Key West, Florida
Some of the nation’s leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in May 2007 for the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life.
Philip Jenkins, a Penn State University professor and one of the first scholars to call attention to the rising demographic power of Christians in the southern hemisphere, analyzed the ongoing schism in the worldwide Anglican church. While the dispute concerns attitudes toward homosexuality, Jenkins argues the core of the conflict lies in how biblical authority is defined.
Will the current alliances between conservative Western and African leaders endure? Will African leaders begin to press an ultra-liberal economic agenda? Are other mainline denominations in the U.S. headed for similar splits? Jenkins answered these and others questions, while offering a fascinating glimpse into the life of African Christianity.
Philip Jenkins, Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies and History, Pennsylvania State University
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Welcome. There are about eight journalists who are advisors to this Key West project. We meet twice a year at lunch to talk about future subjects for this conference. One of the topics we talked about several months ago was the divide going on in the American Episcopal Church, but also in worldwide Anglicanism. Everyone in the room unanimously said Philip Jenkins would be the best person in the country to address the topic. I was delighted that, as busy as Philip Jenkins is – he writes a new book about every three months – he was able to fit us into his schedule. His new book is God’s Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe’s Religious Crisis He is distinguished professor of history and religious studies at Penn State University, and Professor Jenkins is going to address our topic this morning on global schism. Professor Jenkins, thank you so much.
PHILIP JENKINS: The word schism means a split, and the great historical example is what happened in 1054, when the Eastern and Western churches had a tiff over such crucial theological issues as whether priests should wear beards. Everyone knew this was going to be resolved in just a couple of years; 950 years or so later, and counting, they’re still divided into the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and it’s not likely to be resolved any time soon.
Today I’m going to talk about the Anglican schism, but I want to look at the question of whether this is the first shot in a much larger war and whether instead of an East-West schism, we’ll be looking at a North-South schism. I want to start this off with a quote you will find shocking or at the very least surprising. As you’re aware, a number of Episcopal churches in the United States have placed themselves under the authority of African and Asian clergy because, basically, they don’t trust the leadership of the Episcopal Church.
One of the African clerics they’ve turned to is a man called Emmanuel Kolini, who is the primate of Rwanda. When Kolini is asked why he is interfering in American affairs, he has a very simple answer: “Back in my country back in 1994, we had the genocide and the world stood idly by, nobody came to help us; we are not going to let that happen to you. We will not stand idly by while this dreadful thing happens to the Episcopal Church.” Most of us, of course, look at that and think, “You’re seriously comparing the 1994 genocide with the split in the Episcopal Church?” That seems astonishing. But I hope to suggest why some of the issues involved here are so very important for Global South churches.
Quick narrative: The U.S. Episcopal Church is not a huge body, but it’s a very influential body. Realistically it has maybe two, two-and-a-half million members, yet its influence is far beyond those numbers. It’s a very liberal body on issues of gender, sexuality; it’s been semi-overtly ordaining gay clergy and carrying out gay marriages for a number of years. The turning point came in 2003 when an openly gay cleric, Bishop Robinson, was ordained. For some years before that, conservatives within the Episcopal Church had been looking to the wider Anglican world, and they’d had a lot of support from those Global South churches. Global South means, in this context, Africa and Asia.
In 2003, the skies fell in. Global South primates from countries like Nigeria and Uganda started using ferociously critical language about the ordination of Robinson. They called it a satanic attack on God’s church. The U.S. Episcopal response here was, “Who are you to tell us this?” Then the primates in countries like Nigeria said, “Let us tell you who we are to be telling you this. There’s two, two-and-a-half million members of you; the Nigerian church had, back in 1975, five million members, we’re currently up to 19 million members; by 2025, we’ll be at 35 million members. We’re doubling every 25 years or so; what can you say to that?”
But of course, the Anglican Church is not just Nigeria; it’s Uganda and Tanzania and Rwanda and all these other countries. Since that point in 2003 the Anglican Communion has developed an ever wider split. Most recently, of course, conservative churches within the U.S. Episcopal Church have placed themselves under the Episcopal authority of Global South churches. The most recent, of course, affected a number of very large, prosperous churches in Virginia, which are now part of a missionary diocese of the Nigerian church under its primate Peter Akinola.
The language, the sentiment and the depth of hatred in these events has been quite striking. We could have a competition as to which remark is the least conducive to Christian charity. (Laughter.) I have a couple of candidates. Candidate one is Akinola’s remark that the U.S. Episcopal Church is like a cancerous lump that has defied all treatment, and the time has come for it to be excised altogether. Candidate two is from one of the gay pressure groups within the Episcopal Church, when someone said: “All I can say to you African bishops, is why can’t you go back to the jungle you came from and stop monkeying around with the church?” We’ll have a vote afterwards as to which is the more offensive remark. (Laughter.)
The big turning point is next year when we have what’s called the Lambeth Conference, which is the Anglican Church’s grand convention that brings all the primates together every ten years. The odds are at the moment that either the U.S. Episcopal Church will not be allowed to participate or that some of the American clergy under African churches will claim the seat of the U.S. Episcopal Church or maybe that the event will not happen, and that instead of Lambeth there will be a separate Anglican convention run by the African and Asian clergy.
The reason all this is so important is how the numbers are proceeding: Christianity is going south very rapidly in terms of numbers. I’ve give you a quick overview, and I’m going to talk about Africa a lot. Simple reason: back in 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians representing 10 percent of the population; by 2000, that was up 360 million, to 46 percent of the population. That is the largest quantitative change that has ever occurred in the history of religion. A rising tide lifts all boats, and all denominations have been booming. The Anglicans have done very well, and the Anglican Church is going to be overwhelmingly an African body in the near future.
Why are African churches so conservative?
First, I want to stress a couple of things. Some American media have made a mistake in focusing personally on Archbishop Akinola. Archbishop Akinola has got very definite opinions, but if he walked in front of a bus tomorrow, it would not change the equation within the Anglican Communion at all.
Among conservative Episcopalian congregations in the United States, it’s almost as if each group has its own pet overseas bishop or primate. For instance, Pittsburgh is a big center of conservative Anglicans; they look to a man called Henry Orombi, who is the archbishop of Uganda. Some people look to the province of Rwanda. And others look to Singapore where you have, again, very conservative Anglicans. It is not a personal Akinola thing.
Fundamentally it’s about authority, and this issue runs across different churches and denominations. Another important thing to remember is that most Global North categories do not work in the Global South. A classic example: if you talk to a Nigerian Anglican and you try to pin him down, saying, “I cannot figure you out, are you evangelical, are you Catholic, are you charismatic?” The immediate answer is yes. And they mean it.
The more fundamental division is about the authority of the Bible, and there are a lot of reasons for this. If you have ever read Akinola’s statements, he makes clear throughout: “I know all this biblical criticism stuff; I know all these arguments made about homosexuality.” But there’s a more basic thing: if you’re in a new church in Africa or Asia, the Bible speaks to you as a more immediately relevant, more direct text, than it does for many Global North people for whom the Bible is basically part of the wallpaper.
One big reason for that is the biblical world makes sense [if you’re in the Global South]; the Bible reads like it is describing the world you know immediately. But for most Americans and Europeans, if somebody cites the prohibitions on homosexuality in Leviticus, the immediate answer is: “Leviticus also says you can own slaves from neighboring countries; why can’t you own Canadians?” It’s a good question. If you’re reading a text like Leviticus in the Global South, the bigger problem is this: you have to be warned constantly not to take the Old Testament as more important than the New.
You’re dealing with people who live in, in many ways, an Old Testament world. Many Africans may not know themselves a world that practices nomadism and polygamy and blood sacrifice, but their parents did. You don’t have to go far down the road to see people who are still doing these things.
Just one example out of a great many: I was once talking to some West Africans about the bits of the Bible that made sense to them in ways that could not make sense to Westerners. They said, “We live in agricultural societies, so things like the Parable of the Sower made great sense.” Just talking about it, they started getting teary eyed. Then they mentioned Psalm 126. Psalm 126 is a psalm that is widely quoted, and it goes like this: “The man who goes forth into the fields in tears weeping to sow the seed will bring the sheaves again in joy.” You understand perfectly well why a farmer would bring the sheaves again in joy; he’s celebrating harvest time.
But why do you weep while you’re sowing? “It’s obvious,” they said to me. “Whoever wrote this psalm was writing at a time of famine, like we had a couple of years ago. You’ve got the corn that’s left, and you can do one of two things with it. You can feed your family with it, but if you do that, you’re not a farmer anymore [because you have no seeds left] and you have to migrate to the city and become a beggar, and what’s going to happen to your children and so on. Or you can take the corn literally out of the hands of your hungry children and use it as seed corn and sow it. That’s why a farmer weeps while sowing the corn. It’s obvious.”
As I said, it wasn’t obvious to me, but there are any number of examples like that where the Bible describes a world that makes immediate, intuitive, documentary sense in a way it can’t for us. It’s almost as if every passage comes with – (unintelligible) – at the end. You have texts like the Book of Ruth, for example. The Book of Ruth is all about a society destroyed by famine where the men have left because they can, and the women are left behind with the children, and the world is held together by people being loyal to clan ties. Can’t think of why that would be relevant in large chunks of Africa.
Point is, people [in the Global South] take the Bible very seriously as a source of authority. Yes, the Bible accepts the existence of slavery – this is true – but it doesn’t order it or command it. And the Bible, as far as they can tell by superficial reading, does describe homosexuality as an evil, therefore it is wrong and therefore if you want to ordain gay clergy, you are running directly against the authority of the Bible. That’s the reason for the Anglican split.
One other big issue people failed to pick up is there are lots of different countries in the Anglican Communion in Africa, but the ones who are most militant on the gay issue are the ones who were evangelized by the very evangelical wing of the Church of England, the Church Mission Society. The Church of England traditionally had two wings, high and low, usually called “high and crazy” versus “low and lazy” – (laughter) – there’s also “broad and hazy,” we can discuss that. Low-church evangelicals, who were very biblically oriented, took certain countries like Nigeria and Uganda. Those are the countries for which not only does the Bible makes sense to them, but they also have these strong evangelical biblical roots. This is one reason why the Anglican split is so intense.
