Am I a racist?

Cobus van Wyngaard

by Cobus van Wyngaard

The article started appearing on my timeline last night sometime. I use facebook’s subscription options generously, which helps me to see that which I actually want to see. This allow me to bypass most of the blatant racist rhetoric on news24 comment sections.

It’s an article which I usually would have skipped, were it not for the friends who shared it. I know these people. They are not the right-wing type. Many of them aren’t even the “good-ol’ middle-of-the-road, let’s love our neighbours and not get involved in all this political mumbo-jumbo Christian”-type. Many of them are active voices for the acceptance of Belhar. They are people for whom church unity is non-negotiable. They are the people whom I want to spend the future of this church with. So when they share an article titles “I am a racist”, particularly if 3, 4 or more of them start sharing the same article, I follow the link.

My father had a fascination with etymology. He has one of those “Etymological dictionaries” next to his computer, and like to check random words in it. My Greek lecturer told us etymology cannot really provide you with the meaning of words (if I remember that class correctly), since meaning is constructed by how words are used in the present, not by finding some pristine untainted past meaning. Nonetheless, sometimes etymology is interesting. And when someone claim that, mostly due to the actions of the ANC, “the word racist has lost it’s original meaning and now only get’s used to describe a white person doing something a black person doesn’t like”, one have to wonder about etymology and the meaning of words.

What exactly is this “original meaning”. Truth be told, few people walk around with etymological dictionaries wondering about the “original meaning”. And I doubt that the author is actually concerned about the fact that the word ‘recently’ started moving away from its Nazi roots, insisting that ‘racism’ should remain used only as it was originally intended: as a system of scientific thought which had the intent to proof that those of European descent were superior due to biologically reasons.

Truth is that, although this kind of scientific racism was active in South Africa, that was never the most dominant approach and sometimes actively rejected (read Samual Dubow’s brilliant analysis on this topic). Apartheid and Nazism might show certain similarities, but they were not the same.

But I don’t think that the “original meaning” the author refers to is apartheid either. Making racism and apartheid synonymous (something which is not uncommon in South Africa), imply that racism is a legalized system of classification and exclusionary laws privileging those who are categorized as “white”. Is that the problem, that we dare use “racism” in any way apart from such a definition?

Many who are comfortable with the author’s thoughts, will shout out against DJ’s and FHM models who dare call someone a “kaffir”. Although derogatory names is obviously not the same as a legalized system like apartheid, we easily recognize their use as “racism”.

Here is our problem, I think: Beverley Tatum tell the story of the response of a white teacher when she was asked how it would feel if someone called her a racist: “She said it would feel as though she had been punched in the stomach or called a “low-life scum.”” We have found a general consensus that racism is wrong. In particularly more liberal circles (and I think also most Church circles regardless of theological position), we have found a general consensus that racism is not only wrong, but that it is like calling someone a “low-life scum”. For those white people who actively oppose Nazism and apartheid, who like Obama and Mandela, who might even have had a black person sleep in their guest bedroom (or even been in the Black Sash and written the first article on the death of Steve Biko) to be called a racist is like being punched in the stomach. But we don’t know what the word mean.

The author doesn’t really define racism. Or does she? It seems like the author concern racism to be any kind of action which someone doesn’t like in which the one doing it clearly stated that aspects of these categories which we call race influence this action. So if a company states that they will hire a black person rather than a white person, because they want to get their BEE scorecard right (not a very good reason in my mind, I would prefer if people do stuff for ethical rather than legal reasons, but let’s leave that for today), then it is “racism”. When UCT set different standards for entry into courses depending on race, then that is racism (honestly, the comparison between the white student who had 8 distinctions and was refused and the black student who barely passed is getting a bit old, the UCT example is somewhat more realistic). I do believe the author would agree that if someone actively states that they refuse to hire black people that would also be racism.

But if me and my black boss, who frequently travel together, and have both read one or two books on racism in the past, point out patterns in how security personnel at airports treat us differently, can we call it racism? The personnel are mainly black, and most probably not aware that their is a pattern where he has to show proof of identification more often than I have to.

And if I continue to have a sense of fear when I get the impression that I’m trailed by a black person in Sunnyside, but I don’t even recognize when I’m trailed by a white person in Hatfield, is that racism?

And if I have different emotions when looking at photos of white squatters than I would have when looking at black squatters, is that racism?

And if I find myself listening more intently to the white speaker than the black speaker, somewhere deep inside myself assuming that the white person know what she/he is speaking about, assuming that they did their research with the required precision etc, is that racism?

And if police (also black policemen) just have a tendency to assume that black people was responsible for a crime, and therefore end up finding more of the black criminals because that is where they look, is that racism?

And when a global economic system and educational system is structured so that is “just happens” that white people tend to have more capital, more businesses, more degrees, is that racism?

One response in a context such as this is to refuse any talk about racism. To insist that any reference to race is not allowed. The article took a different route. Irritated with the difficulty of discussion this topic, the difficulty that we don’t understand what is meant by the term, and the perception that it has become a “political card”, or a vague reference used when no other critique can be brought into an argument, the author attempt to make it absurd by presenting certain situations which would then be “racist” under this absurd understanding. Perhaps its just another attempt at saying: “let’s stop all this talk about racism, it’s absurd” (although their is a message in the article that the biggest problem or racism today is reversed racism against white people, not an uncommon thread in white rhetoric).

Given the fact that their is no real biological grounds for grouping people into the races we do, and even less grounds for pointing out qualities which is inherently connected to these biological markers, some prefer to say that we should rather just stop any reference to race. It doesn’t help us to speak about race at all (says these voices that heard some vague Marxist critique on the topic somewhere).

I believe two things should guide us:

First, what we have as “races” today is something that was constructed historically over the long period of time. Its development is complex, and is intertwined with class, gender, culture, language and many other aspects. I am stuck with constantly being given an interpretation of what it would imply to be “white”. I find myself in a community which consist primarily of those who reinforce this same racialized ideas. To break with it is not impossible, but will take generations of hard work on various levels: on our minds, on our societal structures, on the language we use, on the images found in the media, on the habits deeply ingrained on an unconscious level.

Second, we will have to learn to use the word “racism” responsibly, and to define what we mean when we use it. I think it is am important word. It is a word which remind us of a history to which we never want to go back to. But it is a dangerous word. It is a word that can be misunderstood. And it is a word which the popular use of has lead to various reductions, various attempts at scapegoating while portraying others as innocent.

