The original Reformation was far more than the rising up of irate lay people against corrupt and exploitative priests, and it was much more than a mere theological row. It was a far-reaching social movement that sought to return to the original nsources of Christianity. It challenged the idea that divine authority should be mediated through institutions or hierarchies, and it denied the value of tradition. Instead it offered radical new notions of the supremacy of written texts (that is, the books of the Bible), interpreted by individual consciences. The Reformation made possible a religion that could be practiced privately, rather than mainly in a vast institutionalized community.
The first Reformation was a lot less straightforward than some histories suggest. The sixteenth-century Catholic Church, after all, did not collapse after Luther kicked in the door. The Counter-Reformation was moving in a diametrically opposite direction, reasserting older forms of devotion and tradition, and reformulating the Church's controversial claims for hierarchy and spiritual authority. The Counter-Reformation was not just survivalist and defensive, as is commonly assumed; it was also innovative and dynamic. For at least a century after Luther's Reformation, in fact, the true political, cultural, and social centers of Europe were as much in the Catholic South as in the Protestant North. The Catholic states Spain, Portugal, and France were launching missionary ventures into Africa, Asia, North and South America. By the 1570sCatholic missionaries were creating a transoceanic Church structure: the see of Manila was an offshoot of the archdiocese of Mexico City.
demographic changes within Christianity have many implications for theology and
religious practice, and for global society and politics. Te most significant
point is that in terms of both theology and moral teaching, Southern Christianity
is more conservative than the Northern especially the American version.
Northern reformers, even if otherwise sympathetic to the indigenous cultures of
non-Northern peoples, obviously do not like this fact. The liberal Catholic writer
James Carroll has complained that "world Christianity [is falling] increasingly
under the sway of anti-intellectual fundamentalism." But the cultural pressures
may be hard to resist.
The denominations that are triumphing across the global South radical Protestant sects, either evangelical or Pentecostal, and Roman Catholicism of an orthodox kind are stalwartly traditional or even reactionary by the standards of the economically advanced nations. The Catholic faith that is rising rapidly in Africa and Asia looks very much like a pre-Vatican II faith, being more traditional in its respect for the power of bishops ad priests and in its preference for older devotions. African Catholicism in particular is far more comfortable with notions of authority and spiritual charisma than with newer ideas of consultation and democracy.
This kind of faith is personified by Nigeria's Francis Cardinal Arinze, who is sometimes touted as a future Pope. He is sharp and articulate, with an attractively self-deprecating style, and he has served as the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, which has given him invaluable experience in talking with Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and members of other faiths. By liberal Northern standards, however, Arinze is rigidly conservative, and even repressive on matters such as academic freedom and the need for strict orthodoxy. In his theology as much as his social views he is a loyal follower of Pope John Paul II. Anyone less promising for Northern notions of reform is difficult to imagine.
Meanwhile, a full-scale Reformation is takingplace among Pentecostal Christians whose ideas are shared by many Catholics. Pentecostal believers reject tradition and hierarchy, but they also rely on direct spiritual revelation to supplement or replace biblical authority. And it is Pentecostals who stand in the vanguard of the Southern Counter-Reformation. Though Pentecostalism emerged as a movement only at the start of the twentieth century, chiefly in North America, Pentecostals today are at least 400 million strong, and heavily concentrated in the global South. By 2040 or so there could be as many as a billion, at which point Pentecostal Christians alone will far outnumber the world's Buddhists and will enjoy rough numerical parity with the world's Hindus.
The booming Pentecostal churches of Africa, Asia, and Latin America are thoroughly committed to re-creating their version of an idealized early Christianity (often described as the restoration of "primitive" Christianity). The most successful Southrn churches preach a deep personal faith, communal orthodoxy, mysticism, and puritanism, all founded on obedience to spiritual authority, from whatever source it is believed to stem. Pentecostals and their Catholic counterparts preach messages that may appear simplistically charismatic, visionary, and apocalyptic to a Northern liberal. For them prophecy is an everyday reality, and many independent denominations trace their foundation to direct prophetic authority. Scholars of religion customarily speak of these proliferating congregations simply as the "prophetic churches."
