Meanwhile, a full-scale Reformation
is takingplace among Pentecostal Christians whose ideas are shared by
many Catholics. Pentecostal believers reject tradition and hierarchy, but they
also rely on direct spiritual revelation to supplement or replace biblical authority.
And it is Pentecostals who stand in the vanguard of the Southern Counter-Reformation.
Though Pentecostalism emerged as a movement only at the start of the twentieth
century, chiefly in North America, Pentecostals today are at least 400 million
strong, and heavily concentrated in the global South. By 2040 or so there could
be as many as a billion, at which point Pentecostal Christians alone will far
outnumber the world's Buddhists and will enjoy rough numerical parity with the
The booming Pentecostal churches of Africa, Asia, and
Latin America are thoroughly committed to re-creating their version of an idealized
early Christianity (often described as the restoration of "primitive" Christianity).
The most successful Southrn churches preach a deep personal faith, communal orthodoxy,
mysticism, and puritanism, all founded on obedience to spiritual authority, from
whatever source it is believed to stem. Pentecostals and their Catholic
counterparts preach messages that may appear simplistically charismatic,
visionary, and apocalyptic to a Northern liberal. For them prophecy is an everyday
reality, and many independent denominations trace their foundation to direct prophetic
authority. Scholars of religion customarily speak of these proliferating congregations
simply as the "prophetic churches."
Of course, American reformers also
dream of a restored early Church; but whereas Americans imagine a Church freed
from hierarchy, superstition, and dogma, Southerners look back to one filled with
spiritual power and able to exorcise the demonic forces that cause sickness and
poverty. And yes, "demonic" is the word. The most successful Southern churches
today speak openly of spirital healing and exorcism. One controversial sect in
the process of developing an international following is the Brazilian-based Universal
Church of the Kingdom of God, which claims to offer "strong prayer to destroy
witchcraft, demon possession, bad luck, bad dreams, all spiritual problems," and
promises that members will gain "prosperity and financial breakthrough." The Cherubim
and Seraphim movement of West Africa claims to have "conscious knowledge of the
evil spirits which sow the seeds of discomfort, set afloat ill-luck, diseases,
induce barrenness, sterility and the like."
Americans and Europeans usually
associate such religious ideas with primitive and rural conditions, and assume
that the older world view will disappear with the coming of modernization and
urbanization. In the contemporary South, however, the success of highly supernatural
churches should rather be seen as a direct by-product of urbanization. (This should
come as no surprise to Amerians; look at the Pentecostal storefronts in America's
inner cities.) As predominantly rural societies have become more urban over the
past thirty or forty years, millions of migrants have been attracted to ever larger
urban areas, which lack the resources and the infrastructure to meet the needs
of these wanderers. Sometimes people travel to cities within the same nation,
but often they find themselves in different countries and cultures, suffering
a still greater sense of estrangement. In such settings religious communities
emerge to provide health, welfare, and education.
This sort of alternative
social system, which played an enormous role in the earliest days of Christianity,
has been a potent means of winning mass support for the most committed religious
groups and is likely to grow in importance as the gap between people's needs and
government's capacities to fill them becomes wider. Looking at the success of
Christianity in the Roman Empire, the historian Petr Brown has written, "The
Christian community suddenly came to appeal to men who felt deserted ... Plainly,
to be a Christian in 250 brought more protection from one's fellows than to be
a civis Romanus." Being a member of an active Christian church today may
well bring more tangible benefits than being a mere citizen of Nigeria or Peru.
Often the new churches gain support because of the way they deal with
the demons of oppression and want: they interpret the horrors of everyday urban
life in supernatural terms. In many cases these churches seek to prove their spiritual
powers in struggles against witchcraft. The intensity of belief in witchcraft
across much of Africa can be startling. As recently as last year at least 1,000
alleged witches were hacked to death in a single "purge" in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo. Far from declining with urbanization, fear of witches has intensified.
Since the collapse of South Africa's apartheid regime, in 194, witchcraft has
emerged as a primary social fear in Soweto, with its three million impoverished
The desperate public-health situation in the booming mega-cities
of the South goes far toward explaining the emphasis of the new churches on healing
mind and body. In Africa in the early twentieth century an explosion of Christian
healing movements and new prophets coincided with a dreadful series of epidemics,
and the religious upsurge of those years was in part a quest for bodily health.