My guess is that in 10 or 20 years, the Episcopal Church in the United States will be a fairly miniscule body. The Anglican Communion, however, will be flourishing. It will continue to be what it is today: the third-largest religious organization within Christianity, and probably pretty soon the second largest, because the Orthodox Church is in such steep decline. If you look at the Orthodox world, it meshes exactly with the countries with the lowest birth rates. So the Anglican Communion might well be the second-biggest organization within Christianity. It will also be overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly a black and brown organization.
Many people have paid attention to the split within the Anglican Communion. I want to suggest another important angle that is about to hit other denominations. In fact, it is going to hit most other denominations, certainly most liberal denominations, within the United States very soon. How soon? 2008. That is going to be the next Lambeth Conference within the Anglican world. It is also going to be the next meeting of the World Conference of the United Methodist Church. Over the last few years, most of the other denominations have had their heads up over the parapet watching what’s happening in the Anglican Church and feeling increasingly nervous. They know it’s going to happen within their own bodies.
The prize example of this is the Methodists. The Methodists, in numbers, are the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States, behind the Baptists. Stop me if this story sounds familiar, but the Methodists have stable or declining membership in the United States but they are booming like crazy around the world, especially in Africa. When they next have the United Methodist World Congress in 2008, Africans alone will comprise about 25 percent of the delegates and a lot of others will be from Asia and Latin America. The Africans are extremely conservative on, and very concerned about, what American Methodists are doing about homosexuality. So that’s going to be a major issue.
It will hit the Lutherans probably as well. It is hitting to some extent in Europe right now, where a lot of conservative Lutherans in Germany and Scandinavia have placed themselves under the protection of a Tanzanian Lutheran bishop. Once again, so many of the labels that work in the Global North do not work in the Global South. One of the most important religious figures in Tanzania is a Lutheran bishop who is also a famous prophet and healer and charismatic figure. Obvious point, this is not the world of Garrison Keillor; this is a different kind of Lutheranism.
You’re getting some of these splits within the Presbyterian Church. They’re looking at what’s happening in the Anglican world partly to see what kind of precedent is being set but also to watch for very specific legal issues. The only reason why the Episcopal Church is surviving at the moment is the Episcopal Church has a set-up, which they erected in the late 1970s after a lot of splits over women’s ordination, whereby the dioceses own the property, so that if, for example, a particular church wants to secede and place itself under the archbishop of Uganda, you’re very welcome to do it, but you can’t take any of the property with you.
That is a much bigger issue for Episcopalians than it would be for some other denominations. If you’re an Episcopalian, particularly in the [American] South, if you’ve got eight generations of your family buried in the local churchyard, you are not going to go off and worship in a high school gym while you build a new church. That’s a critical point. The control of property becomes very important. Different denominations have got different attitudes to church property and to the store they set on historic church buildings. The Episcopalians are at the extreme end of that scale.
There are lots of indicators pointing to different schisms, but let me look at a number of factors that haven’t got as much attention as they might have done in the media coverage. One is, it’s very hard to talk about a straight North/South division. The North is in the South in the forms of media, soft power, culture, education; the South is in the North in the form of people, through immigration. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.
It’s been interesting over the last few years as I walk around big American cities to see how many Episcopal churches have taken down their signs saying “Episcopal” and put instead “Episcopal (Anglican.)” Why? Because you have all these African and Caribbean people wandering around looking for a home church. “Episcopal, what’s that? Oh, Anglican, that’s home.”
That is even more true in Europe where the case can be made that African and Asian churches are laying a new foundation for Christianity. There is all sorts of evidence of that. The four largest mega-churches in Britain are pastored by Africans. You also have a lot of evangelical “low and lazy” folks in the Anglican Church in the U.K. who are white English people, but who are inspired entirely by ideas they picked up from Africa, from Latin America, from the Chilean pentecostal movement, and so on. So North and South is not a neat divide.
Here’s one other big issue: just suppose for the sake of argument the churches do split over the issue of homosexuality. What happens next? People [from the Global South] who are conservative on sexual issues and gender and family issues are not necessarily conservative on other stuff. A lot of conservative [Northern] Anglicans and evangelicals are making the discovery right now that they’re dealing with [Southern] people who are rock solid on morality issues, homosexuality issues, but who are way to the left of the Democratic Party on economic issues.
Here’s another interesting thought: if you look at the growing centers of global Christianity, most of them lie between the Tropics. They are close to the equator. Why does that matter? If global warming is going to happen as rapidly as [is being predicted,] the closer you are to the equator, the more dramatically and the more rapidly you’re going to be affected and the more of a vested interest you have in United Nations action and liberal socialist interventions. In some ways, global Christianity stands an interesting chance of being at the forefront of a clamor for globalized United Nations action. The religion which is most directly affected in the short term by global climate change is Christianity.
The global Christian churches that are very conservative on morality could be alarmingly left wing on some other issues, including economic issues. If you hang out in the office of an African bishop, it’s very hard to tell the difference between them as spiritual figures and them as the local minister of development because they deal with all these economic issues in a very statist, interventionist way.
One reason these churches are so ferocious on sexuality issues is they are new, or at least newish, churches. They’re still in that initial love affair with the Bible. What happens after a generation or two? Do they liberalize? How rapidly do they liberalize? And there are also a couple of significant Trojan horses in African Christianity, and the most important is South Africa. The leadership of the South African churches – I stress the distinction — for instance, of the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church, tends to be progressive and left wing. The South African Constitution is, I believe, the most liberal in the world on homosexuality issues; the South African Anglican hierarchy is very liberal. That’s important because South Africa is a vast center for publication and for the academic world; much of the theology done in Africa is done in South Africa and then re-exported to the rest of the continent. These are important factors.
That pushes towards the idea of a liberalizing [influence.] In the next 30, 40 years in Africa, Christian numbers are going to carry on growing in absolute terms; Africa is going to be the only continent with a very significantly growing population. It will be not so much liberalizing in a straight line as diversifying. In other words, some churches will become more liberal on, for instance, gay issues, morality issues; they in turn will spin off more conservative branches or rivals. Increasingly, African churches will look more like American churches in their diversity.
There are a couple of facts that will keep ordinary [African] believers on the conservative side. One is poverty. Barring some epochal change, Africa is going to continue to be at the bottom of the development tables for the foreseeable future. What that means in practice is most African Christian believers are going to be Christian because they are deeply invested in literal and charismatic interpretations of Christianity. They are deeply vested in ideas of the church as a healing authority. They have a great belief in a conservative interpretation of the Bible in that sense.
There’s one other big thing that will help keep ordinary believers, and maybe many of the churches, on the conservative side, and that is the presence of Islam. Muslim-Christian conflict is going to be a leading factor in Africa for the foreseeable future. If you get your atlas and you trace the latitude 10 degrees north, you have a very nice, easy line of conflict between Christianity and Islam; if you like, the main battlefront.
If you’re living in a society that is divided between Christianity and Islam, Christians are going to find it very tough to give ground on homosexuality. Why? Because one of the primary recruiting tools for Islam in Africa is Hollywood, American decadence, and “do you want your daughters to end up like those people you see on TV?” Christians have a vested interest not to give ground to Muslims on this issue; they must not be seen to be accepting Western decadence or Western promiscuity.
This also encourages African Christians to have a very rigid interpretation of the Bible, because after all they’re competing with the Koran. “Our Koran was dictated directly by God; what can you say about your Bible?” “Our Bible’s absolutely literally dependable, too.” That kind of competition is going to be a big factor.
To pull this together: In the next few years, the very rapid growth of numbers of Christians in the Global South is going to be a significant factor in the affairs of global churches. That will be a powerful fact, particularly for conservatives in the Global North who increasingly are treating people like Akinola and Martin Minns, in Virginia, as near-messianic heroes of conservative Christianity. There’s a very interesting book to be written on that.
African churches look like they’re very conservative, but if you’ve idealized these churches that way, you’ll find what you’ve actually got are very pro-state intervention, pro-United Nations groups. That poses some interesting dilemmas. That might be one reason why groups like the National Association of Evangelicals have recently become so relatively liberal on climate change and so interventionist, because they realize that is a key issue for a large part of the world.
It is quite likely that by 2050 or so there will be three billion Christians in the world; the proportion of those who will be non-Latino whites, people like myself, will be somewhere between 15 and 20 percent. Imagine a map of the Christian world as of 2050: Where are the largest Christian populations? It’s an interesting list. Heading the list is the United States, though, of course, a lot of the Christians will be of Latino and Asian and African descent. Where next? Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, Nigeria, Congo, Ethiopia and China. What are the names that are not on the list? Oh, Germany, France, Italy, Spain – maybe the people in this room are old enough to remember something called Western Christianity – (laughter) – well, it died in our lifetime.
CROMARTIE: Thank you, Professor. (Applause.)
MIKE ALLEN, THE POLITICO: You specified the Episcopal Church proper as becoming a miniscule denomination in the U.S. Could you elaborate on that?
Also, is there a clear trend in how the legal issues over property will be resolved?
JENKINS: Don’t forget the numbers we’re talking about are already tiny. Back in the 1950s, Episcopalians were probably about three-and-a-half million; now they’re down to maybe two-and-a-quarter million, and some figures suggest a good deal less than that. Please let me say, part of that is a difference in record keeping; that’s not just a neat fall. In terms of numbers, the Episcopal Church is headed for a point not much above the Amish, if you want an analogy: very rich Amish, but nonetheless Amish. (Laughter.)
Much of the growth in the last few years has been in these evangelical, charismatic-oriented churches, which have been drawing in people who were not traditionally Anglicans or Episcopalians. They were people who came from other churches, but were attracted by the rich spiritual life. These are the people who find it easier to defect.
Episcopal Church demographics are interesting. The only reason it has anything like the numbers it has is because it has attracted so many people who are on the way out of the Catholic Church; a large part of the Episcopal population today is made up of Catholic defectors. Whether they will settle there or move on to more generic mega-churches, we don’t know.
In theory, in the last 30 years, Episcopal churches should have gone the way of other main line denominations such as the United Church of Christ and lost about 50 percent of their members. In fact, they haven’t done that. The only reason they haven’t is they’ve had a couple of new sources of population: ex-Catholics and independent charismatics. Neither of those are likely to be around for long, so all the demographic pointers seem to be looking for sharp decline.
If I was predicting numbers, I would say in 20 years the Episcopal Church could be down to a million.