Of course, American reformers also dream of a restored early Church; but whereas Americans imagine a Church freed from hierarchy, superstition, and dogma, Southerners look back to one filled with spiritual power and able to exorcise the demonic forces that cause sickness and poverty. And yes, "demonic" is the word. The most successful Southern churches today speak openly of spirital healing and exorcism. One controversial sect in the process of developing an international following is the Brazilian-based Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which claims to offer "strong prayer to destroy witchcraft, demon possession, bad luck, bad dreams, all spiritual problems," and promises that members will gain "prosperity and financial breakthrough." The Cherubim and Seraphim movement of West Africa claims to have "conscious knowledge of the evil spirits which sow the seeds of discomfort, set afloat ill-luck, diseases, induce barrenness, sterility and the like."
Americans and Europeans usually associate such religious ideas with primitive and rural conditions, and assume that the older world view will disappear with the coming of modernization and urbanization. In the contemporary South, however, the success of highly supernatural churches should rather be seen as a direct by-product of urbanization. (This should come as no surprise to Amerians; look at the Pentecostal storefronts in America's inner cities.) As predominantly rural societies have become more urban over the past thirty or forty years, millions of migrants have been attracted to ever larger urban areas, which lack the resources and the infrastructure to meet the needs of these wanderers. Sometimes people travel to cities within the same nation, but often they find themselves in different countries and cultures, suffering a still greater sense of estrangement. In such settings religious communities emerge to provide health, welfare, and education.
This sort of alternative social system, which played an enormous role in the earliest days of Christianity, has been a potent means of winning mass support for the most committed religious groups and is likely to grow in importance as the gap between people's needs and government's capacities to fill them becomes wider. Looking at the success of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the historian Petr Brown has written, "The Christian community suddenly came to appeal to men who felt deserted ... Plainly, to be a Christian in 250 brought more protection from one's fellows than to be a civis Romanus." Being a member of an active Christian church today may well bring more tangible benefits than being a mere citizen of Nigeria or Peru.
Often the new churches gain support because of the way they deal with the demons of oppression and want: they interpret the horrors of everyday urban life in supernatural terms. In many cases these churches seek to prove their spiritual powers in struggles against witchcraft. The intensity of belief in witchcraft across much of Africa can be startling. As recently as last year at least 1,000 alleged witches were hacked to death in a single "purge" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Far from declining with urbanization, fear of witches has intensified. Since the collapse of South Africa's apartheid regime, in 194, witchcraft has emerged as a primary social fear in Soweto, with its three million impoverished residents.
The desperate public-health situation in the booming mega-cities of the South goes far toward explaining the emphasis of the new churches on healing mind and body. In Africa in the early twentieth century an explosion of Christian healing movements and new prophets coincided with a dreadful series of epidemics, and the religious upsurge of those years was in part a quest for bodily health. Today African churches stand or fall by their success in healing, and elaborate rituals have formed around healing practices (though church members disagree on whether believers should rely entirely on spiritual assistance). The same interest in spiritual healing is found in what were once the mission churches bodies such as the Anglicans and the Lutherans. Nowhere in the global South do the various spiritual healers find serious competition from modern scientific medicine: i is simply beyond the reach of most of the poor.
Disease, exploitation, pollution, drink, drugs, and violence, taken together, can account for why people might easily accept that they are under siege from demonic forces, and that only divine intervention can save them. Even radical liberation theologians use apocalyptic language on occasion. When a Northerner asks, in effect, where the Southern churches are getting such ideas, the answer is not hard to find: they're getting them from the Bible. Southern Christians are reading the New Testament and taking it very seriously; in it they see the power of Jesus fundamentally expressed through his confrontations with demonic powers, particularly those causing sickness and insanity. "Go back and report to John what you hear and see," Jesus says in the Gospel according to Matthew (11: 4-5). "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is reached to the poor." For the past two hundred years Northern liberals have employed various nonliteral interpretations of these healing passages perhaps Jesus had a good sense of the causes and treatment of psychosomatic ailments? But that is not, of course, how such scenes are understood within the Third Church.
