Most orthodox Christians are not white, and that’s a (really) good thing
Whether intentionally or not, the Aquila Report is again following a bit of a theme. Two of the world’s major denominations are facing tensions in which a significant factor is the increasing divergence between conservative African Christians and liberal white American Christians. The United Methodist Church is a broad tent indeed, but it appears as if the conservative faction is growing, both due to the non-American contingent and to growth in the Bible Belt. The Religion News Service describes the dynamic:
The homosexuality debate dates to 1972, when a phrase calling homosexual activity “incompatible with Christian teaching” was added to the Book of Discipline, which contains the denomination’s laws and doctrines. The UMC also bans noncelibate gay clergy and same-sex marriage.
The UMC’s long and painful membership decline in the U.S. looms over the debate, as church leaders search for ways to reverse the decades-long drop.
Gay rights activists argue that the UMC must become more inclusive to attract young Americans who view the sexuality prohibitions as hypocritical. Conservatives counter that only churches that hold fast to traditional doctrines are growing.
There is no question that the conservatives are right on this point. While it is true that young Americans in general are increasingly accepting of homosexuality, that is not the case for young Evangelical Americans, as two scholars from Baylor University recently demonstrated in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Furthermore, whether due to the compelling power of standing for something or due to the tendency of conservatives to have more children, conservative denominations have moved well past the liberal Mainline denominations in numbers in the past few decades. Even at a place like Emory University, in my experience, far more young Christians are willing to self-identify as Evangelicals than as liberals.
In addition to the Methodists, there is a move within the Anglican tradition to reduce the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury and increase the authority of the broader church, especially as it is found in Africa. The Telegraph writes:
A coalition of bishops and leaders from Africa, the Americas and Australasia said it was time for a “radical shift” in how the church is structured away from models of the “British Empire”.
They criticised what they called “revisionist attempts” to abandon basic doctrines on issues such as homosexuality and “turn Christianity merely into a movement for social betterment” during Dr Williams’s tenure….
The meeting of leaders of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans comes amid growing warnings of a split over issues such as homosexuality.
It is the first such meeting since 2008 when more than 200 bishops boycotted the official Lambeth Conference in protest at the presence of bishops from the US Episcopal Church, which had consecrated the first openly gay Anglican bishop.
As the article points out of the 77 million members of the worldwide Anglican Communion, 36 million are found in Kenya and Nigeria alone. Clearly the global face of Anglicanism, like that of Methodism, is changing. We should no longer associate those labels with Mainline liberalism.
It is not just Africans who tend to be more conservative than white American Christians. Although white Evangelicals do not often realize it due to the partisan political divide, studies show that black American Christians tend to be more orthodox in their basic theology than do their white counterparts. Blacks played a crucial role in California’s passing of Proposition 8, establishing traditional marriage, a few years ago, and black Protestants were some of the strongest opponents of same-sex marriage in Maryland.
Indeed, exciting things are happening in the black evangelical community. Just a few weeks ago in Atlanta more than 1,000 young men gathered for a conference on biblical manhood to listen to the likes of Reformed preacher Tony Carter, as Christianity Today notes.
I have often heard white Christians (particularly older ones) bemoan how “things are getting bad these days – we must be in the end times.” There are certainly cultural trends to be disappointed about, but often that sentiment reflects a white West-centered perspective on what is really going on in the world. In so many ways and in so many places, orthodox Christianity is thriving, and liberal Christianity is withering on the vine.