ALLEN: What if you add Episcopal and Anglican in the U.S.?
JENKINS: I honestly don’t know. I don’t see much chance of the different breakaway Anglican denominations achieving any kind of mass following. They could become big presences in small, local areas, maybe in Virginia, for example. But I don’t see them becoming any sort of a national presence. Part of the reason for that is they are so disparate. You’ve got the Anglican Mission in America; you’ve got the Anglican Consultative Council; you’ve got CANA; you’ve got all these different groups. I think if there was one “alt-Anglican” church – that’s a great name for it – that could do better, but they’re not, so they’ve got all the worst features of sectarianism.
In terms of the legal situation, there are some interesting cases in California that suggest parishes might be able to defect with their property, but there is no clear trend. It’s very state by state.
CROMARTIE: Why are they going to be able to defect with their property? What is the legal precedent?
JENKINS: I don’t know the legal precedent there but the California courts have – that’s waiting to be figured out. It’s also another reason why the Episcopal Church is probably not going to do well: if so many of the most active churches are going to be tied up in litigation for the next 15 years. (Chuckles.) If you want a recipe for church growth, that’s not it. (Laughter.)
RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK: Why is the African church experiencing such explosive growth now? Anglican missionary work is, what, in its second century? Why didn’t these churches have explosive growth at, say, the time of independence when the colonies were ending? Is there something about the social, political changes in Africa right now? Is it the competition with Islam?
JENKINS: The really explosive growth happened initially in the decade after 1915. In fact, just as the great Christian centers in the Middle East were being snuffed out in the decade after the First World War, that’s exactly the time you got the growth in Africa. It appears to be a direct response to the healing message; the biggest single boost is the 1918 influenza epidemic. That’s when you get these great Aladura churches, the healing churches, all over West Africa, for example. It’s also when you get a wave of prophets. Since then, they launched a revival, though you can’t call it a revival in the sense that revivals have peaks and valleys; there are no valleys here. It’s just been a fairly steady movement upward.
The end of [colonialism] did see a real boost, because at that point people could join the “mission churches” without any sense of betraying their African nationality. The churches became completely Africanized, indigenized, in the 1960s and ’70s. There were virtually no non-African bishops by the ’70s and ’80s, whether you’re talking about Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and so on.
But across the Global South, many of the factors that were meant to end religion and end Christianity have been the biggest single factors encouraging the growth of Christianity of a charismatic kind. Think of the boom in the cities. We today live in quantitatively the largest wave of urbanization in human history, and it is occurring in Africa. People move to cities where they have no access to facilities for welfare, education and health, except what they get from each other and from religious bodies. This is one of the largest factors driving militant Islam in many parts of the world; it’s the fact that militant Islam is at the forefront of providing these alternative social structures and social networks.
It’s exactly the same in the Christian world. It’s the churches, particularly pentecostal charismatic churches, that provide hope in the sea of urban hopelessness. If you look at Lagos or Nairobi, these places have gone from overgrown villages to megacities in the space of just 30, 40 years; 1950s Lagos had maybe a quarter of a million people, today it’s has 15 million in the metro area. You look at some of those communities and think, “How do you people live?” Without the churches, without the religious communities, there is nothing. That’s a somewhat complex answer, but those factors of urbanization, population growth and modernization have all had the effect of stirring fundamentalist religion.
Whenever I’m trying to explain the growth of Christianity in these cities, the analogy I use is Hamas in Gaza, and what it does in terms of providing social facilities people can’t get anywhere else. Those are often the functions the church is providing in Christian Third World cities.
E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: You used that nice phrase, “the North is in the South, and the South is in the North.” Maybe I’ve been a political reporter for too long, but I’m curious about flows of money and the extent to which the conservative elements of the church of the North are using these African churches for their own purposes.
Related to that is your other point about how, in fact, many of these African churches could end up being left wing on economic issues. Could you end up later on with a schism within a schism?
JENKINS: Schisms are like revolutions: they’re easier to start than to stop, and once schisms start rolling, they do tend to split further. There certainly is evidence of rich conservative North Americans assisting some of these churches. You see some of it in the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which is the one where Africans started challenging the liberal policies on homosexuality. My comment on that is, pay attention to that by all means, but do not assume it is a major part of the equation. Because once you bring those African clergy into these settings, and once you start having debates on homosexuality, which is so much the core issue here, they’re going to be voting against whatever happens.
I tend not to pay too much attention to that
You did not answer this question.
DIONNE: Why is it homosexuality that’s set off this explosion?
JENKINS: On many things it is possible for churches to get around what look like explicit scriptural prohibitions; on this one, it’s very tough to do so. Historically, African societies have had a great deal of homosexuality, and in some cultures it’s very institutionalized. Some warrior societies almost look like ancient Sparta in the extent to which they institutionalize homosexuality. The next layer on that is British law. Many of the very anti-gay policies that you see being passed in countries like Uganda, Namibia, and so on grow directly out of British law of the 1940s and 1950s, as opposed to ancient African tradition.
There are a couple of facts people don’t pay much attention to. In some countries, homosexuality acquired very dangerous, scary implications, and where you see that particularly is Uganda. Uganda was converted [to Christianity] in the 1870s, 1880s, at a time when the kings and the elite were deeply influenced by Arab traders, who introduced a pederastic subculture. The Ugandan martyrs of the 1880s, who are at the core of the Ugandan church and its mythology, were martyred not for being practicing Christians, but for being Christians and therefore refusing to have sex with the king. Homosexuality is associated with Islam, tyranny and oppression.
In modern times it becomes a debate over the authority of the Bible. “The Bible justifies slavery.” “But does it command slavery?” “No.” “Then that’s okay.” But the Bible says – and we keep coming back to Saint Paul here – homosexuality is one of these dreadful things, up there with adultery and sorcery and theft. When American or British clergy reply to that with, “This [view of homosexuality] just represents the ideas of a bygone society,” the African response is, “Then what is left? What can’t you rationalize away as bygone ideas of an ancient society? If the American church introduces human sacrifice, are you going to justify it that way, too?”
There are a lot of different levels here, but the most important one is not specifically a conventional homophobic response. It’s that issue of authority. What is the Bible? What is it for? When are you justified in getting around it?
ROME HARTMAN, CBS NEWS: A little bit about the competition between Christianity and Islam, specifically in Nigeria, because in the United States, many of Akinola’s supporters have tended to justify or excuse his most intolerant positions or statements by saying, “You have to see this through the filter of the competition with Islam. He embraces this law for imprisoning homosexuals because it’s an alternative to stoning, which is what the Muslims would do.” To what degree has that competition between Islam and Christianity influenced him specifically and Nigeria more generally?
JENKINS: The competition is fundamental. Everything follows from that. Let me give you a couple of figures here. Back in 1900, the lands that would become Nigeria and were 33 percent Muslim, one percent Christian: Muslims outnumbered Christians by 33 to one in 1900. By 1970, they got parity at 45 percent each. Think about that. Muslims grew slightly; Christians grew by a factor of 45. There are surveys floating around right now – they don’t release them in Nigeria for fear of starting the next civil war – that show a Christian majority in Nigeria.
So much of the violence, the hostility, in Nigeria has to be understood there, and it has to be understood as a defensive reaction by Muslims, who always regarded the non-Muslim population in Nigeria as lots of potential Muslims. One moment they’re just subject peoples, nothing to worry about. Suddenly, the danger is my children, my grandchildren, might be Christian. The most feared weapon of mass destruction in Nigeria is the Jesus video. “Excuse me, you’re a Muslim, would you like to see this video we have about your great prophet Jesus?” “Oh, I’d be delighted to see this.” You start getting converts, and you start getting apostasy.
With Akinola particularly, you also have to understand where he comes from. So many of his associations are with [the city of] Jos; it’s in that very contended belt in the middle of the country. If you’re talking to Akinola, don’t ever talk about the “Muslim regions” of the country. He will tell you there are no Muslim regions of the country because there are Christians in all parts of the country, including Kano, and Hausa and Fulani areas.
There’s also a tribal issue. The Ibos are Christian; Hausa and Fulani are largely Muslim. The Yoruba are split down the middle; he comes from the Yoruba people. So there’s that tribal agenda, too. The basic point is if you want to understand the way Akinola thinks, that Christian-Muslim thing is fundamental.
By the way, the other reason for that law he was supporting – where did they get all this draconian, anti-gay stuff? Answer is they copied it out of British law from the 1950s. (Laughter.) “First you Westerners bring us these laws and then tell us a few years later you’ve moved on – (laughter) – Tell you what, we’ll miss this fad and catch up with you in a few years when you’ve decided what you want to do.”
But I keep coming back to that Islam-Christian thing. So many things that ignite rioting and civil war in Nigeria grow out of cultural issues, like the Miss World conflict a few years ago. Jos is in a province called Plateau in Nigeria. Between 2000 and 2005, that province lost 50,000 people who were killed or expelled through inter-religious rioting. So if you want to understand where Akinola’s coming from, that’s an important side of the story. It’s not just Nigeria. Look at Uganda, for example, that’s a very interesting story.
FRANK FOER, THE NEW REPUBLIC: To your point about schisms being a poor growth strategy, there’s a famous parable from the Lower East Side of a communist named Karl Minov who split with the Communist Party to become a Trotskyist and then split with the Trotskyists to become a Shachtmanite and then split with the Shachtmanites to form his own rump Shachtmanite faction and ultimately split with himself because he was a schizophrenic. (Laughter.)
My first question is a simple mechanical one, which is how does a church in Pittsburgh find the archbishop of Uganda and embrace him as a spiritual leader?
Second question is, you talk about the competition between Anglicans and Islam and the way in which the decadent West becomes something you want to distance yourself from and triangulate against. How does American foreign policy play into this competition? Is George W. Bush somebody these Anglicans would rally around, or would they try to distance themselves from him? Is anti-imperialism a motif that runs throughout?
JENKINS: In terms of the first question, the mechanical one, in the late ’90s you had a group called the Anglican Mission in America. A lot of very conservative clergy detached their loyalties from their local bishop and became bishops within the diocese of Rwanda, for example. You had these great interviews with, say, a guy in a broad South Carolina accent saying, “I’m the canon of Rwanda.”