changing demographic balance between North and South helps to explain the current
shape of world Catholicism, including the fact that the Church has been headed
by Pope John Paul II. In the papal election of 1978 the Polish candidate won the
support of Latin American cardinals, who were not prepared to accep yet another
Western European. In turn, John Paul has recognized the growing Southern presence
in the Church. Last year he elevated forty-four new cardinals, of whom eleven
were Latin American, two Indian, and three African. The next time a papal election
takes place, fifty-seven of the 135 cardinals eligible to vote, or more than 40
percent, will be from Southern nations. Early this century they will constitute
It may be true that from the liberal Northern perspective, pressure for a Reformation-style solution to critical problems in the Church the crisis in clerical celibacy, the shortage of priests, the sense that the laity's concerns are ignored seems overwhelming. Poll after poll in the United States and Europe indicates significant distrust of clerical authority and support for greater lay participation and women's equality. The obvious question in the parishes of the developed world seems to be how long the aloof hierarchy can stave of the forces of history.
From Rome, however, the picture looks different, as do the "natural" directions that history is going to take. The Roman church operates on a global scale and has done so for centuries. Long before the French and British governments had become aware of global politics and well before their empires came into being papal diplomats were thinking through their approaches to China, their policies in Peru, their views on African affairs, their stances on the issues facing Japan and Mexico. To adapt a popular activist slogan, the Catholic Church not only thinks globally, it acts globally. That approach is going to have weighty consequences. On present evidence, a Southern-dominated Catholic Church is likely to react traditionally to the issues that most concern American and European reformers: matters of theology and devotion, sexual ethics and gender roles, and, most fundamentally, issues of authority within the Church.
Neatly ilustrating the cultural gulf that separates Northern and Southern churches is an incident involving Moses Tay, the Anglican archbishop of Southeast Asia, whose see is based in Singapore. In the early 1990s Tay traveled to Vancouver, where he encountered the totem poles that are a local tourist attraction. To him, they were idols possessed by evil spirits, and he concluded that they required handling by prayer and exorcism. This horrified the local Anglican Church, which was committed to building good relationships with local Native American communities, and which regarded exorcism as absurd superstition. The Canadians, like other good liberal Christians throughout the North, were long past dismissing alien religions as diabolically inspired. It's difficult not to feel some sympathy with the archbishop, however. He was quite correct to see the totems as authentic religious symbols, and considering the long history of Christian writing on exorcism and possession, he could also summo many precedents to support his position. On that occasion Tay personified the global Christian confrontation.
The cultural gap between Christians of the North and the South will increase rather than diminish in the coming decades, for reasons that recall Luther's time. During the early modern period Northern and Southern Europe were divided between the Protestantism of the word and the Catholicism of the senses between a religious culture of preaching, hymns, and Bible reading, and one of statues, rituals, and processions. Today we might see as a parallel the impact of electronic technologies, which is being felt at very different rates in the Northern and Southern worlds. The new-media revolution is occurring in Europe, North America, and the Pacific Rim while other parts of the globe are focusing on indeed, still catching up with the traditional world of book learning. Northern communities will move to ever more decentralized and privatized forms offaith as Southerners maintain older ideals of community and traditional authority.
On moral issues, too, Southern churches are far out of step with liberal Northern churches. African and Latin American churches tend to be very conservative on issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Such disagreement can pose real political difficulties for churches that aspire to a global identity and that try to balance diverse opinions. At present this is scarcely an issue for the Roman Catholic Church, which at least officially preaches the same conservatism for all regions. If, however, Church officials in North America or Europe proclaimed a moral stance more in keeping with progressive secular values, they would be divided from the growing Catholic churches of the South by a de facto schism, if not a formal breach.
For thirty years Northern liberals have dreamed of a Third Vatican Council to complete the revolution launched by Pope John XXIII one that would usher in new age of ecclesiastical democracy and lay empowerment. It would be a bitter irony for the liberals if the council were convened but turned out to be a conservative, Southern-dominated affair that imposed moral and theological litmus tests intolerable to North Americans and Europeans if, in other words, it tried to implement not a new Reformation but a new Counter-Reformation. (In that sense we would be witnessing not a new Wittenberg but, rather, a new Council of Trent that is, a strongly traditional gathering that would restate the Church's older ideology and attempt to set it in stone for all future ages.) If a future Southern Pope struggled to impose a new vision of orthodoxy on America's Catholic bishops, universities, and seminaries, the result could well be an actual rather than a de facto schism.