What is racism? Racism is that which cause me to see that which I identify as “white” as more important, more correct, more trustworthy or more moral, than that which I identify as “black”. Racism is that which cause those who are identified as “black” to suffer more through the structuring of society than those who are identified as “white”.

Am I a racist?

The image which help some of us, is to say that I am a racist like a recovering addict.

I am a recovering racist. I struggle with the ideas I have internalized. I struggle with turning a blind towards, justifying, or even supporting policies and systems which end up harming black people more than white people. I struggle with assuming that a white life is worth more than a black life. I struggle with sometimes revolting when I see black and white people in romantic relationships. And my struggle at times become most visible when I want to convince myself and the world that “I am not a racist”. I don’t have a problem.

So I am a racist. A recovering racist. It’s a painful process. And sometimes I need a support group where I can share my struggles, because without this, I find myself either denying that I’m struggling with this, or making jokes or absurd statements about this.



Darnell L. Moore

by Darnell L. Moore

Darnell L. Moore

Many Americans are invested in the idea of a “post-racial” moment — a moment marked by our purported movement beyond a historical chapter colored by race-based discrimination, intolerance, inequity, and violence. Such a turn signals America’s fascination with the notion of a transracial future and a utopian vision of an America, where bodies will be free from racialization. But, we must ask: whose bodies and lives will this grand social vision benefit especially when considering the counter-investment in notions of “blackness” that post-racial propagandists seem to maintain?

It is argued that multiple gains have been made in the area of racial relations since the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of us witnessed the appointment of our country’s 65th and 66th Secretaries of State, General Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice, the former was the first African-American and the latter was the first African-American female, both were Republican. An African-American man and woman, Bob Johnson and Oprah Winfrey, both notable African-American entrepreneurs, have appeared on the Forbes Billionaire List. To the astonishment of the international community, America was brave enough to elect a bi-racial or Black (or, non-White) man, Barack Hussein Obama, as the 44th President of these United States. And, now our nation’s capital is home to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and will soon be the home of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is scheduled to open officially in 2015. For some, these few moments evidence racial progress, particularly those of African Americans in the twentieth century.

To be sure, Daniel Schorr, NPR Senior News Analyst, noted in 2008 that America was moving into a “post-racial era” that was defined and “embodied” by Barack Obama. He went on to argue that we are in an “era where civil rights veterans of the past century are consigned to history and Americans begin to make race-free judgments on who should lead them.” Schorr connects post-racialism to the ascendancy of Obama, a multi-ethnic brown African-descended man, and not, say, his then opponent, John McCain. The fact that Obama is cast as the catalyst of this post-racial era illuminates what post-racialists understand as that which is in need of e(race)sure, namely, blackness. It is unsurprising, then, why post-racialism is a concept that has been taken up to talk about one’s transcendence from blackness into a state of being where his/her blackness is “blurred” or ceases to be altogether.

But imagine, if you will, a societal advancement of the notion of “post-white.” If you tried, to no avail, to imagine — like I did — an America that sought to intentionally and aggressively move beyond whiteness, don’t be alarmed because it is a feat that is nearly impossible.

“Whiteness” is an enduring social force that produces a racialized system of access/excess. Those with access have phenotype, structure advantages, and racial legacies to thank. But it is also, as Judy Helfand suggests, that which “is shaped and maintained by the full array of social institutions — legal, economic, political, educational, religious, and cultural.” In other words, whiteness is methodically sustained through ideology and praxis. It is not easy to disappear and, I am pretty certain, that there are many White post-racialists who would rather not live in a post-white moment because the legal, economic, political, educational, religious, and cultural benefits assigned to their whiteness would be no more.

The notion of post-whiteness, or the leaving behind of whiteness as we’ve come to know it, might very well provoke fear and anxiety among some. For example, the Eagle Forum, which is an interest group started by the conservative anti-feminist Phyllis Shafley, released a legislative alert in response to the New York Times story, “Whites Account for Under Half of Births in U.S.” The “alert” cautioned, “NY Times liberals seek to destroy the American family of the 1950s, as symbolized by Ozzie and Harriet. The TV characters were happy, self-sufficient, autonomous, law-abiding, honorable, patriotic, hard-working, and otherwise embodied qualities that made America great.” The only descriptor that remains loudly unpronounced on the Eagle Forum’s list of positive characteristics is the racial identity of both Ozzie and Harriet.

Despite the racial anxieties of our present moment, it is time for Americans to investigate what it might mean for us to consider post-whiteness as an idea and material possibility during this so-called post-racial era. I would sign on as a proponent. We could even ask Tim Wise to lead the way as we begin interrogating the ideas (and advantages) of whiteness as they manifest in these United States and around the world. I long for the day when the Mitt Romneys of the world will argue for a move in the direction of a post-racial, or, rather, a post-white moment: a moment when White racism is really called out and destabilized; a moment when the vestiges of skin privilege are diminished; when real-time material conditions like wealth accumulation, criminalization, and poverty aren’t disproportionately shaded by race. Oh, what a day that would be.

Colorblindness, as Schorr intimated, is not the issue. Indeed, the only “color” that seems to move undiscerningly among post-racialists is whiteness. And it’s not White people alone who have made such a turn, see, for example Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? or Ytasha L. Womack’s Post Black: How a New Generation Is Redefining African American Identity. In most cases, blackness is the “color” that we are beckoned to transcend in this post-racial era which is why it is a fallacy to name it such. We are more embedded in the socially constructed categories of race than ever before. Don’t believe me? Ask the Tea Party or check the US Census Bureau’s statistics on the median incomes of whites in comparison to black and brown folk in our country. Take a look at the number of non-whites who make up our prison and death row populations. Ask the livid “Hunger Game” fans who vented on Twitter because the film’s director cast a young African-American actress, Amandla Sternberg, rather than a White actress to play the role of Rue. Or consider the psychic traces of race/racism, the ways in which racism shaped our settler-colonial state and its laws, and the ways we embody and live out race-thought every day.

The point is: America’s troubled past and complicated present is wedded to the social reality of race. American history serves as a reminder of our country’s troubled race relations and even the moments when difference was celebrated. Americans also know, all too well, that whiteness functions as a non-race that does not require bodily and cognitive transcendence. Similarly, White racism and White privilege show up as non-issues that are eagerly critiqued, yet, rarely undone. Therein lies the problem.