Today African churches stand or fall by their success in healing, and elaborate
rituals have formed around healing practices (though church members disagree on
whether believers should rely entirely on spiritual assistance). The same interest
in spiritual healing is found in what were once the mission churches bodies
such as the Anglicans and the Lutherans. Nowhere in the global South do the various
spiritual healers find serious competition from modern scientific medicine: i
is simply beyond the reach of most of the poor.
pollution, drink, drugs, and violence, taken together, can account for why people
might easily accept that they are under siege from demonic forces, and that only
divine intervention can save them. Even radical liberation theologians use apocalyptic
language on occasion. When a Northerner asks, in effect, where the Southern churches
are getting such ideas, the answer is not hard to find: they're getting them from
the Bible. Southern Christians are reading the New Testament and taking it very
seriously; in it they see the power of Jesus fundamentally expressed through his
confrontations with demonic powers, particularly those causing sickness and insanity.
"Go back and report to John what you hear and see," Jesus says in the Gospel according
to Matthew (11: 4-5). "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have
leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is reached
to the poor." For the past two hundred years Northern liberals have employed various
nonliteral interpretations of these healing passages perhaps Jesus had
a good sense of the causes and treatment of psychosomatic ailments? But that is
not, of course, how such scenes are understood within the Third Church.
as in the early sixteenth century, a literal interpretation of the Bible can be
tremendously appealing. To quote a modern-day follower of the African prophet
Johane Masowe, cited in Elizabeth Isichei's A
History of Christianity in Afrca, "When we were in these synagogues [the
European churches], we used to read about the works of Jesus Christ ... cripples
were made to walk and the dead were brought to life ... evil spirits driven out
... That was what was being done in Jerusalem. We Africans, however, who were
being instructed by white people, never did anything like that ... We were taught
to read the Bible, but we ourselves never did what the people of the Bible used
Alongside the fast-growing churches have emerged apocalyptic
and messianic movements that try to bring in the kingdom of God through armed
violence. Some try to establish the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth,
as prophesied in the Book of Revelation. This phenomenon would have been instantly
familiar to Europeans 500 years ago, when the Anabaptists and other millenarian
groups flourished. Perhaps the most traumatic event of the Reformation occurred
in the German city of Mόnster in 1534-1535, when Anabatist rebels established
a radical social order that abolished property and monogamy; a homicidal king-messiah
held dictatorial power until the forces of state authority conquered and annihilated
the fanatics. Then as now, it was difficult to set bounds to religious enthusiasm.
Extremist Christian movements have appeared regularly across parts of
Africa where the mechanisms of the state are weak. They include groups such as
the Lumpa Church, in Zambia, and the terrifying Lord's Resistance Army (LRA),
in Uganda. In 2000 more than a thousand people in another Ugandan sect, the Movement
for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, perished in an apparent mass
suicide. In each case a group emerged from orthodox roots and then gravitated
toward apocalyptic fanaticism. The Ten Commandments sect grew out of orthodox
Catholicism. The Lumpa Church began, in the 1950s, with Alice Lenshina, a Presbyterian
convert who claimed to receive divine visions urging her to fight witchcaft.
She became the lenshina, or queen, of her new church, whose name, Lumpa,
means "better than all others." The group attracted a hundred thousand followers,
who formed a utopian community in order to await the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
Since it rejected worldly regimes to the point of refusing to pay taxes, the Lumpa
became increasingly engaged in confrontations with the Zambian government, leading
to open rebellion in the 1960s.
Another prophetic Alice appeared in Uganda
during the chaotic civil wars that swept that country in the 1980s. Alice Lakwena
was a former Catholic whose visions led her to establish the Holy Spirit Mobile
Force, also pledged to fight witches. She refused to accept the national peace
settlement established under President Yoweri Museveni, and engaged in a holy
war against his regime. Holy Spirit soldiers, many of them children and young
teenagers, were ritually anointed with butter on the understanding that it would
make them buletproof. When Lakwena's army was crushed, in 1991, most of her followers
merged with the LRA, which is notorious for filling its ranks by abducting children.
Atrocities committed by the group include mass murder, rape, and forced cannibalism.