The experience of the world's Anglicans and Episcopalians may foretell the direction of conflicts within the Roman Catholic Church. In the Anglican ommunion, which is also torn by a global cultural conflict over issues of gender and sexuality, orthodox Southerners seek to re-evangelize a Euro-American world that they view as coming close to open heresy. This uncannily recalls the situation in sixteenth-century Europe, in which Counter-Reformation Catholics sent Jesuits and missionary priests to reconvert those regions that had fallen into Protestantism.
Anglicans in the North tend to be very liberal on homosexuality and the ordination of women. In recent years, however, liberal clerics have been appalled to find themselves outnumbered and regularly outvoted. In these votes the bishops of Africa and Asia have emerged as a rock-solid conservative bloc. The most ferocious battle to date occurred at the Lambeth World Conference in 1998, which adopted, over the objections of the liberal bishops, a forthright traditional statement proclaiming the impossibility of reconciling homosexual conduct with Christian ministry. As in th Roman Catholic Church, the predominance of Southerners at future events of this kind will only increase. Nigeria already has more practicing Anglicans than any other country, far more than Britain itself, and Uganda is not far behind. By mid-century the global total of Anglicans could approach 150 million, of whom only a small minority will be white Europeans or North Americans. The shifting balance with-in the church could become a critical issue very shortly, since the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is notably gay-friendly and has already ordained a practicing homosexual as a priest.
The Lambeth debate also initiated a series of events that Catholic reformers should study carefully. Briefly, American conservatives who were disenchanted with the liberal establishment in the U.S. Episcopal Church realized that they had powerful friends overseas, and transferred their religious allegiance to more-conservative authorities in the global South. Since 2000 some onservative American Episcopalians have traveled to Moses Tay's cathedral in Singapore, where they were consecrated as bishops by Asian and African Anglican prelates, including the Rwandan archbishop Emmanuel Kolini. By tradition an Anglican archbishop is free to ordain whomever he pleases within his province, so although the Americans live and work in South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and other states, they are now technically bishops within the province of Rwanda. They have become missionary bishops, charged with ministering to conservative congregations in the United States, where they support a dissident "virtual province" within the church. They and their conservative colleagues are now part of the Anglican Mission in America, which is intended officially to "lead the Episcopal Church back to its biblical foundations." The mission aims to restore traditional teachings and combat what it sees as the "manifest heresy" and even open apostasy of the U.S. Church leadrship. Just this past summer Archbishop Kolini offered his protection to dissident Anglicans in the Vancouver area, who were rebelling against liberal proposals to allow same-sex couples to receive a formal Church blessing.
the first Christendom the politicoreligious order that dominated Europe
from the sixth century through the sixteenth collapsed in the face of secular
nationalism, under the overwhelming force of what Thomas Carlyle described as
"the three great elements of modern civilization, gunpowder, printing, and the
Protestant religion." Nation-states have dominated he world ever since. Today,
however, the whole concept of national autonomy is under challenge, partly as
a result of new technologies. In the coming decades, according to a recent CIA
report, "Governments will have less and less control over flows of information,
technology, diseases, migrants, arms, and financial transactions, whether licit
or illicit, across their borders. The very concept of 'belonging' to a particular
state will probably erode." If a once unquestionable construct like Great Britain
is under threat, it is not surprising that people are questioning the existence
of newer and more artificial entities in Africa and Asia.
For a quarter of a century social scientists analyzing the decline of the nation-state have drawn parallels between the world today and the politically fragmented yet cosmopolitan world of the Middle Ages. Some scholars have even predicted the emergence of some secular movement or ideology that would command loyalty across natios like the Christendom of old. Yet the more we look at the Southern Hemisphere, the more we see that although supranational ideas are flourishing, they are not in the least secular. The parallels to the Middle Ages may be closer than anyone has guessed.
Across the global South cardinals and bishops have become national moral leaders in a way essentially unseen in the West since the seventeenth century. The struggles of South African churches under apartheid spring to mind, but just as impressive were the pro-democracy campaigns of many churches and denominations elsewhere in Africa during the 1980s and 1990s. Prelates know that they are expected to speak for their people, even though if they speak boldly, they may well pay with their lives. Important and widely revered modern martyrs include Archbishop Luwum, of Uganda; Archbishop Munzihirwa, of Zaire; and Cardinal Biayenda, of Congo-Brazzaville.
