Christians Killed in Libya: Natural and Unnatural Reactions

You may have been aware of the news that an ISIS-affiliated group in Libya recently beheaded twenty-one Egyptian Coptic Christians.

It doesn’t surprise me if we react to this news with anger, dismay and anxiety about the actions of Islamic extremists.  Those would be natural reactions.

My daughter, Brenna, who is working alongside Coptic Christians in Egypt this year explains how her Coptic Christian community has reacted:  by grieving, by praying for those who persecute them, and by trying to love their enemies.

There is something unnatural about the praying and loving part.  It is unnatural because it is not normal or natural to pray for our enemies or to love them.  We need the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to do this.

Yet this is what Coptic Christians at Anafora are doing – or struggling to do.

As we all should.  And if we are unable to love our enemies –since it really is unnatural–we might start by mourning for the deaths of these Christians.

You can read Brenna’s post here.


The Challenge of Being a Religious Minority. And Majority.

This is the wall on the back part of the property, with a mosque just beyond it.

The wall on the back part of the property, and a mosque just beyond it.

The accompanying picture is of a wall on the back portion of the property of Anafora, a retreat center in Egypt run by the Coptic Church.  If you look closely, you will notice a building beyond the wall.  That’s a mosque.  There are actually three mosques bordering the property of this facility, which is located out in a farming area south of Cairo.  Therein lies a story.  Or an observation, at least.

In early January, my wife and I returned from a week in Egypt, where we visited my daughter Brenna, who is working for a year at Anafora.  Actually, Anafora is more than a retreat center.  It is also a monastery/farm/conference center/school/commune/counseling center/biblical exhibit/oasis kind of thing.  You know.

Interior of the Coptic church at Anafora.

Interior of the Coptic church at Anafora.

Anyway, the church purchased the land about thirty years ago and began building on it about fifteen years ago.  Among the structures they built, the Coptic Christians, unsurprisingly, erected a church.  After that happened, three mosques were built at different places around the edges of the property.  A couple of Coptic Christians told me that whenever a church is built in Egypt, Muslims will build a mosque as close to it as they can.  One Coptic Christian laughed a bit in explaining this, saying, “They like to keep us company.”

As Brenna gave us a tour of the Anafora property (which I estimate to cover about 85 acres, a good size for a monastery/farm/conference center/school/commune/ counseling center/biblical exhibit/oasis kind of thing), we walked along the back edge and looked at the mosque beyond the wall.  That’s when I noticed a speaker, one speaker, up high on the tower and pointed directly at the Anafora property.

Keeping the Christians at the retreat center company.

Keeping the Christians at the retreat center company.

And the purpose of the speaker?  The Islamic call to prayer.  Five times a day, mosques in Egypt broadcast a chant in Egypt that is the call to prayer.  You hear it everywhere in Cairo.  You also hear it at the Christian retreat center of Anafora, as I did at 6 a.m. when I was turning over in my sleep.  (Many Muslims get up earlier than I do, apparently).  It is not even clear that anyone attends the call to prayer at the mosque at the back of the Anafora property, which is out in the middle of a bunch of irrigated fields.  One story, unverified but probably true, is that somebody investigated the mosque during the call to prayer.  They not only did not find any Muslims engaged in prayer, but did not even find a muezzin there singing the prayer.  The prayer floating out over Anafora seemed to be just a recording.

I’m not sure, exactly, what motivates the Egyptian Muslims to aim that speaker right into the Christian retreat center.  It might stem from a desire to harass and intimidate.  It might be a desire to constantly remind the Christians that Egypt is an Islamic nation.  It might stem from an anxiety that Christians pose a threat to an Islamic society. It might even be a pretty bad attempt at evangelism.  And it might be some sort of combination of these things.

Whatever it is, I would not call it a good thing, even though I wouldn’t put it in the category of religious persecution.  Harassment, maybe.

Here is my main observation:  it is at this point that we Christians (and other non-Muslims) are tempted to shake our heads at this behavior and file the situation away in our mind as another example of the problems with Islam.  I know I am tempted that way.

I use the word “tempted” because there is a danger here that sin would distort our thinking.  I’m not saying these particular Muslims are innocent of bad behavior.  I’m saying that the flip side of the “problem with Islam” way of thinking is that it subconsciously and conveniently assumes that a “Christian” or “secular” society (take your pick) does not have the same problem.  In other words, we are tempted, even in an unconscious way, to think, “I’m sure glad we aren’t that way.”