Today as in the sixteenth century, an absolute conviction that one is fighting
for God's cause makes moot the laws of war.
changing demographic balance between North and South helps to explain the current
shape of world Catholicism, including the fact that the Church has been headed
by Pope John Paul II. In the papal election of 1978 the Polish candidate won the
support of Latin American cardinals, who were not prepared to accep yet another
Western European. In turn, John Paul has recognized the growing Southern presence
in the Church. Last year he elevated forty-four new cardinals, of whom eleven
were Latin American, two Indian, and three African. The next time a papal election
takes place, fifty-seven of the 135 cardinals eligible to vote, or more than 40
percent, will be from Southern nations. Early this century they will constitute
It may be true that from the liberal Northern perspective,
pressure for a Reformation-style solution to critical problems in the Church
the crisis in clerical celibacy, the shortage of priests, the sense that the laity's
concerns are ignored seems overwhelming. Poll after poll in the United
States and Europe indicates significant distrust of clerical authority and support
for greater lay participation and women's equality. The obvious question in the
parishes of the developed world seems to be how long the aloof hierarchy can stave
of the forces of history.
From Rome, however, the picture looks different,
as do the "natural" directions that history is going to take. The Roman church
operates on a global scale and has done so for centuries. Long before the French
and British governments had become aware of global politics and well before
their empires came into being papal diplomats were thinking through their
approaches to China, their policies in Peru, their views on African affairs, their
stances on the issues facing Japan and Mexico. To adapt a popular activist slogan,
the Catholic Church not only thinks globally, it acts globally. That approach
is going to have weighty consequences. On present evidence, a Southern-dominated
Catholic Church is likely to react traditionally to the issues that most concern
American and European reformers: matters of theology and devotion, sexual ethics
and gender roles, and, most fundamentally, issues of authority within the Church.
Neatly ilustrating the cultural gulf that separates Northern and Southern
churches is an incident involving Moses Tay, the Anglican archbishop of Southeast
Asia, whose see is based in Singapore. In the early 1990s Tay traveled to Vancouver,
where he encountered the totem poles that are a local tourist attraction. To him,
they were idols possessed by evil spirits, and he concluded that they required
handling by prayer and exorcism. This horrified the local Anglican Church, which
was committed to building good relationships with local Native American communities,
and which regarded exorcism as absurd superstition. The Canadians, like other
good liberal Christians throughout the North, were long past dismissing alien
religions as diabolically inspired. It's difficult not to feel some sympathy with
the archbishop, however. He was quite correct to see the totems as authentic religious
symbols, and considering the long history of Christian writing on exorcism and
possession, he could also summo many precedents to support his position. On that
occasion Tay personified the global Christian confrontation.
gap between Christians of the North and the South will increase rather than diminish
in the coming decades, for reasons that recall Luther's time. During the early
modern period Northern and Southern Europe were divided between the Protestantism
of the word and the Catholicism of the senses between a religious culture
of preaching, hymns, and Bible reading, and one of statues, rituals, and processions.
Today we might see as a parallel the impact of electronic technologies, which
is being felt at very different rates in the Northern and Southern worlds. The
new-media revolution is occurring in Europe, North America, and the Pacific Rim
while other parts of the globe are focusing on indeed, still catching up
with the traditional world of book learning. Northern communities will
move to ever more decentralized and privatized forms offaith as Southerners maintain
older ideals of community and traditional authority.
On moral issues,
too, Southern churches are far out of step with liberal Northern churches. African
and Latin American churches tend to be very conservative on issues such as homosexuality
and abortion. Such disagreement can pose real political difficulties for churches
that aspire to a global identity and that try to balance diverse opinions. At
present this is scarcely an issue for the Roman Catholic Church, which at least
officially preaches the same conservatism for all regions. If, however, Church
officials in North America or Europe proclaimed a moral stance more in keeping
with progressive secular values, they would be divided from the growing Catholic
churches of the South by a de facto schism, if not a formal breach.
thirty years Northern liberals have dreamed of a Third Vatican Council to complete
the revolution launched by Pope John XXIII one that would usher in new
age of ecclesiastical democracy and lay empowerment. It would be a bitter irony
for the liberals if the council were convened but turned out to be a conservative,
Southern-dominated affair that imposed moral and theological litmus tests intolerable
to North Americans and Europeans if, in other words, it tried to implement
not a new Reformation but a new Counter-Reformation. (In that sense we would be
witnessing not a new Wittenberg but, rather, a new Council of Trent that
is, a strongly traditional gathering that would restate the Church's older ideology
and attempt to set it in stone for all future ages.) If a future Southern Pope
struggled to impose a new vision of orthodoxy on America's Catholic bishops, universities,
and seminaries, the result could well be an actual rather than a de facto schism.