Whiteness travels in stealth; it is supplemented by what anti-racist feminist Peggy McIntosh, writing on White privilege, unforgettably names the “invisible knapsack.” The fact is: that “knapsack” has been quite visible in the lives of native and non-white Americans. It has only been invisible to those who carry the weightless knapsack on their backs. Indeed, the burden of the sack is felt by everyone but the bearer. It seems, then, that there is a need for new interrogations of our present racial moment. This may very well be the perfect moment for us to enter, as opposed to transcend, America’s racial imagination.

How’s that for a postulation?


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The Rise Of Anti-Western Christianity

From the desk of Matthew Roberts on Sat, 2011-02-26



During Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to London this September, Cardinal Walter Kasper noted two things about London: it’s secular and parts of it resemble a Third World country. While the politically correct were quick to condemn Kasper and the Vatican was even quicker to exhibit its pro-Third World, anti-racism bona fides, Kasper’s two statements taken together are noteworthy in that they demonstrate two antagonistic aspects of the modern world. The First World is secular; the Third World is religious.

How can London be both? What happens when you mix First World secularism and Third World religion? In particular, what happens when you import the Third World to the First – as in London? Often, the Third World tries to convert the First, regardless if the evangelizers are Christian or Muslim. While Westerns may be more shocked by Third World Muslims because they expect them to be different, they often are more disoriented by Third World Christians because they are so different from what they expect. The Christianity that the Third World brings to the West is unlike anything ever seen before – just as alien as Islam.


Highlighting this realization is the acknowledgement that Christianity is fast becoming a non-Western religion. Although not the first to make the point, and certainly not the last, Philip Jenkin’s The Next Christendom popularized the notion that Christianity is undergoing a metamorphosis. Jenkins, an Englishman and the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities at Penn State University, maintains that the heart of Christianity soon will be, if it is not already, Africa and Latin America. And the shift is not merely a demographic one, but an ideological one as well. Various African and Latin American expressions of Christianity are currently eclipsing the European version of Christianity. Eight years out from the first publication of The Next Christendom, now with a revised and expanded edition and two accompanying books in the trilogy, Jenkins’ observations in the first edition still hold true, a fact that he seems to celebrate in a pointedly anti-Western tone.


The Masque of Africa

, a travel book by award-winning Indian-Trinidadian author V. S. Naipaul, although really about traditional African belief and not Christianity per se, often underscores Jenkins’ thesis, at least as it relates to Africa. Despite the conversions to Christianity, Naipaul maintains, the older world of African animism and magic persists, influencing and shaping modern belief systems.

Occidental Christians assume that Christianity is Western. After all, “Europe is the faith”, asserted Hillaire Belloc.  Although by birth a Middle Eastern religion, Christianity, at least as Westerners know it, soon became a European religion in the sense that it melded with various forms of European paganism. Christianity, the story runs, cannot exist in a vacuum. It conforms to the various cultures with which it comes in contact. In its European manifestation (after syncretization with Celtic, Germanic, Greek and Roman paganism), Western Christianity became the religious expression we know today. Comfortable with pagan-Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter, most Westerners could not conceive of Christianity any other way. (By “Westerner” is meant a European or someone of the European Diaspora.)

Yet Jenkins maintains this is not the entire picture. The idea of “Western Christianity,” he maintains, “distorts the true pattern of the religion’s development over time”. First, even during medieval Europe (which is heralded as the epitome of European Christendom), many Christians lived outside Europe and practiced other forms of Christianity. To the Armenian or Ethiopian Christian, European Christianity would have seemed odd. Furthermore, in more recent times, the missionary work of modern Europe has laid the foundation for a new type of Christianity that is different from anything that preceded it.

If “Europe is the faith” for Western Christianity, then, Jenkins maintains, “Africa is the faith” for the coming Christianity. In 1900, Europe possessed two-thirds of the world’s Christians. By 2025, that number will fall below 20%, with most Christians living in what Jenkins calls the “Global South”, largely a proxy term for “Third World”. The Global South could be thought of as slightly modified Gondwanaland, including Africa, Latin America, Philippines, southeast Asia/India, etc. This Global South, not the West, will be the new heart of Christendom.

The statistics are compelling. By 2025, nearly 75% of the world’s Catholics will be non-Western (mostly African and mestizo). At present, Nigeria has the world’s largest Catholic theological school. Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro may be the world’s largest Catholic church. India has more Christians than most Western nations. By 2050, more than 80% of Catholics in the U.S. will be of non-Western (often mestizo) origins. By 2050, only a small fraction of Anglicans will be English or of the European Diaspora. Nigeria, not England, is the new heart of Anglican Christianity. Lutherans, Presbyterians and other mainstream denominations find their chief centres of growth in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Then there are the ever-growing Pentecostal and other indigenous Christian churches. Pentecostals have made tremendous inroads in Latin America, and churches like the Zion Christian Church have grown tremendously in South Africa. The Zion Christian Church attracts over a million pilgrims every Easter (more than greet the Pope in St. Peter’s Square on Easter mornings).

But this is not simply a matter of static (European) Christianity being implemented by people of other races. Christianity itself is radically changing. The New Christendom is “no mirror image of the Old. It is a truly new and developing entity”. Jenkins writes:

“As Christianity moves South, it is in some ways returning to its roots. To use the intriguing description offered by Ghanaian scholar Kwame Bediako, what we are now witnessing is ‘the renewal of a non-Western religion.’”

As once Europeans appropriated Christian iconography as their own, so does the New Christianity in Latin America, where images are filtered through the lens of mestizo identity. The Catholic Church has proclaimed the Virgin of Guadalupe as the patron of all the Americas. Probably the result of syncretization with the Aztec goddess Tonantzin, the Guadalupe Virgin, the dark one (La Morena) as she is called, looks like the local Americanian and mestizo populations, not like Europeans. Likewise, images of the Cuban La Caridad show her “appearing to rescue black and mestizo sailors”. In Equador, the Virgin of El Quinche is popular “because her skin color is that of the local mestizos”. “Ethnically as much as spiritually,” these non-European Virgins are their Virgins. (1).

Mestizo identity, writes Jenkins, is important to understanding this new Catholicism in Latin America.  He writes:

“[A key concept among Latinos] is that of mestizaje, ‘mixed-ness’, that status of being mestizo or mixed blood. In contemporary theology, mestizaje is so critical because it transcends traditional racial hierarchies. It thus comes closer to the New Testament goal of a society without racial privilege or domination, in there is neither Jew nor Greek, Latino nor Anglo. And while mixed-race people were traditionally marginalized and despised, newer theologians see this status as uniquely privileged…. [In The Future is Mestizo, Virgilio Elizondo] presents Jesus as a mestizo son of Galilee’s mixed and marginalized society, who enters the great city of Jerusalem in order to challenge its wealth, to confront the racial arrogance of the pure-blooded elite.”