What’s happening more recently is very interesting. A lot of church laws are being pushed or broken. It’s okay to have odd people around who are members of your diocese who just happen to live elsewhere in the world. But the idea of setting up a diocesan structure within a different branch of the Anglican world probably does run against some church laws. What Akinola’s done recently is push the limits of church law; he shouldn’t be doing it.
FOER: I guess I was asking is, if you’re in Pittsburgh and you’re a churchgoing person, how do you suddenly connect with somebody in Uganda?
CROMARTIE: You’ve heard of the Internet, haven’t you?
FOER: Is it just through the Internet?
JENKINS: It’s partly that, but this is a story of the last 10 years, as bishops and clergy have made these connections at international gatherings like Lambeth. Once these networks, these friendships, are formed – the great example is Bishop Robert Duncan in Pittsburgh who started hanging out with people like Henry Orombi in Uganda. You got this – my God, I’m about to talk about the Pittsburgh-Kampala axis. (Laughter.) Then, you know, networks spread.
UNIDENTIFIED: But doesn’t the Anglican Communion and its meetings and structure contribute to this?
JENKINS: That’s what I’m saying. [It starts at events] like Lambeth, but then it becomes social. For instance, Mrs. Duncan sits down and lectures Henry Orombi on what he should be doing, and the next thing you know, she gets an invite to Uganda to organize a training program for bishops’ wives or bishopesses, as they are commonly known in Uganda, an absolutely critical part of the Anglican Church. You get these social networks.
American bishops are on African soil, and vice versa. These links have developed over the last 10 or 15 years and particularly with certain [countries] like Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria and Singapore. It’s honestly not a big thing.
CROMARTIE: You had a second question.
FOER: It was about American foreign policy and Bush.
JENKINS: A more central issue is not George W. Bush, but the state of Israel. That’s a very interesting and divisive one because for many African Christians, the theology they read, if they read – that’s not meant to be a rude or dismissive remark; most ordinary African Christians are semi-literate – is deeply influenced by liberation theology; it’s pro-Palestinian; it’s very dubious about Israel. On the other hand, Israel has one great feature, which is, boy, they’re good at fighting Muslims, and they have a long track record in Africa of supporting black liberation movements against Arab and Muslim regimes, chiefly in the Sudan in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s. Sudan, by the way, is another great Anglican church. So they’re very divided on that.
Normally these issues do not play a major role in everyday life. People are so focused on their own immediate issues of survival. September 11th launched one of the worst-ever waves of religious violence in Nigeria, and Muslims used that as an opportunity to attack Christians saying, “We’ve won this great victory elsewhere, now it’s your turn.” That’s when you get into national foreign policy playing a major role.
CLARE DUFFY, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS: Everything you’ve said so far seems to indicate there’s potential for tremendous, long-term disaffection. This is something of a shotgun marriage, isn’t it? In religious terms, this seems to have a lot of potential pitfalls.
JENKINS: I come back to this idea of labels, North and South. For Northern world Christians, there are a couple of different traditions within Christianity: over here you have a left-wing idea, liberation theology, which is casting off on social structures, over here you’ve got the idea of deliverance, which means spiritual warfare, healing, and casting out demons. In Global South churches, deliverance and liberation are one; you cannot separate the two. So you get these very charismatic churches that believe if they’re not also fighting tyranny and oppression, then they’re not doing their job.
Great example of that would be someone like the Catholic Archbishop in Zimbabwe, Pius Ncube. If you sit him down, you’d find somebody who believes intensely in liberation theology and casting off oppression – i.e. Mugabe (laughter) – but also in deliverance and spiritual warfare. That is an idea some American evangelicals and charismatics are open to. You see that, for instance, with the National Association of Evangelicals in terms of their attitudes to climate change, or in terms of debt relief in the 1990s, where you got very politically active people who were also conservative on theological issues.
That’s why I have problems with the idea of a straight North-South schism. They might be great and conservative on some things, but on others, they’re really not. The Institute on Religion and Democracy, one of the big conservative religious think tanks in this country, notes just how much Global South churches accept and espouse the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which are interventionist, liberal, Democratic Party kinds of things, and that raises some flags for them.
Of course, once you’ve split a church over one thing, you can figure out other things afterwards, but it’s really hard to put churches back together. When American churches split in the 1840s over slavery, it took them in some cases 50 years, 60 years, 80 years to get back together again. And, of course, the Southern Baptists are still Southern Baptists 160 years later. So schisms are much easier to start than to stop.
JOHN FUND, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: There’s a lot of more immigration to the United States from Africa than in the past and a lot of cross pollination, people going back and forth. To what extent has this increased contact fueled the connections between the African churches and the American churches?
Secondly, you mention the figure of 360 million Christians in Africa. Do we have any idea how many of those are Catholics? To what extent is the rapprochement between very devout Protestant churches and the Catholics in America being mirrored or not mirrored in Africa?
JENKINS: The movement of African migrants to America and Europe is important for a couple of reasons. One is it makes it much easier for someone like Akinola to say, “I’m not interfering in your churches, I’m just setting up a missionary diocese for our folks on your soil.” It provides more of a justification.
There’s a whole different point we could get into here about African and other migrants in many denominations. The Seventh Day Adventist Church, for example, a small evangelical, pretty conservative church, has tried over the last few years to liberalize over issues of women’s ordination. Whenever they’ve tried to do it, their immigrant congregations have said, “No, we will not do this.” The Seventh Day Adventist Church is now 15 million members, of whom one million live in the United States; 50 years ago everyone lived in the United States. Today it’s an immigrant church. That’s very important.
We do have figures for the number of Catholics in Africa. They produce some of these great statistics; if you ever want to see figures that recall Stalinist-era tractor production estimates, then look at the figures for Christianity in Africa. The best estimate for the increase in the number of Catholics in Africa during the 20th century was 6,700 percent; I tell my students, “If you’re from a humanities background, that’s more than double.” (Laughter.) African Catholics are by far the fastest growing segment of the Church.
As to rapprochement with Protestant churches, it does happen, but for completely different reasons than in the United States. If you are in Nigeria, for example, there are very few issues dividing Protestants and Catholics. You constantly have to be on alert for what an Islamic government might do; there is that common enemy all the time. Why would you waste your time fighting Catholics or other Christians? If you look at some of the seminaries in Nigeria, they will train not just clergy of one particular evangelical church, they will train other clergy as well. No big deal; there are no great divisions among Christians in that way.
If you go to South America, where you don’t have Islam as a danger, that’s where you have relations between Protestants and Catholics looking like they did between France and Germany in 1580. That’s where you have a lot of tension and violence, good old customs whereby the Catholics parade the figure of the Virgin Mary, and the Protestants laugh at the figure, and the Catholics burn down the Protestant church. (Laughter.)
In Africa, however, that’s not an issue. Again, so many of the divisions do not work there. It can be quite a shock for Americans if they go to some of these Anglican churches. It can be a very liturgical church, but all the behavior is charismatic. Go on the Web and look at some of the statements from Catholic churches in Africa that deal with witchcraft. The Zambian Catholic Church has a wonderfully detailed policy manual online on how to deal with witchcraft through spiritual warfare.
KENNETH WOODWARD, NEWSWEEK: I’m wondering if there isn’t a schism in this room between those who say schism [shiz-um] and those who say schism [skiz-um]. (Laughter.)
I differ with you in one respect. You’ve done a lot more examination of it than I have, but my experience in Africa was that the exorcisms, especially, were carried out by young seminarians. I see African religion when it’s charismatic, as it mostly is, and pentecostal as a Christianization of tribal religion. The functions that religion had for the tribe in many ways have been taken over by Christians, except that Jesus does the exorcisms rather than the old local deities. It seems to me that has a lot of explanatory value as to why Christianity is growing there, and it raises some other questions as to how that can be transferred to other places.
The second thing I noticed in Africa was who is supplying the literature. I’d never heard of these little places out of Colorado Springs or places like this, who were supplying them with whatever liturgical things they were using. It seems to me there’s a lot of money coming from these people [Northern Christian organizations,] so that churches can look to them rather than looking to the state. Therefore those pastors become powerful because they have a source of money outside the usual channels.
I’ve gotten to know the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja. Listening to you talk, his take seems to be so different. I’m talking about witchcraft and Africanization. He seems to be more relaxed than a lot of other people are both towards Islam and the other churches.
JENKINS: Just to begin with the archbishop of Abuja: I take your point there. He’s a radically different guy from Akinola, but he has one lovely quote I always use, which goes like this: “Westerners think when these Africans get out of their grass huts and get some education, they’ll be just like us. The more Africa develops, the more confident Africans will be about asserting African values.” That’s a very Akinola kind of comment.
Here’s a figure just confirming what you say about the paganism thing. What happened in Africa during the 20th century, arguably the most important thing that happened in Africa during the 20th century, was that approximately 40 percent of the continent’s population – that’s the whole continent, not just black Africa – converted directly from animist, primal religions to Christianity, and 10 percent converted from animist, primal religions to Islam. People are one or two generations away from paganism and, in some ways, that is one of the great strengths of charismatic Christianity; they know of the presence of other non-Christian hostile religions around them.
If you go to a church in America and somebody preaches about idols or idol worship, then it’s probably about the idols of fame and power and money. If you do it in Nigeria, they’re talking about idols, real idols – (laughter.) If paganism and demons are all around, then you need defenses against those.
The argument that they’re Christianizing tribal religions is, of course, true, but their response would be, “You’re from an English-speaking country, what do you call the time when Christ rose from the dead?” “We call it Easter.” “Why is that?” “It’s actually the name of a pagan spring goddess.” “Do you still worship her?” “No, it’s become completely Christianized.” Duh. (Chuckles.) In other words, of course they’re Christianizing tribal religions, as is a huge amount of Islamic practice in Africa, in terms of healing and shrines. You look at Sufi sects in much of West Africa, and, boy, they look like African paganism carried on.
You point to these different forms of American influence. The great example I always use one of the great presences in South Africa, the ZCC, which is a great healing church, as many as Zulu churches are, probably five million strong. Why is it called the Zion Christian Church? Well, it’s named after Zion City, Illinois.
CROMARTIE: It sounds Mormon to me.
JENKINS: (Laughter.) It’s Zion City because that was the great capital of the Dowie healing movement in late 19th century America, and that’s what they knew about America. They’d never heard of New York, but they’d heard of Zion City, Illinois.