The experience of the world's Anglicans and Episcopalians may foretell
the direction of conflicts within the Roman Catholic Church. In the Anglican ommunion,
which is also torn by a global cultural conflict over issues of gender and sexuality,
orthodox Southerners seek to re-evangelize a Euro-American world that they view
as coming close to open heresy. This uncannily recalls the situation in sixteenth-century
Europe, in which Counter-Reformation Catholics sent Jesuits and missionary priests
to reconvert those regions that had fallen into Protestantism.
in the North tend to be very liberal on homosexuality and the ordination of women.
In recent years, however, liberal clerics have been appalled to find themselves
outnumbered and regularly outvoted. In these votes the bishops of Africa and Asia
have emerged as a rock-solid conservative bloc. The most ferocious battle to date
occurred at the Lambeth World Conference in 1998, which adopted, over the objections
of the liberal bishops, a forthright traditional statement proclaiming the impossibility
of reconciling homosexual conduct with Christian ministry. As in th Roman Catholic
Church, the predominance of Southerners at future events of this kind will only
increase. Nigeria already has more practicing Anglicans than any other country,
far more than Britain itself, and Uganda is not far behind. By mid-century the
global total of Anglicans could approach 150 million, of whom only a small minority
will be white Europeans or North Americans. The shifting balance with-in the church
could become a critical issue very shortly, since the new Archbishop of Canterbury,
Rowan Williams, is notably gay-friendly and has already ordained a practicing
homosexual as a priest.
The Lambeth debate also initiated a series of
events that Catholic reformers should study carefully. Briefly, American conservatives
who were disenchanted with the liberal establishment in the U.S. Episcopal Church
realized that they had powerful friends overseas, and transferred their religious
allegiance to more-conservative authorities in the global South. Since 2000 some
onservative American Episcopalians have traveled to Moses Tay's cathedral in
Singapore, where they were consecrated as bishops by Asian and African Anglican
prelates, including the Rwandan archbishop Emmanuel Kolini. By tradition an Anglican
archbishop is free to ordain whomever he pleases within his province, so although
the Americans live and work in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other states,
they are now technically bishops within the province of Rwanda. They have become
missionary bishops, charged with ministering to conservative congregations in
the United States, where they support a dissident "virtual province" within the
church. They and their conservative colleagues are now part of the Anglican Mission
in America, which is intended officially to "lead the Episcopal Church back to
its biblical foundations." The mission aims to restore traditional teachings and
combat what it sees as the "manifest heresy" and even open apostasy of the U.S.
Church leadrship. Just this past summer Archbishop Kolini offered his protection
to dissident Anglicans in the Vancouver area, who were rebelling against liberal
proposals to allow same-sex couples to receive a formal Church blessing.
the first Christendom the politicoreligious order that dominated Europe
from the sixth century through the sixteenth collapsed in the face of secular
nationalism, under the overwhelming force of what Thomas Carlyle described as
"the three great elements of modern civilization, gunpowder, printing, and the
Protestant religion." Nation-states have dominated he world ever since. Today,
however, the whole concept of national autonomy is under challenge, partly as
a result of new technologies. In the coming decades, according to a recent CIA
report, "Governments will have less and less control over flows of information,
technology, diseases, migrants, arms, and financial transactions, whether licit
or illicit, across their borders. The very concept of 'belonging' to a particular
state will probably erode." If a once unquestionable construct like Great Britain
is under threat, it is not surprising that people are questioning the existence
of newer and more artificial entities in Africa and Asia.
For a quarter
of a century social scientists analyzing the decline of the nation-state have
drawn parallels between the world today and the politically fragmented yet cosmopolitan
world of the Middle Ages. Some scholars have even predicted the emergence of some
secular movement or ideology that would command loyalty across natios like the
Christendom of old. Yet the more we look at the Southern Hemisphere, the more
we see that although supranational ideas are flourishing, they are not in the
least secular. The parallels to the Middle Ages may be closer than anyone has
Across the global South cardinals and bishops have become national
moral leaders in a way essentially unseen in the West since the seventeenth century.
The struggles of South African churches under apartheid spring to mind, but just
as impressive were the pro-democracy campaigns of many churches and denominations
elsewhere in Africa during the 1980s and 1990s. Prelates know that they are expected
to speak for their people, even though if they speak boldly, they may well pay
with their lives. Important and widely revered modern martyrs include Archbishop
Luwum, of Uganda; Archbishop Munzihirwa, of Zaire; and Cardinal Biayenda, of Congo-Brazzaville.
