Thursday, February 16, 2017

Christian Realism and Global Christianity

Weep Not for the West – The Faithful Nations of Global Christianity are the emerging forms of the new Christendom

by A. Joseph Lynch

“Western civilization is inseparable from Christian civilization, and the latter is the more fundamental and intelligible unit.” -Christopher Dawson

The Christian nations of the world. Purple represents nations at least 50% Christian.

Fifty years after Dawson’s statement, western civilization has become a soulless technological super state for individuals no longer bound by the loyalties of religion, nation, or marriage. “The more fundamental intelligible unit” - Christianity has dramatically reemerged in lands where it was smothered and has appeared anew in lands across the globe as a dynamic transnational culture of many languages, ethnic groups and nations. “The West” has deliberately built post-WWII institutions and narratives divorcing it from religious obligations. It has become a well-armed, anti-Russian, anti Serbian alliance of Europe’s white people and the old white dominions of the British Empire. The WASP hive is dying. The death of the globalist West mimics that other failed atheist project of modernity – the scientific socialism of Marx. Both the Modern West and worldwide Communism justified themselves as scientifically enlightened and inevitable, but the psalmist knew better: "Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers work in vain."

The Christian movement outgrew the West. It followed its missionary dynamic and returned to its historical roots. It is manifested today in multiple civilization forms. Four authors have in recent years drawn on history, maps, demographics, and theology to help awaken us to the reality that is Global Christianity. Philip Jenkins in his 2011 The Next Christendom laid out the new demographic reality for those of us bound by sacramental identities. Simon Chan in his Grassroots Asian Theology has introduced the individualistic "West" to the more communal and hierarchical categories of Confucian thought. He has written a book as important as Jenkin’s seminal work in terms of opening our eyes and ears to the whole of the Living Body of Christ on earth today. Cardinal Robert Sarah’s God or Nothing, introduces a deeper voice steeped in prayer whose radical theo-centric orientation allows a sharper denunciation of the demons besetting America and Africa in geopolitics. Finally Harvey Cox’s Fire from Heaven  tells the bracing story of “The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century.” This quartet of authors bespeak the new global Christianity.

Jenkins challenges two great myths: 1) the myth that Christianity is in decline; and 2) the myth of "Western" Christianity. These two myths are closely connected. In Europe and North America, Christianity appears to be in decline. The numbers of Catholics in Europe are projected to drop ten million between 2000 and 2025. In the United States, the Christian mainline denominations see their shrinking urban churches. But America is not Europe and the refugees that come to our country are not the refugees crowding into Germany. Two-thirds of all immigrants arriving in the United States are Christians and 40% are Catholic. Immigration, says Jenkins, is "indeed changing America: from a Christian nation to an increasingly Christian nation." America’s dying globalist elites are a manifestation of the godless West. Her emerging national identity will be as the bellwether of global Christianity.

To question the myth of western Christianity is to open one’s eyes to a socially vibrant and theologically orthodox religion that includes many more peoples, languages, cultures, and skin colors than are found in the global north. By the year 2050, an estimated 80% of the world’s Christians will be of a non-white ethnicity. Indeed, about one-third of all Christians will live in Africa by 2050 and that number will exceed all Christians living in the year 1900. Our culture is not dying if we remember our culture is defined by sacramental identities. The atheist, modern West is decaying and Charlie Hebdo was murdered. But it is hardly a death knell for the renewal of Christendom when our enemies who have denigrated us for half a century lose their momentum.

Jenkins argues that this is a return to the first thousand years of Christianity. During this time, Christianity radiated out from Jerusalem, bringing the faith to far off lands like Italy, France, and England – but also to places like Africa, Persia, India, and even China. Christianity was always more global than western. It was in the Middle East on the Asian continent, not Italy or France, where the first Christians were baptized. In the days of the early Church Fathers, the faith was defended largely by Greek-speaking eastern Christians. St. Augustine, the "West’s" greatest Church Father, was African, not European. The first monks were Egyptians and Syrians, not Benedictines or Franciscans. Rome had the papacy – the successor of Peter and the lynchpin of ecclesial unity – but the south and east held the vast majority of early Christians and theologians. When Christ commissioned the Apostles, he sent them East as well as West.

The rise of Islam slowly isolated Christianity westward. Mongol invasions allowed a resurgence of   Christians in China during the Yuan dynasty(1271-1378). Christians had been admitted then suppressed during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD). There would be a similar prominent acceptance and then suppression for Jesuits during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Christianity never died in southern India (where you can still visit the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle). Even under Ottoman Islamic rule, Christians and Jews comprised 25% of the empire’s population in 1900.

The reemergence of global Christianity began with the missionary movements which coincided with the Age of Exploration. Mary’s apparition as a Mestizo princess to St. Juan Diego in 1531 brought more Catholics to the faith in Central America than were lost to the Protestants of northern Europe. During the sixteenth century Manila became a full-fledged Archdiocese, Jesuits began making inroads in Japan and China, and Kongolese kings were spreading the faith in Africa and receiving the title "Defender of the Faith" from the Pope. Among these Catholics from the Kongo were the first slaves sold in the New World.

