I had the opportunity to meet members of one of the world’s oldest and most heroic churches recently when I spoke to the national youth conference of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of the East. The meeting was held, of all places, in San Jose, California.
It’s the world’s least desirable club: the league of failed and failing states. Every year, the Fund for Peace presents its list of the world’s shakiest political entities. Qualifications for entry into the club include such factors as demographic crisis, economic decline and bloody intergroup conflict.
Lalibela, in Ethiopia, should be high on anyone’s list of contenders for the title of most astonishing site in the history of Christian art and architecture. Imagine coming over a hill and seeing what looks like a low stone blockhouse sticking slightly out of the ground.
For most American Christians, re straints on the open expression of religious loyalties normally involve situations in which believers might be seen as imposing their views on others—through evangelism in the workplace or school, perhaps.
Most Western observers of the Christian scene have learned to take African developments very seriously. They know that Africans will make up an increasing share of most denominations. The thriving churches of Nigeria and Uganda have become familiar to Western journalists through the activity of their leaders in the current Anglican schism.
When Americans discuss the great crisis facing the Roman Catholic Church, they usually are thinking of the notorious sex abuse scandals. Vatican authorities, though, worry more about another crisis, one with potentially far graver implications for the church—the explosive growth of Protestant and Pentecostal numbers in what has always been the solidly Catholic stronghold of Latin America.
Robert Frykenberg is a brave man. He attempts to trace the whole story of the Christian experience in India over a period of 1,900 years and through a vast territory that comprises many cultures and languages.
Many excellent scholars study Islam. Many other scholars explore the changing face of global Christianity. Rarely do those experts look at the two worlds—Muslim and Christian—side by side, which is a pity: when we do, we see some remarkable parallels and connections that shed light on both.
North is North, and South is South, and never the twain shall meet. Well, actually, they do. In a globalized world, people move freely, carrying ideas and practices with them, and some of the resulting meetings and mergers can be surprising, even bracing.
Travel anywhere in the wealthy world—to North America, Europe or the Middle East—and you will soon find people from the Philippines. You may not actually see them, because many work in menial or invisible jobs, often in hotels and restaurants—positions where travelers scarcely notice them.
For many African churches, the all-night vigil is a centerpiece of devotion and is not limited to any particular season. The event commonly begins at 9 or 10 p.m., usually on a Friday, and runs until four or five the following morning. Particularly among the independent or African-instituted churches, prayer is accompanied by acts of healing and exorcism. These services commonly draw thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of people. Night vigils also flourish among the booming evangelical and Pentecostal churches of South Korea, where hundreds of thousands pass their Friday nights in prayer and praise. In terms of timing, endurance and mass appeal, the closest Western parallels to these Christian celebrations would be found in dance clubs and rave parties in major cities.
Christians persecuted in Iraq . . . Christian clergy murdered in Indonesia . . . churches destroyed in the Sudan. Around the world, stories of anti-Christian abuse and violence mount up, and are usually presented as irrefutable evidence of the violence of Islam.
As part of the astonishing cinema boom known as Nollywood, some 300 Nigerian producers churn out around 2,000 films each year. Their market of almost 150 million people makes this the world’s third-largest film industry, after Hollywood and the Indian Bollywood. The films go straight to DVD or VCD and sell hundreds of thousands of copies in Nigeria alone, not to mention circulation among the Nigerian disapora in North America and Western Europe. Because videos are passed on from hand to hand, actual viewership is impossible to determine. Explicitly Christian videos make up a large part of the output, which is not surprising when we realize that perhaps 45 percent of Nigerians follow this faith.
Any account of the modern expansion of Christianity worldwide must pay respectful attention to Pentecostal and charismatic forms of worship. In Latin America, and most conspicuously in Brazil, this tradition accounts for virtually all of the vast growth of Protestant churches in the past 30 years.
Not long ago I was taking a cab from O’Hare Airport to downtown Chicago, and my friendly driver proved to be a Nigerian from the Yoruba people. As the traffic gave us lots of time to talk, I soon found that this man was a pastor of a Nigerian-based congregation about which I had written at some length, one of the so-called Aladura churches.
Today, as the center of gravity of the Christian world moves ever southward, the conservative traditions prevailing in the global South matter more and more. To adapt a phrase from missions scholar Lamin Sanneh: Whose reading—whose Christianity—is normal now?