Such racial overtures also exist among African Christians and have for a very long time. Kimpa Vita, 17th-century Christian convert in the Kongo, had a dream that Jesus was a black Kongolese and was told that black Christians need to find their own way to God, even if it meant using practices condemned by white priests. Although burned as a heretic and witch, she was ahead of her time and serves as a model for the present trajectory of African Christianity distancing itself from a dying Western Christianity. A Nigerian

Pentecostal pastor has proclaimed:

“This is the time of the African. The Europeans have had their time, the Asians have had their time, the Americans have had their time. The black man is going to read the last Gospel before the coming of Christ….. It’s our time.”

As one would expect, these stressed racial differences carry over into theology. The types of Christianity that thrive in the South, Jenkins maintains, are more concerned with the

“immediate workings of the supernatural, through prophecy, visions, ecstatic utterances, and healing.”

Charismatic religion, even for Catholicism, is part of the new landscape. John Allen said

“As Roman Catholicism in the future speaks with an African and Hispanic accent, it will also speak in tongues.”

Snake handlers and faith healers may be the new norm for Catholicism as for Pentecostalism.

Although often initially converted by Westerners, Third World congregations follow a typical pattern, argues Jenkins:

“An individual is enthusiastically converted through one of the mission churches, from which he or commonly she is gradually estranged. The division might arise over issues of church practice, usually the integration of native practices. The individual receives what is taken as a special instruction from God, commonly in a trance or vision. This event is a close imitation of one of the well-known New Testament scenes in which God speaks directly to his people, as at Pentecost or on the road to Damascus.”

Jenkins notes that once Christianity is accepted by a new people, they typically then will “purge away from that essential truth [of] the foreign cultural trappings with which it was originally presented”, to let it speak anew in African, Asian or mestizo terms. For instance, in India, local theologians emphasize non-Western elements of Christianity complementary to indigenous religions. In Kenya, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s River Between contains a vision of Jesus where a new synthesis demands that Christianity be acclimatized to African ways. Although there are kernels of truth in the white man’s religion, it

“…needed washing, cleaning away all the dirt, leaving only the eternal. And that eternal that was the truth had to be reconciled to the traditions of the people.”

Expunging its European elements, Christianity becomes animated by new substrata of indigenous beliefs. The former dean of a university of Gabon remarked to V.S. Naipaul,

“The new religions, Islam and Christianity, are just on the top. Inside us is the forest [the magical world of their ancestors].”

Naipaul writes that although nominally Christian, families still honour the old African ways, which perhaps are more influential than the formal outer faith. The interchange between Christianity and African animism might involve Christianity making “mellower and less warlike” African beliefs, but with an inevitable mixing of the two. Naipaul reports the characterization by a Ghanaian man named Pa-boh:

“The supreme being [Jehovah] is very powerful and is not to be used in daily rituals. The others, spirits and gods and so on, are invoked daily. They have physical representations: they can be trees, stumps, stools, carved idols, rivers and pools…. These deities have their own spokesmen, who are high priests and prophetesses. They have to be initiated into the cults. Both the high priests and prophetesses are possessed…. If the prophetesses take up an issue they go into frenzy; they tear their upper clothes off and bare their breasts, and start talking in unknown languages.”

Naipaul was surprised to find that Pa-boh, given his enthusiasm for African animism, was Christian with a Christian grandfather running a local church.

Unsurprisingly, liturgies are fast changing across the Global South. Pentecostal customs, such as spontaneous dancing and emotional expressions, are now the norm. Such zeal is imported to Catholicism, with Catholic centres offering opportunities to “pray, weep and dance”.  Vernacular prayers and liturgies are now associated with new places, like Guadalupe discussed above or Ekuphakameni in South Africa, which may become the modern Lourdes or Walsingham.

Ancestor worship (which was not uncommon in European paganism) has been incorporated into much African Christianity. Jenkins notes:

“[The African] Jesus exercises for all people the same care and love that the ancestor of a specific tribe would for his or her descendants. Integrating the idea of ancestors into the liturgy has been the primary goal of the newer African Catholic rites.”

While this may seem odd to Westerners (many of whom have not practiced ancestor worship for at least 1,500 years), Jenkins notes that ancestor-worship sycretism is quite normal in Africa and Asia. In 2000, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Bloemfontein, South Africa, not only allowed Africans to honour their ancestors through blood libations, but also permitted the ritual sacrifice of sheep and cows in the Mass.

Many Mexicans also claim blood ties to Jesus. The Tarahumara, for instance, believe that Amerindians descend from Jesus, while all non-Amerindians are the offspring of Satan. Likewise, throughout Latin America, there are various prayers and liturgies that include the veneration of older ancestral deities alongside Jesus (2).

Although Third World Christianity at present may be ethnocentric, some people hope it will eventually become more universalist (ie, more liberal), as Western Christianity has become. But there is no reason to assume that the development of the new Christendom will mirror Western Christianity. For all we know, Third World Christianity could become more ethnocentric, more anti-Western, and privilege non-whiteness even more.

Many Western conservatives (and leftists) have denounced the liturgies of the new Christendom as overly syncretistic, as essentially non-Christian. Jenkins, however, argues that the meaning of Christianity is rather fluid, noting that even the Nicene Creed is not static, as Western Europeans altered it by adding the filioque. “We cannot be too precise about defining Christianity,” he maintains, because people following Jesus have “always been very diverse, and we should acknowledge and accept that broad range of self-conceptions.” Besides, Western denunciations of non-Western syncretism will probably carry very little weight in the future. Jenkins writes:

“If we are to live in a world where only one Christian in five is a non-Hispanic white, then the views of that small minority are even less likely to claim mainstream status, however desperately the Old World order clings to its hegemony over the control of information and opinion.”

In short, the Global South does not care whether Westerns deny that a particular practice is Christian. Westerners, in their eyes, no longer define what is Christian.

Regarding the politics of the Next Christendom, European terms like ‘right’ and ‘left’ do not apply. While these Third World Christians may agree with American social conservatives on a few issues, they practice anti-Western identity politics and often demand wealth redistribution from the First World to the Third. Third World Catholics, for instance, may cite the 1967 papal encyclical Populorum Progressio, calling for “bold transformations to redistribute wealth globally”. In this respect, Samuel Huntington has identified the modern Catholic Church as one of the principal engines for Third World progressive movements in the 1980s. The Catholic Church also sides with the Third World and against the West on the issue of mass immigration.