As this sense of moral leadership grows, we might reasonably ask whethr
Christianity will also provide a guiding political ideology for much of the world.
We might even imagine a new wave of Christian states, in which political life
is inextricably bound up with religious belief. Zambia declared itself a Christian
nation in 1991, and similar ideas have been bruited in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Liberia.
If this ideal does gain popularity, the Christian South will soon be dealing with
some debates, of long standing in the North, over the proper relationship between
Church and State and between rival churches under the law. Other inevitable questions
involve tolerance and diversity, the relationship between majority and minority
communities, and the extent to which religiously inspired laws can (or should)
regulate private morality and behavior. These issues were all at the core of the
Across the regions of the world that will be the most populous
in the twenty-first century, vast religious contests are already in progress,
though so fa they have impinged little on Western opinion. The most significant
conflict is in Nigeria, a nation that by rights should be a major regional power
in this century and perhaps even a global power; but recent violence between Muslims
and Christians raises the danger that Nigerian society might be brought to ruin
by the clash of jihad and crusade. Muslims and Christians are at each other's
throats in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan, and a growing number of other African
nations; Hindu extremists persecute Christians in India. Demographic projections
suggest that these feuds will simply worsen. Present-day battles in Africa and
Asia may anticipate the political outlines to come, and the roots of future great-power
alliances. These battles are analogous to the ideological conflicts of the twentieth
century, the alternating hot and cold wars between advocates of fascism and of
democracy, of socialism and of capitalism. This time, however, the competing ideologies
are explicity religious, promising their followers a literal rather than merely
a metaphorical kingdom of God on earth.
Let us imagine Africa in the
throes of fiery religious revivals, as Muslim and Christian states jostle for
political influence. Demographic change alone could provoke more-aggressive international
policies, as countries with swollen populations tried to appropriate living space
or natural resources. But religious tensions could make the situation far worse.
If mega-cities are not to implode through social unrest and riot, governments
have to find some way to mobilize the teeming masses of unemployed teenagers and
young adults. Persuading them to fight for God is a proven way of siphoning off
internal tension, especially if the religion in question already has a powerful
ideal of martyrdom. Liberia, Uganda, and Sierra Leone have given rise to ruthless
militias ready to kill or die for whatever warlord directs them, often following
some notionally religious imperative. I the 1980s the hard-line Shiite mullahs
of Iran secured their authority by sending hundreds of thousands of young men
to martyr themselves in human-wave assaults against the Iraqi front lines. In
contemporary Indonesia, Islamist militias can readily find thousands of poor recruits
to fight against the nation's Christian minorities.
Some of the likely
winners in the religious economy of the new century are precisely those groups
with a strongly apocalyptic mindset, in which the triumph of righteousness is
associated with the vision of a world devastated by fire and plague. This could
be a perilously convenient ideology for certain countries with weapons of mass
destruction. (The candidates that come to mind include not only Iraq and Iran
but also future regional powers such as Indonesia, Nigeria, the Congo, Uganda,
and South Africa.) All this means that our political leaders and diplomats should
pay at least as much attention to religions and sectarian frontiers as they evr
have to the location of oil fields.
Perhaps the most remarkable point
about these potential conflicts is that the trends pointing toward them have registered
so little on the consciousness of even well-informed Northern observers. What,
after all, do most Americans know about the distribution of Christians worldwide?
I suspect that most see Christianity very much as it was a century ago
a predominantly European and North American faith. In discussions of the recent
sexual-abuse crisis "the Catholic Church" and "the American Church" have been
used more or less synonymously.
As the media have striven in recent years
to present Islam in a more sympathetic light, they have tended to suggest that
Islam, not Christianity, is the rising faith of Africa and Asia, the authentic
or default religion of the world's huddled masses. But Christianity is not only
surviving in the global South, it is enjoying a radical revival, a return to scriptural
roots.We are living in revolutionary times.
But we aren't participating
in them. By any reasonable assessment of numbers, the most significant transformation
of Christianity in the world today is not the liberal Reformation that is so much
desired in the North. It is the Counter-Reformation coming from the global South.
And it's very likely that in a decade or two neither component of global Christianity
will recognize its counterpart as fully or authentically Christian.
Philip Jenkins. "The Next Christianity." The Atlantic Volume 290, No.
3 (October, 2002: 53-68.
article is reprinted with permission from Philip Jenkins.
Philip Jenkins is Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University. He has written twenty books, and about 120 book chapters and refereed articles. His books include God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice and The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.
Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group