An Anglican future, made in AfricaFATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA
It has been remarked for a long time that the centre of gravity in the Christian world is shifting from north to south, from North America and Europe to Africa and Asia. The meeting of Anglican Primates this past week in Tanzania might be marked as the moment when that shift made its first global impact.
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.
Welcome to 21st-century Christianity, where the Christian Church, broadly understood, is a truly global, multicultural institution. In fact, it might just be the only one. Even at the United Nations, where nice things are said about the equality of nations and the General Assembly pronounces itself on this or that, anything truly serious is reserved for the world powers on the Security Council. Contrast that, for example, with Pope Benedict XVI’s most senior four appointments in the Roman Curia: an American, an Italian, an Indian and a Brazilian. Or more to the point of the Anglican travails: Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola is more central to the future of Anglicanism than Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
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 impact of this shift will shape Christianity in the 21st century, and it will be a muscular Christianity in which the biblical drama of sin, chastisement, repentance, mercy, healing, salvation and liberation will reassert itself. The this worldly social projects of deracinated northern Christians will be cast aside. The old-time religions will emerge from the newest churches.
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:
Most Anglicans in the north likely tend toward polyphony at evensong rather than torn entrails, and so the cultural expression of southern Christianity may seem alien at first. Yet if the contest is between torn-entrails spiritual-warfare Christianity and pat-on-the-back, spiritually-compromising Christianity, where the greatest offence is giving offense, it seems clear that the lion of the grasslands is going to be the one with the growing band of disciples. And the roar you hear disturbing the tranquility of the Anglican Communion might just be the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in African cadences.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, "An Anglican future, made in Africa." National Post, (Canada) February 22, 2007.
Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.
Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
© 2007 National Post
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