A colleague of mine, Steve Moroney, identifies this sort of things as a “self-serving comparison.”  Moroney published an interesting study which drew upon social psychology and theology to explain how sin affects our thinking.   Simply put, when we are considering a trait that is socially desirable, most of us report that we are better than average.

Of course, it is impossible for a majority of people to be better than average.  (Do the math).  But consider that most Americans consider themselves to be safer drivers than other Americans.  Most business executives consider themselves to be more ethical than the average business executive.  78% of Australians consider themselves to be better parents than average. When high school students were asked to rate how well they got along with others, all rated themselves as at least average, 60% considered themselves to be in the top tenth of this trait and 25% thought they were in the top 1% of those with the ability to get along with others.

Ah, those funny business executives, Australians, and high school students just can’t see themselves as clearly as, say, professors.  After all, it is our job as professors is to think clearly.  Right?  Well, 88% of all professors think their teaching is above average.  10% rate their teaching as average.  Only 2% consider themselves to be below average, which just goes to show you that just about every college class produces great teaching that is well above average.

Of course, Jesus understood all of this two thousand years ago, when he asked, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

A question to ask, then, is how do we treat Muslims in the United States?  Do we have our own version of speakers blaring into their retreat centers which, I should say again, is a very bad method of evangelism?  Maybe we do a better job, but we should not assume we do.  Instead of assuming that obnoxious or bad behavior is a “problem with Islam,” we should probably ask different questions, individually and as a society, as to whether we might have blind spots in this area and how we would find out if we did.  We need to get better at recognizing our own blind spots.

A friend of mine told me that he once heard a lady walking out of his church one Sunday morning saying, “I’m sure glad we Quakers don’t stereotype other people like the Baptists do.”

And I’m sure glad I’m getting better than that Quaker lady at recognizing my own blind spots.


NPR Has Discovered Christians in Hong Kong, and Boy, Are They Surprised

Maybe there is a little progress being made on the religion in the news media thing.  NPR, which in my estimation has had something of a blind spot for religion, has reported that the Christian faith is an important part of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong — as well as some Christians who are voicing criticism.

NPRNPR is surprised by this, but I’m not surprised they are surprised.

Will The New York Times finally start to see what others are seeing?  There is still no sign that the light is dawning there.  They did mention the Catholic church and other “non-governmental organizations” like Amnesty International in a story about groups that Chinese officials are worried about.  The Chinese government is worried about Catholics?  Hmm.  Why would that be?  (Hint.  Hint.)

(My thanks go out to my daughter Brenna, who tipped me off to the NPR story.  You might might be interested in reading her blog — she’s a better writer than I am — about her work in Egypt.  She is serving in a one-year program established by the Mennonite Central Committee that places Christians in service work with other Christians around the world.  She’s working at a retreat center run by the Coptic Church.)



Is this News to You? The New York Times has a Blind Spot with Religion.

In the last couple of weeks, pro-democracy protests have been surging through Hong Kong.  Evangelical Christians are playing a significant role in the organization and leadership of the Umbrella Movement leading the protests.

Yet, in its extensive coverage of these developments, the New York Times doesn’t  discuss religion.

Are you surprised by this?

I am not.

An example:  The Times ran a front page story last week (October 2) about Joshua Wong, who is leading the pro-democracy student protests.  The paper ran the headline, “At 17, Leading Protests That Rattle Hong Kong.”  Several pages later the story continued with a second headline, “Student at Forefront of Hong Kong Democracy Movement is Unlikely Agitator.”

Joshua Wong

Joshua Wong

What makes him unlikely?  Well, he is young.  We find out that Wong started protests of government curriculum in his school three years ago.  And we learn that he represents an idealistic culture of protest.  We also learn that his university entrance exam scores were middling.

What else is unlikely?  It would be unlikely for the Times to recognize that Joshua Wong has been shaped by evangelical Christianity.  The article did mention that Wong’s parents were “Protestants who kindled a concern for social justice,” but that is the only mention of religion in any of the articles the Times reported.

It is not just Wong.  A disproportionate number of protesters in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement are Christian.  The same goes for the Scholarism movement that Wong founded several years ago.  Two of the three leaders of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace movement are Christian.   And interestingly, some of the criticism of the movement, as well, comes from Christian leaders.  One of the most vocal critics in Hong Kong is an Anglican bishop.  The Times does not mention any of this.

I’m not surprised because, as I mentioned in my last post, the Times has a blind spot when it comes to religion.  Now, I should mention that I subscribe to The New York Times.  It’s a good way for me to get relatively deep coverage of world events.  That is, the coverage is good unless religion (particularly Christianity) is a significant factor in the story.  It appears to me that the people in power at that newspaper just don’t understand religion or have a good sense for how it could motivate modern people, particularly in public ways.