The religious divide between First World and Third World will probably only widen. This “mysterious non-Western ideology called Christianity”, Jenkins maintains, will appear odd to many Westerns. Christianity will eventually acquire the same bleak stereotypes that have been applied to Islam. In the near future, many Westerners might see Christianity as a “black thing” rather than a “God thing”.  Jenkins suggests that as Christianity becomes more associated with Africa and the African Diaspora,

“the religion as a whole may come to be dismissed as only what we might expect from the Heart of Darkness.”

Once Westerners realize that Christianity has become largely a non-Western, an anti-Western, religion, they could be even more eager to distance themselves from what they will see as ‘jungle religion’.

While Jenkins may accurately describe the current trajectory of Christianity, his support and recommendations seem to lack much “Western sympathy”. In fact, when reading between the lines of Jenkins’ suggestions, one might aver that Jenkins has ‘gone native’.

While it is true that many Westerners will feel estranged from the coming Christendom, many in the United States, especially conservatives, already feel estranged from Western Christian leaders (eg, Cardinal Roger Mahony or Reverend Leith Anderson) who have sided against their fellow compatriots in support of mass immigration from the Third World. Jenkins unsurprisingly takes the pro-immigration side, and it’s telling that a book nominally about Third World Christendom appears to have such a vested interest in mass immigration into the First World.

What Pat Buchanan bemoans in Death of the West, Jenkins seems to celebrate. Dismissing the concerns of commentators like Jean Raspail as “perverse”, Jenkins trumpets pro-immigration talking points such as for Western nations “mass immigration represents the only possible means of maintaining a viable society”. The very idea, however, that immigrants are necessary to prop up the welfare state is illogical. Immigrants take more out of the welfare system than they put in. Numerous studies show that Third World immigrants typically use more in tax-based services (eg, healthcare, education) than they pay in taxes, as well as bringing a whole host of other problems (driving down wages, crime, ethnic divisiveness, etc). And even if immigrants did make positive economic contributions, why would they want to contribute to a welfare system without recouping their contributions? It’s a vicious cycle. As the German politician Jürgen Rüttgers quipped, Germany needs “Kinder statt Inder” (“more children, not Indians”). Furthermore, it’s uncertain whether a multiethnic society can even maintain a welfare state. As Christopher Caldwell notes, welfare economies tend to arise on “conditions of ethnic homogeneity”. The more diverse a society becomes, the more the welfare state begins to teeter.

Yet these concerns might not trouble Jenkins. Although an Anglican, Jenkins seems to sympathize with the Catholic neoconservative view that flooding the West with Third World (preferably Christian) immigrants is necessary for the spiritual revitalization of the West. Jenkins praises the efforts of Third World missionaries in building, or taking over, churches and proselytizing. He does not object when he quotes Matthew Oshimolowo, head of the black Kingsway International Christian Centre in London, as saying that the Anglican church should “die gracefully” and hand over its buildings to Africans.

Jenkins’ suggestion (supporting Third World immigration to evangelize the West) is troubling on a number of grounds. First, it treats religion as an overtly ideological weapon. Second, it assumes that Westerners cannot revitalize themselves if they see the need to do so. Third, Jenkins has shown that the new Christianity is non-Western, so flooding the West with its representatives will not resuscitate a Western variety of Christianity but rather impose a new, non-Western variety upon Europeans.

Jenkins repeatedly calls for stronger ties between First and Third World Christians, arguing that the West should allocate more resources to the Third World – priests, missionary work, charity, and so forth. Yet he admits that the next major conflicts could be between Christians and Muslims in the Global South. Why would Westerners want to become involved in such a quagmire? What is wrong with religious isolationism?

Furthermore, aiding the Third World (via wealth redistribution, charity, adoptions, etc) combined with the Third World’s opposition to birth control spells a demographic disaster. It essentially portends that the Third World will replicate its genetic information at a greater rate than Westerners and at the economic expense of wealthier, Western nations. Western religious conservatives, by forging coalitions with Third World Christendom, will be playing cuckolds to an exploding Third World population.

In summation, Jenkins’ prescriptions would result in a massive reshuffling of people. Priests and ministers from the West should go to the Third World. Third World Christians should come to the First World to re-Christianize it. Cui bono? This is a form of social engineering reminiscent of cultural Marxism.  Interestingly, like leftist diversicrats, Jenkins thinks schools should celebrate this diversity:

“American universities prize the goal of diversity in their teaching, introducing students to the thought-ways of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, often using texts from non-Westerner cultures. However strange this may sound in terms of conventional stereotypes, teaching about Christianity would be a wonderful way to teach diversity, all the more so now that [this] non-Western religion is returning to its roots.”

Under this view, Christian Studies can become an extension of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. Samuel Huntington was correct when he said that prescribed diversity is inherently an anti-Western ideology.

While a review of Jenkins’s description of the rise of non-Western Christianity may help to reconcile Cardinal Kasper’s seemingly contradictory statements about London being secular and Third World, Jenkins’s prescriptions (such as evangelizing the First World with the Third) often appear hostile toward the historic West.

Unlike the vibrant syncretization of Third World Christianity (which incorporates the believers’ ancestral traditions) – the current manifestation of Western Christianity has become too universalist, too obsessed with “rights” and love of The Other. It is not surprising that traditionalists have abandoned it. While Western religious leaders invite the Third World to colonize their ancestral lands, many Western conservatives view contemporary Christendom as becoming antithetical to their own survival.

Small contingents on the right – both in Europe and the United States – have returned to the indigenous pagan religions of Europe. Unlike the universal, creedal aspects of contemporary Western Christianity, European pagan religions are passed on by blood and progeny, and often involve forms of ancestor worship – either worshipping immediate ancestors or claiming the gods as ancestors. But neopaganism remains marginal.

Another possibility, which Jenkins overlooks, is the possible rise of distinctively pro-Western varieties of Christianity. As The Other becomes more apparent, some Western churches may try to define themselves against it.  These pro-Western churches would not only have to accept their lack of global influence in the vast sea of non-Western Christianity but embrace it. Breaking off ties with the Third World, these churches would cherish their Western heritage, possibly reincorporating elements of European indigenous religious practice. They would be anti-globalist and mend fences at home, hence ceasing all charitable and missionary work in the Third World, and prohibiting Third World churches from evangelizing in the West.  They would support a moratorium on all Third World immigration into the West, and stress localism while shunning universalism. They would cease all “rights” talk, come to terms with human evolution and ethnic interests (3), and remain neutral in Third World Muslim versus Christian conflicts. Most importantly, unlike most Western Christian churches today, these churches would not shy away from defending the real interests of their host nations.