I suspect a lot of the things we seem to disagree on, Ken, are just differences of approach. I’m not arguing for a second that these pagan agendas are not lingering behind, but I don’t see that discrediting or undermining the authenticity of the religious practice –
WOODWARD: I was just wondering how far it [African Christianity] could be transferred to other places, like the United States. I know some of it does get done, but it brings along the sense of the demonic and so forth. The Catholics have been doing that for a long time, baptizing what’s already in place. But I just don’t see how long it lasts or how far it spreads if it’s so tied to local traditions.
JENKINS: It travels relatively easily because though it originates in that pagan tradition, it also finds reinforcement in the Bible. Jim Wallis makes the argument that if you go through the Bible and take out all the references to the poor, you’re not left with much. He’s absolutely right. If you look through the Bible and take out all the references to angels, healings, exorcisms, and demons you’re left with a pretty thin pamphlet. So maybe ideas originate in those traditions, but they also become rooted in the Bible.
The other place you see that is in some of the very successful Brazilian pentecostal churches, many of the pastors of which originated in Umbanda and some of these Afro-Brazilian movements. But after a few years, they root themselves more in the Biblical texts. It’s [Argentinian evangelist Carlos] Annacondia who always starts his services, with a couple hundred thousand people in a sports stadium, by yelling, “Oyeme bien, Satanus,” “Hear me, Satan.” He casts out Satan before every meeting, a practice I suggest for you at these gatherings – (laughter).
CROMARTIE: We did that earlier this morning. (Laughter.)
JENKINS: Fair enough. The importance of regular exorcising.
ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, THE ECONOMIST: You talked about Christians in the Global South being conservative on social issues and progressive or liberal on economic issues. But that description applies perfectly to a group of people in North America who are called African-Americans. Could you say something about the relationship between black churches and Africa or the Global South in general?
JENKINS: African-American churches are close to being the global norm in terms of their attitude toward the authority of the Bible. Interestingly, a lot of the commonly used texts in African-American traditions are the ones that show up a lot in African churches today.
There is very sharp hostility between African-American churches and African churches in America, which is something I find interesting. On a number of occasions, for instance, I’ve been ministerial associations that are meant to bring together African-American churches and some of the immigrant churches. Generally speaking, the two bunches of clergy don’t show up on the same day, because they don’t talk much. This is a phenomenon, which, again, is a great book for somebody: there is an alarming amount of tension and distrust between African-Americans and more recent African immigrants in America. The two kinds of church really do not talk.
You see this if you look at the networks of African churches in American cities. Historically, they tend to stem from Houston, which is the Nigerian capital of America, and that is the foothold for so many of these churches that spread out. They have next to nothing to do with the established African-American churches, which see them as outsiders, as rivals, as being too committed to integrationism, and I suppose to free enterprise-type ideas. You get the same sort of thing in Great Britain between West Indian churches and African churches. Surprisingly, for groups who speak the same language and use the same texts, the amount of cooperation is close to nil.
WOOLRIDGE: Why is that?
JENKINS: Partly it’s because African-Americans see themselves as carving out a particular niche. Suddenly, they see these rivals, and the concern is those rivals will be seen as speaking for the community as opposed to the old established leaders who have been building up that position over a long, long time. Nigerians in particular, who make up the most important immigrant churches, are seen as too integrationist.
But your point is well taken. If you look at African churches and what they think and what they read and what they do in the political [sphere] – it’s so similar to African-America.
JOHN WILSON, BOOKS & CULTURE: African Christians who come to the United States are often extremely critical and dismissive of African-Americans. Their perception of them is often very negative. So it goes in both directions.
JENKINS: Oh, yes, absolutely.
PAUL FARHI, THE WASHINGTON POST: [Could you talk] about the impact of AIDS in Africa on the North-South or East-West, First World-Third World schism?
JENKINS: The thing that amazes me most as I look at African churches in the last few years is how relatively little AIDS has played a role. For many years, a number of churches almost ignored this, and some of them actually preached texts that were exceedingly harmful. A couple of the independent churches came close to teaching that if you were a true believer, you would be safe from AIDS, which was palpably not true. It’s only in more recent years, especially in countries like Uganda, that the churches have become major forces for AIDS prevention through the ABC campaign – abstinence but condoms, if abstinence just isn’t possible.
As you know, AIDS has been moving north through Africa fairly steadily, and it’s round about 2012 or so that it should be hitting Nigeria and West Africa full flood.
I honestly don’t see a great deal of impact on the First World-Third World thing. There is just one incidental quote I sometimes use. I started with that very alarming quote from Kolini where he compared American theological liberalism to the Rwandan genocide. There is one quote you will sometimes hear from Africans, which is Africa has AIDS, and America has theological AIDS. But I’m surprised how little of an impact there has been.
One of the most interesting movements in Africa – and you get this in every English-speaking African country – is now there are networks of Christian clergy who are HIV-positive. They do important work in spreading the message that anyone can get AIDS.
FARHI: But does it intensify the anti-homosexual –
JENKINS: No, because there is virtually no cultural association in Africa of AIDS with homosexuality. AIDS is overwhelmingly a heterosexual disease, spread by casual, heterosexual contact. It can be mapped, if you look at the truck stops and Army bases, where there are prostitutes. In most countries, if you suggested there was a gay element, people would be very surprised. It has an absolutely different social connotation there.
CLAIRE BRINBERG, CNN: Would you say there are other differences in terms of social sexual issues – abortion, contraception – between the church in Africa and the Episcopal churches in the United States that would create or enhance that split?
JENKINS: Abortion, no, because abortion is very widely prohibited, and it is not so much on the agenda. One of the interesting things is to see abortion now appearing in Latin American politics as an issue just in the last couple of years. Previously, that had not been so important.
One of the interesting things, and maybe this is a promising sign for what will happen to homosexuality debates in the long run, is the way in which African churches have dealt with women’s ordination. You can find passages in the letters of Paul that appear to be a script against women being ordained or speaking in church, [and which seem to be as unequivocal] as anything Paul says about homosexuality. Yet they get round it. In South Africa, for instance, Desmond Tutu happily ordained his daughter to the priesthood. You do get African women clergy.
There is one nice example of how you get around this, and here is the recipe for the future maybe. The head of one of the leading independent churches in Africa is a woman, which is true of quite a few of them, and she was asked by an interviewer, “St. Paul says this; do you believe this?” “Oh yes, absolutely.” “But how do you reconcile this with the fact that you are heading this church?” She said, “I believe absolutely in the revealed word of scripture. I’m also open to the continuing revelation from God.” These are not fundamentalist churches in what you might call a mechanical way – that charismatic element, that prophetic element, which is so strong across African Christianity, does provide [space] where you can do these things.
I would not be at all surprised if in the next few years a number of African churches – not just branches of the Anglican Church – found some space for gay rights through that means. But women’s ordination is one of the more contentious [issues.] Abortion, contraception – these really aren’t discussed in anything like the same way as they are here.
Just as a footnote to that: one issue that has appeared in the last few years in Africa’s culture wars, so to speak, has been evolution. Creationism has come to be an issue, which is pretty damned inconvenient if you’re in Kenya, which has the best collection of fossils in the world. If you want to put these on display in the museum, and you get a bunch of the local independent churches turning up saying, “I am not descended from a monkey” – But I think that’s fairly marginal right now. Homosexuality really does stand out from all the other issues.
SALLY QUINN, THE WASHINGTON POST: You talk about the African church, and how it is understandable that they would be so closely connected to the Bible, because it is only a generation or so away from the way so many of them live. But then I find it difficult to understand what the churches in America, particularly this group out in Virginia, which is white, upper-middle class – very, very far away from the origins of the Bible – what they have in common with them. I don’t understand how those two can connect, and why they would put themselves together, particularly in Virginia where we all know there is still some vestige of racism.
My other question is, you mentioned climate change and environmentalism as an issue that might arise, particularly along the equator. But this whole business of the Episcopalians pulling away from the mother church here – does it matter? Is that going to have any impact on us as a society, America as a society, or is it something we should just sit back and observe and not worry about?
JENKINS: I had an interesting experience a few years ago. I spoke at the convention of AMIA, this Anglican Mission in America. I am not affiliated with AMIA. But what was interesting was the setting, on Pawleys Island in South Carolina. If you know anything about that area, you know that’s the Rice Coast. In plantation days, slavery days, this was the worst, far worse than cotton. It was the place no black person wanted to be sent. It was hell. I remember thinking about the question you just raised, because this is not a safe place for a black African person to be now. If you were a black African, you were obviously a clergyman because you would be surrounded by these crowds of upper-class white people saying, “Sir, teach us orthodoxy.” The inversion of racial assumptions and stereotypes there was just so fascinating. The light comes from Africa for so many of these conservative, Southern churches.
But I’m suggesting you’re dealing with different kinds of conservatism with different roots. In African churches – and Asian churches, by the way; I’ve talked a lot about Africa; please remember, so many of these things are also true about Anglican strongholds in Asia – there is one particular set of explanations for biblical conservatism. Obviously, it’s a different set of roots than among American conservatives. I’m not suggesting it’s a parallel thing there.
I raise one question, and this is from a great many conversations I’ve had. I’m wondering whether some of these church links will be conduit for concern about Third World issues, African and Asian issues, into North American politics. Where we saw that very strikingly was in the late 1990s on religious freedom issues when you got the global religious legislation under the Clinton administration. One of the more interesting things in the Bush first term was you got a humongous grant of – what was it – $15 billion or something for AIDS prevention worldwide. Partly I think it was a genuine humanitarian concern, but it was also speaking to a White conservative evangelical constituency in this country.
I wonder if the combination of religious freedom issues, concern about confrontation between Christianity and Islam, and environmental issues [could result in] evangelicals and charismatics in this country providing a conduit for concern about some of these issues within mainstream American politics. An interesting test case would be if a major Christian country like Nigeria did degenerate into a full-scale religious war. That could become a major election issue in the United States, because so many white Christians would be so anxious to save the Christians in a way that they wouldn’t have been before.
Back in the 1960s, for example, when you got the Biafra War in Nigeria; that was a huge issue in Britain. It registered not a whit in America. It didn’t exist. If something like that happened right now, I think it would be a very different agenda.