The two 20th century Pentecosts of global Christianity are the Pentecostal movement and the Second Vatican Council of the Catholic Church. One movement is like the wind of the Spirit experienced in the household of Cornelius and witnessed by Peter. Fire from Heaven is an eloquent description  of this worldwide Cornelius event -- by a man who earlier had authored his tale of the modern West called The Secular City.

The other Pentecost was centered on the successors of the apostles who had been inspired 2000 years ago in the upper room. The still unfulfilled Second Vatican Council (1961-1965) brought the worldwide fraternity of Catholic bishops inside a European-dominated framework with the principal corporate actors still German and Italian bishops. But the Spirit was shaping a much larger organism to be manifested in the century to follow. A Slavic Pope and ever more dynamic non-European bishops had listened and learned the centrality of local bishops in a more Eucharistic formulation of the Church. The work of the Council built on the missionary work of the previous century that had produced an effective local clergy in multiple mission lands. This convergence led to an explosive growth of the Church throughout the world. Catholicism in Africa alone increased by an estimated 6,708 percent. More Catholics are baptized annually in the Philippines than in France, Spain, Italy, and Poland combined. The Holy Spirit’s work during that twentieth century Pentecost in Rome reached across the global Church to find a Pope from "far away" to solidify this movement to the periphery. For those who feared the theological orthodoxy of the "youthful" global Christians, the problem emerged instead among well-paid Germans. Nigeria is home to the largest Catholic seminary in the world. Over one thousand men are studying there for the priesthood. The largest seminary in the United States by comparison has around two hundred seminarians. German Cardinal Walter Kasper said that the traditional African bishops "should not tell us too much what we have to do" concerning homosexuality since African Catholics treat that peculiar practice as "a taboo." It was the African unambiguous position on gender ideology in the Synod on the Family that carried the day and was proclaimed by the supposedly relativist Pope Francis. "There is nothing remotely analogous between homosexual relations and marriage" is how he put it. His text and tone condemned the masquerade of a tabooed abomination as a sacrament. The language of Cardinal Sarah was similarly blunt. He named the two demonic forces we face as a Church: western gender ideology and Muslim jihadism.

The West is dying. Marx and Freud are dead. But the global Christian culture is flourishing. While Africa is ascendant, Latin America remains dominant. By 2025, over 600 million Catholics will live in Latin America, a staggering rise of 150 million people since the turn of the twenty-first century. The Church lives there among nations with settled borders and identities that saved their citizens from the twentieth century’s world wars. The vast majority of these nations south of America’s borders gained independence by 1830 and have coexisted in relative peace ever since. Despite a bloody flirtation with Marxism, Latin America is an example of national and political embodiments of Catholic life and culture where international peace abides between fellow Catholic nations. Both Philip Jenkins and Austen Ivereigh, author of the Pope Francis biography, The Great Reformer, attest to the piety and devotion of the average Latin American Catholic. Pope Francis sees in these humble, saint-loving, rosary-praying Catholics the santo pueblo fiel de Dios – God’s holy faithful people. Here the "voice of people" is not a clamoring for women priests, abortion, or gay marriage. For Francis, listening to the flock means entering into the common prayer life and devotions of the people. These devotions, particularly to Mary, are what rooted the faith deep in Latin American soil. The Marxist bloodbath is receding, the gender ideology copycats still rule, but this great continent of settled national identities and a common faith will soon become a "source church."

Across the Pacific, the Asian continent is experiencing its own steady embrace of Christianity. Between 2000 and 2025, the number of Christians in Asia will increase by around 50 million. By 2050, China and the Philippines alone may account for almost 250 million of the world’s Christians. In his book, Grassroots Asian Theology, Simon Chan argues that Asian soil is ripe for a Christian harvest. Chan notes that Asian culture emphasizes the role of the father and the filial piety of his sons, and that this deeply embedded cultural reality has readied Asians to accept the Gospel message of the Son’s obedience to the Father. Chan further believes that Asian societal views on shame and dishonor is a better description of sin than the more common (and less biblical) juridical emphasis on the individual breaking a divine law. Asia’s traditional emphasis on one’s ancestors and the rituals which surround them have also helped Asia prepare to receive the communion of saints and the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ transcending time and space, uniting the living and dead in Christ. Soon this convergence of humanity’s oldest political state and Christianity will produce just the kind of patriarchal personalities needed to re-Christianize the emasculated West.

We have elected our first Latin American Pope and it is only a matter of time before African and Asian prelates succeed Peter. The Holy Spirit is continuously active in the world and through the Church. If the West enters a Dark Age of faithlessness, there is a light to the south. Let us not weep that the Western desert of our last forty years will be left behind in its decadence. Let us welcome the southern missionaries and marvel at that other global miracle – the return of Mother Russia to Christianity. Our southern and eastern brothers are confronting a western heart of darkness and inviting a new concert of God-centered nations.

A third Great Awakening in Christian multi-ethnic America will be part of the Global Christian movement. It remains the only coherent alternative to the jihadists of the Mideast and the atheism of the white West. An American president who takes seriously the reality of Global Christianity will assemble a very different concert of allies than the old paradigm. Our foreign policy will no longer be dictated by the social Darwinist "realism" of the neoconservative Right nor the "ideological colonization" of the sexual Left. If our nation is to live, America will reject the dying atheist West and embrace the spiritual renewal of Global Christianity.

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