Whether a new pro-Western variety of Christianity can arise remains to be seen. Regardless, Jenkins is correct in his assertion that Belloc’s “Europe is the faith” is no longer true.


Christianity’s non-European future

Written by Anthony Bradley

If European cultural trends are a precursor to the future of Western culture, American Christians might find themselves discouraged. According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, Europe is home to only about one-quarter of the world’s Christians, compared to two-thirds just a century ago. Christianity began as a Middle Eastern religion and had its theological scaffolding establish primarily by Africans. Moving into Europe, Christianity had a culturally dominant role for centuries until the Enlightenment slowly loosened the grip of faith in that culture. Today, it seems that the Enlightenment is the dominant “religion” of Europeans.

The Pew report observes:

“About one-quarter of the global Christian population can now be found in sub-Saharan Africa, while 37 percent live in the Americas and 13 percent reside in the Asia-Pacific region. Brazil has twice as many Roman Catholics as Italy, while Nigeria has more than twice as many Protestants as Germany, where the Protestant Reformation began.”

While Christianity has a minor presence in Europe, according to the report, Christians are still the world’s largest religion, with nearly 2.2 billion claiming faith. Muslims remain the second-largest group, with 1.6 billion people.

What does this mean for Christians in America? Two thoughts come to mind:

  1. We must recognize that ultimately these trends remind us of the sovereignty of God and of divine providence. Despite our efforts, we recognize that the Spirit moves wherever the Father wills. God has proven to work this way throughout the entire biblical narrative and Christian history. Where and why the Spirit works in the world continues to be a mystery.
  2. European Christianity should be studied more closely as a model of what not to do in terms of how the church interacts with cultural change. How did Europe lose its Christian faith? What happened? What responsibility did church leaders and theologians have in becoming increasingly irrelevant to the culture? Is it possible that reading European theologians to strengthen Christianity in America might be unwise given the fact they didn’t tarry in Europe? These are important questions.

Admittedly, I’m not an historian and don’t know the answers to all these questions but if You Lost Me author David Kinnaman is right about nearly 60 percent of American young people involved in church life as teens drop out after high school, American Christians will need to look to Africa, Latin America, and Asia for leaders in the future.


Reverse Missions: African Churches in Europe

by Israel Oluwole Olofinjana 

There has been a recent shift in global Christianity from North to South. Christianity is growing day by day in the continents of Africa, Latin America and Asia, whereas it appears to be declining in the Western world. The expression of Christianity that is growing in these continents is Pentecostalism with its characteristics of healing, miracles, speaking in tongues, emphasis on the leading of the Holy Spirit and evangelism. Since the latter part of the nineteenth century Africa has witnessed various Pentecostal renewals which have changed the landscape of the whole continent. One of the results of these revivals is that Africans are now bringing the Gospel back to Europe and other parts of the world. This reverse in missions has been a recent phenomenon, and has been a fascinating subject for Missiologists, Church Historians, Anthropologists and Religious Scholars. In order for us to appreciate and understand this reverse in missions there is the need to first consider the efforts of European missionaries in Africa.

There is the general assumption today that Christianity first came to Africa through the European missionaries in the nineteenth century. This assumption has to be challenged in the light of the understanding that there is African Christianity which has its origin in North Africa. Two Patristic Churches which have survived till today are the Coptic Church in Egypt and the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia. African Christianity was so successful in the first three hundred years of the Church that it produced great theologians such as Tertullian (AD 150-225), Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage (AD 200-258) and Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-431), whose works have defined and shaped Western theology till today. In addition, African Christianity produced monks, martyrs and theological institutions of their day. However, Christianity died out in North Africa except in Egypt and Ethiopia, and did not resurface until the middle ages.

During the middle ages attempts were made to plant Christianity in North Africa. This was majorly through Roman Catholic orders such as the Dominicans and the Franciscans. Their attempts were successful to some extent, but the Portuguese explorers of the fifteenth century succeeded more than them. These Portuguese explorers were Roman Catholics and they took the Gospel to the south of the Sahara. Exploration and proclamation of the Gospel went hand in hand. As successful as their attempts were, Christianity was not sustained for several factors, the major factor being the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The third attempt to plant Christianity in Africa was in the nineteenth century and this was by far the most successful missionary enterprise in Africa. The Evangelical revival in Europe inspired European missionaries to go to Africa, Asia and different parts of the world. In Africa, this age of mission witnessed the building of schools, hospitals, Universities, transport systems and communication networks. The missionaries were successful to the extent that African clergies and elites were produced. It was these clergies and elites who later fought for the emancipation of Africa.

After an overview of European missions to Africa, let us now consider the missions of Africans to Europe. It is erroneous to associate the origins of Africans in Europe to the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Archaeological evidence suggests that North African soldiers were involved in Roman Britain towards the end of the first century. In addition, European contact with Africa through trade and commerce resulted in an increase in the number of Africans in Britain in the fifteenth century. One of King Henry VIII’s trumpeters has been suggested to be a black man. The Trans-Atlantic slave trade, which started with the Portuguese explorers, certainly brought many Africans to Britain and other parts of Europe. It was during the slave trade and its aftermath that African Christians such as Olaudah Equiano (1745-97), Ignatius Sanchos (1729-1780), Quobna Ottobah Cugoano (1757-179?) and a host of others appeared and made their contributions in speaking out against the injustice of slavery and racism that was so prevalent at the time.

The first Church founded by an African in Europe is a Pentecostal Church by the name of Summer Road Chapel. This Church started in Peckham circa 1906 by Rev Thomas Kwame Brem-Wilson (1855-1929), a Ghanaian business man. The Church later became affiliated with the Assemblies of God in Britain. The Church is today known as Sureway International Ministries and has relocated to Herne Hill in South London. The second African Church and mission agency founded in Europe by an African was the African Church Mission which started in Liverpool in 1931. It was founded by Daniel Ekarte (1890s-1964), a Nigerian who was influenced by the Scottish missionary Mary Slessor (1848-1915). Ekarte’s mission agency was successful in meeting the social, psychological and spiritual needs of Africans and other ethnic minorities living in Liverpool. His Church later became a homeless shelter for mixed race children who were rejected by the society. However Ekarte’s mission was cut short due to institutional racism and lack of funds. The mission agency was shut down in 1964, the year Ekarte also died.