QUINN: I still am not clear about why this group of upper-class white Southerners would reach out to the Africans. It’s not clear to me what it is about, since they are so far from each other in terms of their relationship to the Bible and their intimacy with the daily lives of the Bible.
JENKINS: American conservatives are not conservative for the same reasons [as African conservatives]. Yes, there isn’t the same attitude there. But just think of the rhetorical, political advantages of being aware that this is the future of Christianity. “We are allying ourselves not with the decadent, Northern world, but with the future of the church.” Think of the advantages that gives you, if you’re trying to put on a spokesperson for a conservative cause, and the person you put on is an African or an Asian who is going to present the issue in terms of fighting cultural imperialism. Oh boy, that’s good. Politically, that’s enormously powerful.
But there also is a genuine sense among white conservatives in the North that they are looking at the future of Christianity – I don’t think they actually quote Fidel Castro – but you know his famous line about “history will absolve me.” In other words, “It looks as if we’re a tiny minority in America. But we represent the great majority in the world at large. We represent the future of Christianity.” There are enormous advantages in aligning with that, even if the reasons why we’re conservative are very different. “We have a tactical fighting alliance on this issue. We may disagree on lots of other stuff, but let’s leave that aside right now.”
QUINN: In other words, it’s more political than it is religious.
JENKINS: I don’t know how to divide the two. I don’t see how you can draw that division. If you are fighting over something like the gay ordination in the Episcopal Church, is that a religious issue or a political issue? It’s very hard to separate the two.
QUINN: Os Guinness had a piece in The Washington Post where he said it was simply that the liberal Episcopalian church had gotten too far away from the basic tenets of religion. It didn’t seem like a political issue the way he described it.
JENKINS: I’d have problems dividing things like that, because homosexuality especially has become such a difficult issue for conservatives to defend their positions on, in the U.S. and particularly in Europe, where it’s much, much tougher. Suddenly, this provides a way of doing it in an acceptable way. “We’re not speaking for ourselves; we’re speaking for the many millions of black and brown people around the world.”
WOOLDRIDGE: [I don’t think it’s] just politics. Look at somebody like Rick Warren establishing very close relations with Rwanda, sending a lot of his parishioners out there. A lot of these white conservative churches actually have close relations with African churches. They send people; they’re involved; they also receive people. It’s not just a purely political connection. It’s a connection of good work and – (inaudible).
JENKINS: Absolutely. But if you want to see a material symbol of this, go to Colorado Springs, where you have an American star mega-church, which is imitated in Lagos, Nigeria. You have this astonishing thing in Lagos called Faith Chapel by Bishop David Oyedepo. It’s amazing. It’s supposed to accommodate 50,000 people. That American star mega-church is now being imitated back in Colorado Springs by Ted Haggard’s [former] church. You are seeing this drawing together of American and African traditions.
I certainly don’t want to be seen to be saying it is solely political. Of course there is a political element in it. I’d rather use the word rhetorical than political. It’s a way of presenting your argument and winning supporters. Think of it from a religious perspective: you have this unpopular position in America, and maybe you begin to wonder, “We represent this extreme fringe. Is there something wrong with what we’re doing? Oh no, look at the wider world. Look at this phenomenal growth in Africa. On these key issues, it’s our kind of Christianity.” Think how enormously powerful a message that is, especially when you present it to the wider world.
MICHAEL PAULSON, THE BOSTON GLOBE: You talked about the implications of what is going on in the Anglican community for Methodism and Lutheranism. Do you think the existence of a papacy or a prophet in Salt Lake City means that centralized, hierarchical denominations like Catholicism or Mormonism are somehow immune from – they are experiencing the same demographic trends. Are they inevitably going to face the same kind of theological polarization or shifts?
JENKINS: Let me start with Catholics, who I have not talked about, but who face a lot of these issues down the road. Where they face them most strikingly is in terms of the Catholic priesthood in America, which is very rapidly becoming not just an immigrant priesthood but a Global South priesthood. Look at the Asian and specifically Vietnamese population of America’s seminaries – very rapidly growing. If you look at West Coast seminaries, some of them are 50, 60 percent Asian American.
Now, the fact of hailing from the Global South does not necessarily mean [you are] conservative on important issues. But for some communities, there is an assumption of greater respect for authority, tending toward a more conservative priesthood down the road. There are some interesting culture clashes that happen when you get Nigerian priests dropped into American parishes. The Nigerians are a much more conservative bunch.
I sometimes argue we already had our first Third World pope in John Paul II for this reason. I don’t believe Poland is part of the Third World; but I do believe that in 1978, the Latin American cardinals basically said, “We will not put up with another Italian Pope. Polish, fine, it will do for a start.” I have argued that if you want to understand the conservatism of John Paul II or Ratzinger [Pope Benedict XVI] and why [they are] so out of keeping with the Catholic world in the U.S., which stretches from San Diego to Boston, is often because they’re speaking to a different Catholic constituency.
You mentioned Mormonism, but many smaller denominations have got huge problems when they try and keep centralized authority. You notice this in terms of groups like the Church of the Nazarene, which is based in Kansas City. They often pull their representatives from all over the world to Kansas City to figure out why they’re not working better in Africa. Well, why don’t you move from Kansas City? Churches that try to enforce centralized standards around the world are going to be in deep trouble.
In the Latter-day Saints Church, they have a huge number of problems in Africa where people convert because they’re attracted by the message of healing and of prophecy. Then they find out they have to follow building styles, worship styles, that are laid down in Salt Lake City, and they defect within two years.
PAULSON: You referred to the future of the Episcopal Church as a miniscule denomination, and I wonder if you see liberalism as inevitably a way station on the path to secularism, or if there is a long-term future for liberal Christianity in America that is different from what has happened in Europe?
JENKINS: Oh, yes, absolutely. I’m certainly not suggesting that liberal Christianity is doomed or in deep trouble. What always happens with scripture-based religions – all scripture-based religions – is there is a cycle whereby you get liberalization, secularization, and then people go back to basics, and you get this conservative reaction. Then the cycle begins again. It’s that whole sect-church pattern. Churches throw off sects, which become churches, and the cycle goes on forever. No, I think liberal Christianity will continue to be a – (inaudible) – tradition.
I was specifically talking about the Episcopal Church there, which for a great many reasons, is potentially in serious trouble.
DAN GILGOFF, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Given that, how does the Episcopal Church in America factor itself into this equation, where you have tremendous growth going on in the Global South, and these breakaway churches in America joining them? That seems to be where the future is going. What is their strategy to deal with that?
Secondly, are they doing anything to build bridges to those African churches along the lines of liberal economic stances to counter what the conservative churches here have done on social issues? Do they see any opening there? Is that a way for them to catch up or replicate what the conservative breakaway churches have been doing?
JENKINS: The key word in your question is “they.” Who exactly do you mean? For instance, I am an Episcopalian. Okay, I’ve said it; I’m out. (Laughter.) If you are a member of an Episcopal Church, your knowledge of that church, your experience of that church, does not go much beyond your parish. You are concerned about what happens in your parish; it’s a kind of congregationalism. The vast majority of people in my parish have not got the slightest idea what the Episcopal Church does at Episcopal Central.
In some ways, that’s the great strength of the Episcopal Church, and why it’s lasted so long: we don’t know what the central administration does. We don’t know about their latest declarations of alliance with al Qaeda or whatever they’ve done recently. Sorry. (Laughter.) The statements that come from the central church tend to be institutional, hierarchical things, which don’t impinge on most Episcopalians. It’s almost like two separate realities.
That, by the way, is one of the great weaknesses of the new conservative, Anglican movements, and why I suspect they will not spread rapidly. Even if a bunch of people in a parish like mine are sympathetic to them, they’re not going to defect from the parish over something like that. That’s just politics. On these economic and political issues, the Episcopal Church is an extremely liberal body like the other mainline churches.
Much of the growth they will get will come from the fact of that liberalism, which alienates conservatives. If you say more and more overtly, “We are a gay-friendly church,” or “We are a socially progressive church,” then you will draw in some people that way.
GILGOFF: Who is your Episcopal bishop?
JENKINS: Nathan Baxter who is a –
GILGOFF: You don’t have an African bishop?
JENKINS: We have an African-American bishop, incidentally, which is interesting, because his family is Church of God in Christ, which is an African-American pentecostal denomination.
CROMARTIE: Nathan Baxter used to be at the Washington Cathedral.
JENKINS: That’s right. He used to be dean.
GILGOFF: Didn’t the Episcopal Church for a while have substantial growth among African-Americans? Has that continued?
JENKINS: I don’t think it was that substantial in numbers. There is an old tradition, but I don’t think it’s numerically very large.
The biggest concern facing virtually any church in this country right now is how to deal with demographic change. What I tell people from any church is the most important fact you need to know is by 2050, one-third of Americans will have Latino or Asian roots. By the time you factor in people of African roots – recent or established – you’re dealing with half the population. If you’re not reaching out to those, if you’re not converting those, then you’re on a track to ruin. And the Episcopal Church has not done a great job there.
ALAN COOPERMAN, WASHINGTON POST: Is there any discernible rivalry developing among the patrons in Africa of the conservative Anglican church in the United States? And maybe not only in Africa, but for example, Bishop Venables of the Southern Cone versus Orombi – and how has that manifested itself?
Question two is on the rivalry between Roman Catholics and charismatic Anglicans in Africa – you talked about the rivalry of each with Islam, but not any rivalry with each other. I’m just wondering if the mutual enemy of Islam keeps it from being a Latin American situation.
Thirdly, how important do you think charismatic practice is to conservative Anglicans in the United States? Is it one of the factors that has brought them into the broader evangelical fold? Is it growing among conservative Anglicans? Is it to some degree gaining steam from this alliance with charismatics overseas?
I’ll try the fourth question, though I know you won’t get to it. You always have these fabulous projections – but they always assume the trends are going to continue. On your interesting projection of 3 billion Christians by the year 2050, of which only 15 percent will be in –
JENKINS: Non-Latino Whites.
COOPERMAN: Will be non-Latino Whites. As you think about those projections, you must ask yourself also, “What could throw this way off?” What could completely derail those projections?
CROMARTIE: Start with number four.
