Saturday, October 27, 2007

Vitality of the Gobal South

As I visit the parishes in this Diocese and talk with them about the future of the church, I often remind them of the tremendous vitality being displayed in the Anglican Communion in Africa and Asia. I like to contrast my experience with Confirmation services with that of my African collegues. The greatest number I have ever confirmed at one service was 45. One bishop I know reported a seven hour service at which almost 5,000 new members were welcomed. He was so tired that he had to have his assistants hold up his arms.

I like to point those interested to the excellent studies of Philip Jenkins and his conclusions that the future of Christianity lies in the Third World.

However, there is also an important corrective, picked up this week in the The Daily Episcopalian.

"'Global South' implies a monolithic body when in reality the group's membership appears to be porous, driven by a small number of special interest advocates primarily in Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, and their American franchise holders. Membership and financial data about the group is as difficult to come by as that of a Cayman Islands registered corporation. The organization projects a billboard slogan North-South divide. Northern churches are cold, dwindling in numbers, and ignore the Bible. In contrast, the growing South is energetic, biblically correct, and the home of ready judges waiting to declare what is acceptable practice throughout the Anglican Communion.

This slick North-South divide is no more accurate than numerous other discredited religious clash-of-civilization comparisons that have appeared and disappeared during recent centuries. Amartya Sen, the Pakistani-born Nobel-Prize-winning author, has warned about the dangers of such distorted religious reductionism: 'The hope of harmony in the contemporary world lies to a great extent in a clearer understanding of the pluralities of human identity, and in the appreciation that they cut across each other and work against a sharp separation along one single hardened line of impenetrable division.' (Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence, The Illusion of Destiny (New York: Norton, 2006), xiv.)

You can read all about it over at Episcopal Life Online here