The next phase of Church planting by Africans in Europe was circa 1960s when many African nations witnessed independence from their European masters. African Initiated Churches (AICs) as they are called were planted in London. African students, diplomats and those in search of better life migrated to Europe, especially Britain in the 1960s. It was these Africans who started planting Churches in Europe.  There are several factors why these African Churches were planted in Europe, but suffice to mention here is that exclusion from mainstream Churches as well as the conviction of missions overseas was at the heart of the matter. The 1990s witnessed the rise of New Pentecostal Churches (NPC) with African origins. For example, one of the largest Churches in Western Europe is Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC) founded in 1992 by Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo (Nigerian); also one of the largest Churches in Eastern Europe was founded in 1994 by an African, Sunday Adelaja pastor of Embassy of God in Kiev, Ukraine. African Churches in Europe are making many contributions and are bringing renewal to a continent that is fast loosing its Christian roots and values. The contributions of African Churches can be seen in the following areas; Church growth, social cohesion among ethnic minorities, community development, women’s ministries and discourses, immigration services, diaspora studies, revival, missions and a host of others.

African Churches in Europe are without doubt making their impact on the continent; however they do have their short comings. These weaknesses are, lack of ecumenical partnerships, transplanting African Christianity to Europe without contextualising, mono-ethnic mission strategies, abuse of prosperity theology, lack of involvement in global issues such as human trafficking and poverty. Nevertheless, it must be mentioned that these Churches, compared to European missions in Africa, have only been in Europe for a relatively short period and that they are still in the process of adapting and acclimatising to their new environment. Let us give them a chance

Mark Gornik: African Christianity, a gift for the Western church

Out of sight of most Americans, African Christianity is thriving in New York and other cities, here and around the globe. It is a gift in our midst, a vivid reminder that Christ is about flourishing, says the author of “Word Made Global.”

Worshippers arrive for services at Redeemed Christian Church of God, International Chapel, in Brooklyn, one of a growing number of African congregations throughout New York. (Photo by Mark Gornik)

May 8, 2012 | If you want to see the cutting edge of the church today, go to the outer boroughs of New York, to the neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island   and the Bronx. There you will find a vibrant transnational movement of faith, in particular African Christianity, propelled by globalization and other   forces, says the Rev. Mark Gornik.

Gornik, the founder of City Seminary of New York, spent 10 years studying African Christianity in New York    City. His book, “Word Made Global: Stories of African Christianity in New York City,” was named one of Christianity Today’s best books of 2012.  Although largely unnoticed by most Americans, the growing presence of African Christianity in the United States is an important development for all   Christians, with important lessons for the church, Gornik said.

“African Christians give us an example of how to recover a comprehensive, holistic faith,” he said. “They remind us that Christ is   about flourishing, that God is interested in our bodies, our hearts and our souls.”

Before moving to New York in 1998, Gornik co-founded New Song Community Church in Baltimore. In 2003, he launched City Seminary of New York, which he   serves as director.

Gornik spoke with Faith & Leadership recently about “Word Made Global” and African Christianity in New York. The following is an edited   transcript.

Q: How did you get interested in studying African churches in New York City?

I moved to Harlem to work on starting a second New Song Community Church, and I noticed there was a large African immigrant community in the  neighborhood, primarily from Senegal, Mali and Ivory Coast.

I began to get a sense of the city’s profound demographic changes. Since the 1980s and the 1990s, there has been a great immigration to New York  from the non-Western world.

It struck me that, if Christianity was growing around the world and many of those places were now connected to New York City, then perhaps the church  was growing in New York in ways that reflected those connections.

I was reading a book by Andrew Walls,    “The Missionary Movement in Christian History,” and I thought, “What he’s describing is what I think is happening in New York.” I went and met him at Princeton Seminary, and he   helped guide my movement into this work.

So, I found one church, and I went from there.

Q: You went all over the five boroughs of New York, tracking down and studying these churches, right?

When I started 10 or more years ago, there wasn’t one article or book on African churches in the United States that I was aware of. So I tried to  see if there were any churches. It wasn’t a question of, “Where are they?” It was a question of, “Are there any?”

After a little homework I found an Ethiopian Pentecostal church in the Bronx, and I worshipped there one Sunday. It was an amazing experience. On the  way out, I asked the pastor if he knew any other churches where people from Africa worshipped. He wasn’t sure, but he mentioned one in Brooklyn  called Redeemed Christian Church of God.

I found them and visited one Sunday. They were renting a vacant warehouse, heating the place with kerosene heaters and it was freezing. It was a very profound worship experience.

I asked basic questions and found that most [worshippers] were from Nigeria. Later, I looked up the Redeemed Christian Church of God in “World  Christian Encyclopedia,” and I’m thinking maybe there are one or two branches in Nigeria. Turns out there are almost 5,000. I realized then  that this wasn’t a one-off church, but part of something pretty significant in Africa and globally.

I did that, church by church, for a number of years. I kept asking people if they knew of others, and I’d follow up and go worship there.

Q: How large is the African Christian presence in New York?

I documented about 150 congregations, but that is probably an underestimate. I would say probably 200 African congregations are in New York City,  primarily from Nigeria and Ghana, some Liberian, some Ethiopian.

They don’t fit our traditional categories. Almost all are influenced by the work of the Holy Spirit in the sense of being charismatic or  Pentecostal. They are not called denominations but ministries, and they have a global focus. Some might be Catholic or Presbyterian or Methodist, but  primarily they’re just their own movements.

Many businesses and financial firms have their headquarters in New York, and I found the same thing for many African churches. They have a hub or a  center of operations here, and they use that as a base to plant churches across North America.

Q: You write that New York is the connection point for both the global economy and African Christianity.

Globalization has really intensified things. Airplane travel has made mobility very easy. Borders have become stronger, but they’ve also become  more porous. It’s contradictory but it makes sense.

One of the technical words is “transnationalism” — that is, people have a foot in two worlds, actually more than two worlds. Someone from  Nigeria will have extended family back in Nigeria, but they work and live here with their family. They went to Redeemed parish in Lagos and they go to  Redeemed parish here in Brooklyn.

If they have a conference, the speakers are from Nigeria, not from their own churches in New York City or from American evangelicals or mainline  Protestants — they won’t even know of them. Leaders go back and forth for seminary education or revivals, and at the same time they’re  creating and connecting networks here in the United States.

People are relating through work and faith that crosses boundaries. They’re very local, but they’re also global.

Q: So, these are not like immigrants of 100 years ago who left home never to return. They are still intimately connected to these places and are  constantly going back and forth.