JENKINS: Let me tell you something that is shocking: on all these projections, consistently, I take the most conservative estimate. On most of these, you have a lot of figures out there – like for the proportion of Christians in x country or whatever – and I always err on taking the most conservative estimate. The great example of that, for example, is when you look at China. China is one of the great statistical horror stories in religion. How many Christians are there in China? The figure I use is 50 million. The Chinese government says there are 22 million, so you know there is more than 22 million. A lot of people say the actual number is 110 or 120 million. The State Department has figures suggesting there are 90 to 100 million. I take 50. I’m prepared to argue any of these. But point is, if some of the figures do sound high-flung, mine are on the conservative side.
What could upset these radically? I’ll give you one good answer – jihad. If you imagine, for example, a war breaking out in Nigeria, which resulted in the killing or ethnic cleansing of a large part of the country, and you imagine millions of Christians spreading to other parts of the world as exiles and so on, they could have a really substantial drop. You might also have a steamroller effect. People around the world say, “Christianity is collapsed there. Islam is the winning force.”
I’ll try and answer as many of your other points as I can. Rivalry between the different bishops around the world – Orombi, Kolini, and so on – I haven’t seen much sign of that as yet, but I would emphasize one thing, which is rivalry between liberal and conservative bishops in Africa over whether they should interfere in the United States. Sometimes, that gets quite intense, though not in the way Americans might expect. Someone like Desmond Tutu, for example, is quite happy with a gay-friendly church. Ndungane, who is the archbishop of Cape Town, says “Why are the Nigerians bothering as to who ordains a bishop off in America? Why aren’t they concentrating on the real issues?” If you unpack the statement a little bit, what he is saying is, “There are women in Nigeria about to be stoned to death by sharia courts. Why don’t you act on that?” There’s certainly not a wide-ranging tolerance when you confront Islam.
There are some splits within the conservative African churches. There are bishops within the Ugandan church, for example, who have suggested homosexuality is much less of a – what shall I say – deadly issue. Within Nigeria, there are now clergy who have spoken out on gay issues from a much more liberal point of view. So the churches are not united. But are there splits among the patrons? I haven’t seen it especially.
On rivalry between churches – there is rivalry between churches in Africa, but it’s not along the lines you mentioned. It’s not Catholic versus charismatic. It’s between mainstream and independent. Take a country like Kenya. Kenya for many years had an extremely repressive government in the form of President Daniel arap Moi. Repressive African governments court the churches. They try to get the churches to have sermons saying how wonderful it is to obey the powers that be. Usually, what happens is, mainstream churches, which means Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran, et cetera, are very concerned about human rights. They will speak out against dictatorship. They will criticize dictators. It tends to be the independent prophetic churches who are more – I don’t want to say docile – but more friendly to the dictator, the arap Mois of Africa.
In Zaire, for instance, Mobutu got on appallingly with the Catholic Church, and he responded by cultivating non-mainstream churches like the Kimbanguists. So that’s the split there. In Africa, I honestly don’t see much conflict between Catholics and charismatics. They don’t have much to conflict about.
COOPERMAN: Is that because of Anglophone and Francophone divisions? Why don’t they have the kind of competition they are having in Latin America?
JENKINS: Partly because in Latin America, the phrase you always hear is sheep-stealing. When one church raids another church, you’re stealing from our flock; it’s a zero-sum game. One new Protestant is one les Catholic. In much of Africa, one new Christian is one less Muslim or one less animist. But also, the presence of Islam just represents such a powerful force.
Many of the countries you think of as predominantly Christian – and Uganda is the obvious example; it has a Muslim minority of, what is it, 10 percent? But that is a much, much more self-conscious and well-funded and militant Muslim minority than it would have been 20 years ago. By the way, great subject – you talked about external funding – talk to any African Christian, and the issue they come up with again and again is the money pouring in from Saudi Arabia, from the Arab Gulf, from Libya, to sponsor Islam. Countries that 30 years ago had virtually no Muslims; suddenly, they’re five percent Muslim. Why? Become a Muslim, and it’s, “What would you like? Would you like your kids to go to a college? Would you like a free, all expenses paid pilgrimage to Mecca? We can do it. We can make it happen. Put a new mosque here.” That money coming in is an enormous factor, and the more that happens, the more Christians have to ally with one another.
Charismatic practice in the United States among conservative Anglicans – has it grown? Yes. Has it grown partly as a result of the African alliance? Yes. It’s very much a break from Episcopal tradition. A lot of liberal Episcopalians, when they look at the conservative churches don’t just say, “We disagree with them on political issues or liturgical issues.” They look at them and say, “You’re not Episcopalians; you’re a bunch of charismatics who have taken over an Episcopal church.” The spread of charismatic practice is very off-putting for a lot of traditional Episcopalians.
COOPERMAN: I asked the question in a historical vein because some historians of the Episcopal Church in the United States say it was the charismatic renewal that began some 30 years ago – and hotbeds of it are, not surprisingly, Pittsburgh, Northern Virginia – that opened the way for this group within the Episcopal Church to ally itself to the broader evangelical movement. Unlike in some other denominations, it was charismatic practice that preceded evangelicalism.
JENKINS: In some cases, but I would stress that it is a very regional, local thing. I would not agree with that in the context of Pittsburgh. Can I just stress something here? Pittsburgh is very interesting for all the denominations. If you want to look at the conservative movement and the Presbyterians, for example, look at Pittsburgh; if you want to look at Methodists, look at Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh’s a strange city in lots of ways – (laughter) – in that it’s a town that since the early 20th century has had this very powerful conservative, evangelical, cross-denominational thing. I stress evangelical, not charismatic. Duncan is a pure evangelical; he is in dialogue with charismatics, but he is not a charismatic. What you’re saying might be true in some places like Virginia, but I don’t think in Pittsburgh.
COOPERMAN: But John Guest was a charismatic, and he was instrumental in getting the Pittsburgh Seminary started. [Pentecostal, charismatic] and evangelical, can you make the distinctions for us?
JENKINS: Okay, and we’ll be here late? (Laughter.)
COOPERMAN: No, just briefly.
JENKINS: Traditionally, an evangelical would be marked by a fairly literal approach to the Bible, but the basic idea is Christ died for you, and you are saved by faith alone. That’s the message Luther got from the Bible, and he said that is the core message of the Gospels, the Evangelium, therefore that’s the evangelical message. So it’s founded on the cross, redemption, and so on.
An evangelical in terms of practice would normally be non-liturgical, based on biblical authority, and evangelical services would be separate from phase two, charismatic. Let me explain charismatic. Back a hundred years ago, we had the pentecostal movement, which originated in California based on the idea of an imminent end of the world. Guess what, this happened right after the San Francisco earthquake when it looked really credible. One of the tokens of this was speaking in tongues and the restoration of the gifts you read about in the Book of Acts: healing, prophecy, trances, visions, and so on.
The charismatic movement comes from the 1960s and is a renewal of that pentecostal idea. A charismatic would not necessarily speak in tongues, but would have a worship style that is very ecstatic, very enthusiastic. Evangelicals and charismatics would agree on a great deal, but they would usually have a different kind of worship style. “Pentecostal” refers to a particular range of churches whereas charismatic is a worship style you might get within the Episcopal Church or the Catholic Church. Catholic charismatics are very important. Many people argue that if a country like Brazil is going to be safe for the Catholic Church, it’ll be the charismatic Catholics that do it.
Please, Dr. Bushman, save me from committing gross theological errors. How am I doing so far on that?
RICHARD BUSHMAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: You’re on your own. (Laughter.)
JENKINS: That’s another key message of evangelicals: you’re on your own.
WILSON: My point is on the relationship between Catholics and Protestants in Latin America. There’s an analogy with Orthodox lands because in Latin America for centuries the Catholic Church was culturally the dominant force and considered Latin America simply its territory. The same thing was true in the Orthodox lands. I went to a conference in Croatia in 1998 on theological education, and most of the people there were from the former communist countries. They were asked, “What is your number one problem now in this post-communist setting?” Overwhelmingly they said, “It’s persecution by the Orthodox Church.” I think there’s an analogy with what’s happened in Latin America.
STEVE WALDMAN, BELIEFNET: In the context of homosexuality, you talked about how the competitive threat from Islam is influencing the approach Anglicans take in Africa. How is the conservative approach Islam is bringing to the role of women interplaying with the way Anglicans approach it? Are they becoming more conservative too? Or are they pivoting and proposing an alternative that’s more popular?
JENKINS: Very much the alternative approach. One thing I’ve said on a number of occasions is if you look at Global South Christianity, it is a women’s movement or it is nothing. Women may or may not be ordained in particular churches, but they always represent the key lay leaders; women prophets are an enormous phenomenon in Africa. If you think about it, the Bible represents a women’s vehicle here.
Imagine a society based on traditional knowledge. Who are the people you go to in a tribal community? It’s the older men. Suddenly, spiritual authority comes from this book. Who’s going to learn to read this book? Very often, it’s the younger and more flexible, and it’s as likely to be women as men, and that very often overthrows traditional structures.
I’ve argued that Christian countries in Africa are in the middle of a Christian feminist upheaval, which is quite remarkable. Women’s roles provide a detonator for conflict in countries like Nigeria because of conflicts between individual rights and family rights. Imagine if a man decides to convert to Islam, possibly because he’s appalled by the dreadful decadence around him. The assumption would be he would take over all members of his family. Well, the women don’t want to go. The women are happy as Christians. You get situations where the women will take sanctuary, literally, with a local church. The local Muslim military will then try and raid the local church.
The idea of women’s autonomy is critical and you get this, above all, in charismatic churches where, as the phrase goes, the spirit moves where it will, and it’s likely to hit women in terms of spiritual leadership and initiative. That’s one key reason why sharia rule in Nigerian states is so divisive, because it’s so devastating for women.
WALDMAN: Maybe this isn’t so true now, but in the past few decades, the conservative movement in the United States had women’s ordination as an issue as well, along with homosexuality. Will the very feminist approach that African churches take have any influence, or is that a dead issue in the U.S. at this point anyway?
JENKINS: I attend a lot of gatherings of different churches. One thing that surprises me is I’ll go to a conservative Episcopal or Anglican gathering in this country, which is very enthusiastic about African leadership, and you’ll get very conservative women clergy. In a sense, yes, I think that’s a dead issue. That’s also a big lesson liberals take in this country, which is that 30 years ago who would have thought we would have come to accept women clergy in this way? Come back in 30 years, and we’ll be just as happy over gay issues. That may be. But I suspect that in an African context, the women’s thing is much less a critical issue.
