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Whither Christianity in the New Century?


Talk to the African Spiritual Fellowship

David Kilgour

St. John's Church

November 3, 2002


Permit me, as a Protestant speaking in a Protestant Church on a day very close to Reformation Day on the calendar to voice some complimentary thoughts about our suffering brother John Paul II and his visit this summer to Canada:  


  1. The visit appeared to have an impact on many across our country of many faiths and probably some of no religion at all.  For example, those who gathered for his final mass—the estimates ranged from 800, 000 to 1.2 million—constituted the largest-known gathering in our entire national history.  In a numbers sense at least, it invites a contemporary reply to Joseph Stalin’s query, “How many divisions has the Pope?”  This pontiff has many both in Canada and across the planet. 

  1. Jonathan Kwitny’s 1997 book, Man of the Century—The Life and Times of Pope John Paul II, makes many important points, including:

  • “…the Cold War was won not by Washington, but by a non-violent mass movement, like those of Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr., led by a man whose religious office has precluded him from talking about it openly.  (Pope John Paul II) as bishop of Krakow, forged the Solidarity revolution—in his philosophy classes, his community synods, his secret ordination of covert priests, his clandestine communication seminars, the smuggling network (of Bibles, etc) he oversaw throughout the Eastern Bloc, and above all by his example.”

  • Contrary to the view that successive American governments helped Solidarity to topple the regime in Warsaw, Kwitny concludes that not only did “the White House deny aid to a desperate Solidarity, by evidence it tried to help John Paul’s opponents destroy Solidarity… What defeated communism was not any incapacity to build weapons, but an incapacity to accommodate the human spirit.”?

  • And finally, as Kwitny notes, many miss what is important about His Holiness because they disagree with his views on sex.  “…His clearest changes in Catholic doctrine as Pope have been toward pacifism, respect for other religions, and willingness to admit error.  His blunders have been big—abetting major financial and sex crimes, wounding friends, fuelling lethal conflict with Orthodox Christians—but born of good intent”.  I hasten to add, as you probably know, that the Pope did mention while in Canada his profound angst about the issue of sex crimes by some priests.

On a range of subjects, Kwitny’s 732-page book, which he spent eight years researching, really opened my eyes.  Let me mention only three:

On developing nations and neo-colonialism

His Holiness was always blunt in opposing colonialism in any form.  For example, in the early 1970’s, he spoke out against “the phenomenon called neo-colonialism—meaning the exploitation of nations by other nations, of the poor by the rich, of the weak by the stronger… injustice felt… throughout the world…by nations, and by social groups.”

On women’s rights

Even in the 1970’s, John Paul II argued that mothers rearing children full-time “should be treated as working people with a right to a pension.”  He called for better vacations for families, more medical faculties specializing in pregnancy and birth, more preschools for working families, and pay incentives to encourage teachers, nurses and social workers to care for problem children.  As Kwitny notes, “many Western feminists would come to view (him) as an enemy simply because of his stance on reproduction, unaware that for decades he dad been battling to fulfill much of their other agenda.”

On human rights and peace

As Pope, he often told gatherings:  “Where there is no justice… there can be no peace…Where there is no respect for human rights… there can be no peace, because every violation of personal dignity favours rancor and the spirit of revenge.” We can all think of too many nations across the world where these words apply.

Recently, I came across a most interesting article, “The Next Christianity” in the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly and would strongly recommend it to you.  Philip Jenkins’ piece might be summarized thus:

·        Christianity around the world today is “growing and mutating in ways that observers in the West tend not to see.”  This century will in all likelihood be one in which religions of various kinds replace ideology as the key force, for better or worse, across the planet.

·        A new Christian Counter-revolution is already underway beyond affluent suburbs in North America and elsewhere in the industrialized democracies. Jenkins describes it as “super-naturalism and neo-orthodoxy… a vision of Jesus as the embodiment of divine power, who overcomes the evil forces that inflict calamity and sickness upon the human race.”