Absolutely. Before, when people got on the boat, they said goodbye to their parents or brothers and sisters, probably forever. And when they arrived in   the United States, there was a pattern of assimilation, as people tried to adopt a culture and language here.

In a globalized world, people stay connected, and they preserve their culture. The Africans that I met are very committed to New York and have great  respect for the opportunities they’ve been given and for the city and for this country. But that hasn’t meant that they’ve lost their  cultural identities or their religious commitments.

Instead of losing their identity, it becomes enriched. They gain new ways of relating. Immigrants today have multiple identities. At their core they   are who they are, but they’re also finding new ways to navigate life in the United States.

Q: You suggest in the book that globalization is not just about economics, it’s also about religion.

We can’t understand globalization without appreciating that it has a religious dimension. Typically when people talk about religion and  globalization, they’re talking about a theological assessment: Is globalization good or bad?

To me, that’s far too abstract. If you actually look on the ground and see how religion is lived and how it’s practiced, then you  can’t understand religion without globalization, and you can’t understand globalization without religion.

The two are related. Globalization has given opportunities for people to practice their faith and live the gospel in various cultures and around the  world. It has been a key means of the gospel moving.

In my experience in New York, I found that globalization didn’t flatten out but extended people’s rich cultural and religious resources.        Religion is not a McDonald’s product, where you just take something and then repeat it around the world. It is very contextual and very local.       People are living their faith in very profound ways. Globalization has been crucial for the expansion of Christianity through migration and it has  preserved identities by also expanding and crossing frontiers.

Of course, there is precedent for this. In the first century, the early church was an urban movement, going from city to city, using the roads that had   been built by the empire. Methods of transportation, access, and urbanization are core components of how the gospel spreads around the world, both in  the first century and now the 21st century.

Q: Why is African Christianity important? Why should other Christians in the U.S. care?

We should care for a couple of reasons. First, there is one body, and we belong to each other. Christianity has always been a world religion, but  increasingly now we can see and have contact with Christians from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the West Indies.

Because of that, we can grow together. We’re incomplete in our own world. We need one another to form the full body of Christ. We share a common   faith.

Second, if you want to know about Christianity, then you have to know about Christianity in Africa. The growth of Christianity in Africa has been   extraordinary. Numerically, it’s the fastest growth of the Christian faith in history. And you can’t understand Africa, either, without  understanding religion and Christianity.

African Christianity offers great gifts for the West. One criticism you hear about Christianity in the West is how our faith is compartmentalized:       It’s only for Sundays; we don’t know what do with it the rest of the week.

African Christians give us an example of how to recover a comprehensive, holistic faith. They remind us that Christ is about flourishing, that God is  interested in our bodies, our hearts and our souls.

Q: You note in the book that all this is happening largely unseen by most Americans, confirming Andrew Wall’s point that throughout Christian   history it’s at the margins where growth, creativity and energy happen.

That’s true even here. When people think of New York, they think of Manhattan, and by that they mean a certain section in Manhattan, because they   usually leave out Washington Heights and Harlem. But the cutting edge of the church is in the margins of New York relative to Manhattan. It’s in  Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.

That’s always, or often, the case that the margins are the centers. We see that playing out globally as well as locally.

And, of course, Wall also points out that Christianity doesn’t have a single center. It has multiple centers. New York City is one but so are   Lagos and Seoul and Kingston and on and on and on.

Q: You mentioned earlier that most of these churches do not consider themselves denominations but movements. Many, especially Redeemed Christian,  have been able to strike a balance between having an institutional structure and being very decentralized. Any lessons there for U.S.  denominations?

I can’t speak to lessons others need. I just know that the reason Pentecostalism is growing around the world is that it’s decentralized. If  you try to control and order things too much it won’t work.

With all its decentralization, Redeemed maintains its identity. They maintain ordination procedures. They have Sunday school materials everyone uses   week by week all over the world.

To start a new church, they give people some Bibles, folding chairs and a few members. It’s not very programmed.

Without decentralization, Redeemed would not be growing at all. Yet, they also maintain their identity and their leadership of the overall movement.      It’s a very interesting dynamic.

Q: What are the pastors like in these churches? How does their job differ from a typical Western view of a pastor?

Almost all are in bi-vocational ministry. They work other jobs five days a week from driving a taxi to working on Wall Street and then pastor every  night and on weekends and use their vacation to go to meetings related to their faith.

Generally, they see the pastor’s job as building communities of spiritual and social belonging where human flourishing can occur. That’s  the most important thing they do.

The pastors that I looked at built communities of spiritual life, and to do that you have to also build infrastructure. They are totally available to  people, praying with them, on the phone, in everyday life, always building this community.

And worship is not a 45-minute or an hour experience. It was often from two to four or five hours or even all night. What’s powerful about these    services is that people come because it is a community where they can meet God and God can meet them in their everyday life.

That was the pastor’s role, to mediate to their communities a sense that God is here and with them and will empower them.

Q: You write that these churches were not a place of escape or refuge but the very place where life happens.

One argument you often see in analyses of Christianity, and especially Pentecostalism, is that people attend church because it meets a need, that  there’s a deficit that religion fills.

I think that’s wrong. What I found is that these churches were a place of life, of everyday life.

Great theologies are really theologies about life. One of the striking things I found across these churches and African Christianity is that they are   about a theology of life. It is about how you live — your relationships, your work, all aspects of life. It is a comprehensive holistic theology.

Worship is about life, and that’s why people don’t miss it. Worship is an event, a profound and creative experience that can’t be    repeated.

Q: Talk some about the importance of prayer and of Scripture in these churches.

If I was to begin this project again, I think I would just write on prayer. Prayer is the defining practice of African Christianity. Life is about    prayer, and prayer is about life. All-night prayer meetings start at 9 or 10 p.m. and end at sunup. People fast and pray for a month at a time.

There is an amazing commitment to the work of prayer. It’s not meditation. It’s hard work. In some churches they kneel, in others they   stand and pray, but it’s physical work.

They believe prayer brings changes. There is a dialogue between God and the person and community. There is an assumption that God is continuously at  work, guiding and shaping peoples’ lives, opening doors and creating opportunities for jobs and protecting children and watching over them. No         one leaves the house or the apartment without praying. There is nothing more important than prayer, and by that I mean hours of it, not a quick prayer.

And Scripture informs everything. It is the language of all the prayers — names for God, names for Jesus, relating stories. Whether it’s Samuel   or David or the life of Christ, there’s a constant interaction with Scripture, both in prayer and in lived practice. It’s the way that they    see themselves in the world.


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