There’s a great book, if you want to get the spirit of African Christianity, called Transfigured Night, by Titus Pressler who’s an Episcopal cleric. It’s about these night vigils that go on through all the hours of darkness in Zimbabwe. This is not an elite-led movement; these are ordinary peasant Christians. One thing I like in the book is the role of women preachers, and the texts they go to to justify what they are doing. “Jesus said go into the city and untie the donkey and let him go, we are that donkey.” There’s one lovely moment at a mass gathering in Zimbabwe, and a man stand ups and says, “My friends, I have terrible news for you. The women preachers have not come here tonight. This is an abomination. The women were the first to see Christ after the resurrection, they should always lead our services, I don’t know how to apologize to you.” This is in a society where traditionally women would not have had that kind of role.
CATHLEEN FALSANI, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES: You talked about how pervasive liberation theology is, and how many African Christians would be pro-Palestinian. Considering the fact that many of them are also pentecostals and that among American pentecostals, and in certain quarters of evangelicalism, eschatology and prophecy are an obsession, and Israel plays a key role in Christian eschatology, then how does end-time theology fold into concerns about the environment and global warming and views on Palestine versus Israel?
JENKINS: I love the simple yes/no question. (Laughter.) From my observations, when you’re looking at African Christianity, end-time ideas do not play anything like the same role [they do in the U.S.] Revelation is a vastly used book but it is used much more as it was in the early church; it’s not saying, “This is going to happen on Tuesday, the 23rd. It’s that terrible things are going to happen, but you can trust God.” Revelation in Latin America is one of the most used texts of liberation theology, partly because of its social analysis; it describes a world that is under the powers of evil, the government is evil, government has its seat in cities, governments rule by deception and media and manipulating the currency. This is a political science textbook; it’s not necessarily futurology.
Let me add one thing about Global South churches that is radically different from the United States. The vast majority of them, with two exceptions, do not have real Jews on the ground. There are only two major Jewish communities in the Global South: one’s in Argentina, the other is in South Africa. If you are an African Christian, therefore, when you read about the Jews and the children of Israel, you know who it’s about. It’s about you. “We are the Jews; we are Israel.” Which is why I don’t make a huge issue about this Israel and Palestine thing because it isn’t going to impinge on people’s lives in a big way.
You will sometimes get theologians in Global South countries saying things that sound anti-Jewish, but what they’re saying is, “We must not be like the terrible Pharisees who did all this or like the Jews who did that.” If you ask them, “Is this a remark about [present-day] Jews?” They would answer, “Certainly not.” Very often it’s used to attack older authorities in the church because they represent declining spiritual forces, as opposed to us young up-and-coming people. The day of the Jews is gone; it’s not about real Jews for them, no. “What’s a Jew anyway? They haven’t been around thousands of years.”
FALSANI: But the idea that we’re living in the end times? It doesn’t really play?
JENKINS: I would say not. I see very little evidence of that at all. The texts used to justify it [elsewhere] are used very much [in Africa], but they’re used in different ways. There’s one dialogue I love from an African man who’d been converted. He was fascinated reading the Bible, especially about Daniel and all these great prophetic texts. So he went to his local Anglican church and said, “Will you interpret this for me?” And the church said, “Don’t bother with those sayings, they’re very hard, and anyway, they’re just dreams.” Golden rule: never tell an African that something is just a dream. (Laughter.)
FALSANI: Okay, note to self.
JENKINS: Of course, he goes off and develops a whole theology based on it. But the short answer to your question is no. They don’t have anything like this end times obsession, which is ironic because in Africa, if you’re looking for evidence of wars, rumors of wars, dreadful things happening, you don’t have to look to far. But it’s mainly in places like Virginia where they’re really concerned about these things. (Laughter.)
UNIDENTIFIED: What about Latin America?
JENKINS: My sense is no. Revelation is widely used by base communities in the Catholic Church; it’s used by liberation theologians; it’s used by pentecostals. But the core message is the world is a terrible place, and God will vindicate it.
UNIDENTIFIED: I was in Guatemala last year, and they were very preoccupied there by end times and –
JENKINS: That’s interesting. That’s unusual.
UNIDENTIFIED: – and it’s 2012, if you want to know. (Laughter.)
CROMARTIE: Let’s get that again: 2012?
UNIDENTIFIED: Twenty-twelve, and they’ve also come up with a date, I believe.
UNIDENTIFIED: And they’re also very pro-Israeli there.
UNIDENTIFIED: But aren’t they heavily influenced by Americans?
JENKINS: That’s what I was about to add: there’s a very strong American influence in that church.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NPR: How long do you think this alliance between the conservative evangelicals in the Anglican Church – The Falls Church, Truro and so on – and the Africans is going to last? I have a sense it’s an interim step until the conservatives can establish their own branch; they don’t want to be under the authority of the Africans forever. My sense is they want to displace Akinola, but I don’t know if that’s correct; what do you think?
My second question is theoretical. Do you see the possibility of a realignment among conservatives across denominations? Conservative Lutherans, conservative Presbyterians, conservative United Methodists – take Lutherans out, okay – and conservative Episcopalians might have more in common than they have at odds. Could you see a larger liberal church and conservative church in the United States that transcends denominational boundaries?
JENKINS: Two very interesting questions. On the first one, please remember this is the Episcopal Church, and the core of it is properly ordained and appointed bishops who claim the apostolic succession. Once you have enough bishops to ordain their own bishops, then it becomes a freestanding thing. I imagine they will continue to have cordial relations with the Africans, but will they still be under them in the same way? No.
HAGERTY: How long would that take before that transformation –
JENKINS: Oh, not long. Not long.
HAGERTY: A decade, or?
JENKINS: Well, the world is ending in 2012. (Laughter.) Less than a decade. I don’t take out any magazine subscriptions for more than that.
Could you get this kind of cross denominational alliance? I don’t think so because Episcopalians, for one, are so bound to the idea of preserving authority within the Anglican tradition, which is based on bishops. That is always the divide with United Methodists. It would be easier with conservative Lutherans in some ways.
In Britain, some liberal church people have suggested, “Okay, conservatives want to create these international alliances, we’re going to create one; we’re going to merge liberal Anglicans with liberal Episcopalians, with liberal churches in the Third World.” That’s an interesting prospect. They would certainly get a good response from South Africa.
There is an element of this story that never gets any coverage, which is what happens in Australia. There you have some absolutely key conservative Anglican folk who have a lot of prestige and also a couple of mega-churches and missionary churches that are in the process of becoming global denominations in their own right, like the Hillsong movement.
WOODWARD: Is there any discussion in all of this that Paul Moore in a prophetic mode a la ’60s style and some other of his pals actually broke church law to ordain women –
CROMARTIE: Just say who Paul Moore was, Ken.
WOODWARD: Paul Moore was a very wealthy bishop of New York and very much an activist. He thought that women should be ordained. Has anybody paid any attention to that, or now that it’s all been affirmed, people have forgotten how it was done, by breaking canon law in the first place?
JENKINS: Don’t forget the conservatives. They’re saying, “We do not want to break canon law; we will stretch it as far as we possibly go before we claim any sort of prophetic justification here.” The response you might get [if they did break canon law] would be very radical. [And it could only happen if] the Episcopal Church in the United States, ECUSA, had moved so far outside Christianity that it no longer constituted a church, making North America de facto mission territory.
Everything I say here is going to happen in Canada before it happens in the U.S. If a church is going to be thrown out of the Anglican Communion, it’ll be Canada on a Tuesday and the U.S. on a Wednesday. That’s almost the stage Akinola’s moved to. It’s been surprising how many moderately conservative folks have gone along with that idea. There’s a British bishop called Nazir-Ali, interesting story in his own right: the son of a Shiite family. Bishop Nazir-Ali has said, “Of course the Communion’s going to split; if you have two different religions within the same church, the situation can’t go on forever.” Saying that ECUSA represents a different religion is pretty tough talk.
DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN: I’m interested in the generational question. I assume young people in Africa are very churchgoing, but is there any indication they have different concerns, different issues? For example, could the question of homosexuality in another generation or so be obsolete in Africa? Or not obsolete, but not as important?
JENKINS: I’m reluctant to project, but don’t forget we have a different demographic profile partly due to life expectancy. The average age of a church in Africa is obviously way lower than it is in the West. If you want to imagine a typical African church, imagine a bunch of 20-year-olds with a pastor who’s an aged, grey-bearded old man at 28 in a community where people are likely to die at 38. That also has some implications for cultural memory.
But could attitudes change? Certainly. Do I see any signs of it right now? No. In fact, if I look at younger communities, if anything they’re more fervent, more convinced, that accepting the whole Christian message as they see it, as they imagine it, is essential to what they want, which is healing for the body, the mind, the individual, the community. Do I see a weakening of orthodoxy there? No. Any kind of liberalizing would have to take that as the basis and move from there. The only way it would be likely to happen is in terms of prophetic inspiration.
COOPERMAN: Could you elaborate on your answer to Cathleen when you said among African Christians there’s this notion that “We are Israel; we are the Jews.” Is that a theological supercessionist [idea,] that God transferred the covenant with the Jews to the Christians, and we inherited the covenant? Or is that a reimagined lost tribe, that “we ethnically are the Jews?”
JENKINS: Very much the first of those. There are lost tribe ideas around in Africa, and you get them very strongly when African theologians look at the Old Testament, particularly at the Pentateuch. They just get a pad and tick the number of resemblances between ancient Hebrew society and modern African society, and when they reach point 92, they say, “My God, we are the Hebrews.” There’s a very strong element of that.
But it’s more a theological supercessionism, which is different from what it might be in the U.S. or Britain, because there aren’t real Jews around whose feelings need to be considered. In South Africa, ideas like that would be expressed much more carefully. It’s interesting: those ideas show up a lot in World Council of Churches publications, and if you suggested to those African theologians that they’re being anti-Semitic, they would be appalled. But that supercessionism is a strong idea, very much as it would have been in mainstream Protestant Christianity 100 or 150 years ago, because they don’t have the reality check of an on-the-ground Jewish populations.
CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, join me in thanking Professor Jenkins. (Applause.)
This transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar by Andrea Useem.