·        In the global South, he notes, huge and growing Christian populations—360 million in Africa, 480 million in Latin America and 313 million in Asia, compared with only 260 million in North America, are already dominant in the Christian faith.  In fact, the centres of the Christian world have already moved “to Africa, to Latin America, and to Asia…(the) balance will never shift back.”

·        In the case of Africa, for example, the article notes that there were in 1900 only ten million Christians in a continental population of 107 million—about nine percent. Today there are about 360 million African Christians out of 784 million residents (46 percent) on the entire continent.

·        Within 25 years, the world’s Christians are expected to grow to about 2.6 billion.  By 2025, half of the Christian population will live in Africa and Latin America and another 17 percent in Asia.  By then, Jenkins notes, “the proportion of non-Latino whites among the world’s Christians will have fallen to perhaps one in five.”

·        Christianity in the global south, he says, is “…more conservative than the Northern—especially the American version.”  It is personified by Nigeria’s Francis Cardinal Arinze, who has served as president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogues.  Arinze is orthodox in his catholicism and as has opposed many reforms advocated by liberal Northerners. 

·        Pentecostal Christians, who began as a movement only at the beginning of the 20th century, are already 400 million strong—and heavily concentrated in the global South—but by 2040 there could be as many as a billion.

In short, diplomats, political leaders and everyone else should henceforth pay as much attention to religions as to the location of oil fields, etc.  Contrary to what many northerners think, both Christianity and Islam are the rising faiths of many throughout the world.

The Quest for God

Currently, I’m reading The Quest for God by the British historian Paul Johnson. He starts with the point that the existence or non-existence of God is the most important question humans are called to answer. “In a Godless world, there is no obvious basis for altruism of any kind; moral anarchy takes over and the rules of self prevails.”

For Johnson, one of the extraordinary things about the twentieth century was the failure of God to be driven out of our consciousness. Despite the best efforts of Marx, Hagel, Huxley, Nietzsche, Russell, Shaw, Sartre and many other writers not to mention Stalin, Hitler and the many other very bad leaders, belief in God continued amongst most of humanity.

He notes human evil/brutality has cost the more than 150 million people in the century we just left. Both the Nazi Reich and the Soviet Union were “Godless constructs: modern paganism in the first case and openly proclaimed atheist materialism in the second.”

Paul Johnson explains why he thinks our Creation is a God of beauty: “It was Wendsworth who pointed out that a poor man is just as capable of enjoying beauty and putting it high in his scale of values, as a rich man. The people of West Africa, who have little but their national pride, may well be happy that their small country is capable of creating a cathedral on the scale of Europe’s largest, and that the black African can pay his or her tribute to Almighty God just as magnificently as the white Westerner.” Having been to that cathedral in Cote d’Ivoire, I’ll be interested in your thoughts.


            Billy Graham in his book Peace with God states that everyone is on a “Great Quest.” We live in countries full of people who are searching for something and most of us are unsure of what that is, says Graham.

            We fill in that void in various ways – education, science, marriage, and wealth – but for the most part we are still left empty. The truth is we are searching for a spiritual connection; something that binds us to the truth and the eternal; the soul of mankind and the mind of God. An interfaith group such as ASF demonstrates that you are united in your belief in God and your quest for spiritual connection regardless of your own religion.

            The Dalai Lama in his "Thoughts on September 11" says: “A central teaching in most spiritual traditions is: What you wish to experience, provide for another. If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another.” How true!

            I believe that if we can learn to fully understand what the Daili Lama means and what it entails, maybe that will mark that start of our journey to fill the spiritual vacuum that exists within us.

Please let us pray:

For the God we have re-created in our image, dressed up in fine robes and golden crowns, set apart from the world, untouched, sanitized, fenced off from humanity...

Forgive us

For the world we have destroyed because of our creeds and doctrine; for ancient cultures ruined by our arrogant religion, through domination and fear making Christianity a crutch, a policy and a weapon...

Forgive us

For the church we have built, based on our power rather than people, constructing an institution rather than a body of love, making the community safely ineffective rather than dangerously relevant, 

Forgive us. 

Read "The Perfect Pastor"

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