As this sense of moral leadership grows, we might reasonably ask whethr Christianity will also provide a guiding political ideology for much of the world. We might even imagine a new wave of Christian states, in which political life is inextricably bound up with religious belief. Zambia declared itself a Christian nation in 1991, and similar ideas have been bruited in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Liberia. If this ideal does gain popularity, the Christian South will soon be dealing with some debates, of long standing in the North, over the proper relationship between Church and State and between rival churches under the law. Other inevitable questions involve tolerance and diversity, the relationship between majority and minority communities, and the extent to which religiously inspired laws can (or should) regulate private morality and behavior. These issues were all at the core of the Reformation.
Across the regions of the world that will be the most populous in the twenty-first century, vast religious contests are already in progress, though so fa they have impinged little on Western opinion. The most significant conflict is in Nigeria, a nation that by rights should be a major regional power in this century and perhaps even a global power; but recent violence between Muslims and Christians raises the danger that Nigerian society might be brought to ruin by the clash of jihad and crusade. Muslims and Christians are at each other's throats in Indonesia, the Philippines, Sudan, and a growing number of other African nations; Hindu extremists persecute Christians in India. Demographic projections suggest that these feuds will simply worsen. Present-day battles in Africa and Asia may anticipate the political outlines to come, and the roots of future great-power alliances. These battles are analogous to the ideological conflicts of the twentieth century, the alternating hot and cold wars between advocates of fascism and of democracy, of socialism and of capitalism. This time, however, the competing ideologies are explicity religious, promising their followers a literal rather than merely a metaphorical kingdom of God on earth.
Let us imagine Africa in the throes of fiery religious revivals, as Muslim and Christian states jostle for political influence. Demographic change alone could provoke more-aggressive international policies, as countries with swollen populations tried to appropriate living space or natural resources. But religious tensions could make the situation far worse. If mega-cities are not to implode through social unrest and riot, governments have to find some way to mobilize the teeming masses of unemployed teenagers and young adults. Persuading them to fight for God is a proven way of siphoning off internal tension, especially if the religion in question already has a powerful ideal of martyrdom. Liberia, Uganda, and Sierra Leone have given rise to ruthless militias ready to kill or die for whatever warlord directs them, often following some notionally religious imperative. I the 1980s the hard-line Shiite mullahs of Iran secured their authority by sending hundreds of thousands of young men to martyr themselves in human-wave assaults against the Iraqi front lines. In contemporary Indonesia, Islamist militias can readily find thousands of poor recruits to fight against the nation's Christian minorities.
Some of the likely winners in the religious economy of the new century are precisely those groups with a strongly apocalyptic mindset, in which the triumph of righteousness is associated with the vision of a world devastated by fire and plague. This could be a perilously convenient ideology for certain countries with weapons of mass destruction. (The candidates that come to mind include not only Iraq and Iran but also future regional powers such as Indonesia, Nigeria, the Congo, Uganda, and South Africa.) All this means that our political leaders and diplomats should pay at least as much attention to religions and sectarian frontiers as they evr have to the location of oil fields.
Perhaps the most remarkable point about these potential conflicts is that the trends pointing toward them have registered so little on the consciousness of even well-informed Northern observers. What, after all, do most Americans know about the distribution of Christians worldwide? I suspect that most see Christianity very much as it was a century ago a predominantly European and North American faith. In discussions of the recent sexual-abuse crisis "the Catholic Church" and "the American Church" have been used more or less synonymously.
As the media have striven in recent years to present Islam in a more sympathetic light, they have tended to suggest that Islam, not Christianity, is the rising faith of Africa and Asia, the authentic or default religion of the world's huddled masses. But Christianity is not only surviving in the global South, it is enjoying a radical revival, a return to scriptural roots.We are living in revolutionary times.
But we aren't participating in them. By any reasonable assessment of numbers, the most significant transformation of Christianity in the world today is not the liberal Reformation that is so much desired in the North. It is the Counter-Reformation coming from the global South. And it's very likely that in a decade or two neither component of global Christianity will recognize its counterpart as fully or authentically Christian.
Philip Jenkins. "The Next Christianity." The Atlantic Volume 290, No. 3 (October, 2002: 53-68.
This article is reprinted with permission from Philip Jenkins.
Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group