The Times is not alone in that regard.  A lot of the news media has a blind spot when it comes to religion, Christianity and evangelicalism.  Much of the rest of our news media is just like the Times in this regard.  That is one reason why many American Christians argue that there is a liberal bias in the media.

But the problem of blind spots is not just with “liberal media.”  The “conservative media” has its own blind spots.  (See Bill O’Reilly on race, for instance).

The problem with blind spots is us.  By “us” I mean those individuals who breathe and think and have desires, a demographic that covers a remarkably high percentage of people.

I have blind spots.  So do you.  We don’t know what they are, because we are “blind” to them.  Get it?

Every now and then, our eyes are opened, at least a little bit.  That was the point of my embarrassing story about my exchange with the post-modern feminist on my dissertation committee.  You might recall that she asked rather pointedly how I could claim to provide a solid analysis of the evangelical missionary movement and not consider women, since women made up a majority of missionaries.

I wonder, then, what would happen if were able to ask the editors of The New York Times how they could claim to be investigating the causes of this pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and not consider the role Christianity plays, since Christians make up a good deal of the leadership?  Of course, people like me don’t have the ear of the Times editors.  And even when our blind spots are pointed out, we often don’t truly believe that they exist.  So we don’t see them.  I doubt I could convince the Times editors that they have a blind spot.

But the point here is not to tweak the noses of The New York Times.  (Well, OK, I have to confess that I do actually want to tweak the noses of The New York Times.)

My point is that we need to realize that all of us have blind spots and we need to be aware that they exist, even if we don’t know what, exactly, they are.

The Bible vs. The Qur’an

No, this is not a post setting up a heavy-weight battle between two powerhouses who slug it out, like the Rome vs. Carthage, or the Yankees vs. the Red Sox, or Wile E. Coyote vs. the Road Runner.

Not exactly, I guess.  But you know where my faith commitments lie.  So I confess that I want to make a theological point about how God works in the world and what that has to do with language.

If you have had some instruction in world religions or if you just pick things up about the world, you might know that, when it comes to language, Christians and Muslims view their sacred texts in different ways.  Christians believe that the Bible can be translated into any language and it will still be sacred.  It’s still the Bible.   Muslims, however, believe the Qur’an is only the Qur’an if it is read in Arabic.  You could translate it into English, but if you do that, it is no longer sacred and it is no longer authoritative.  In other words, to truly read the Qur’an as a sacred text, one has to read it in Arabic.

So what?

Mandinka boys....who actually seem a lot like boys everywhere, regardless of the language.

Mandinka boys….who actually seem a lot like boys everywhere, regardless of the language.

I began to understand the significance of this a number of years ago when I participated in a seminar led by Lamin Sanneh.  Sanneh, who today is Professor of World Christianity at Yale Divinity School, grew up as a Muslim in the Gambia.  His people were the Mandinka.  As a young boy, Sanneh was sent off to Qur’an school to learn the sacred scriptures. That meant, of course, that Sanneh had to learn Arabic. As I recall him telling the story, Sanneh internalized the message that his own language, Mandinka, which was spoken at home, in the market, and in the fields, was not a language fit for the holy things of Allah.

Years later, Sanneh was drawn to Christianity.  In the midst of the process of exploring Christianity, he had been struck by the reality that the Bible was translated into the Mandinka language.  All his Islamic training, of course, had taught him that one had to work very hard to master a very special language in order to approach Allah, (assuming one was a privileged male with access to Qur’an school to begin with.)  Yet here was Christianity, translating its sacred text into Mandinka.  What kind of God was this, whose holy words could be spoken in this language used by little girls, and pottery merchants, and goat-herders?

Translation, then, not only made it possible for the Bible to be spoken in Sanneh’s heart-language.  Biblical translation implicitly declares that God cares about the Mandinka language, Mandinka culture, and Mandinka girls and Mandinka pottery merchants and Mandinka goat-herders.  Not to mention Swedes, Brazilians, Kikuyu, Japanese, and Arabs.  This is a profound and mysterious way the incarnation works.  God meets us where we are.

I was reminded of this while reading John 4 this morning.  This is the wonderful story where Jesus stops to talk to the woman at the well.  The setting alone blows me away, when I think about it.  God did not have to become flesh.  And even then, God could have appeared anywhere in history, in any way, to anybody.  So, of all the prominent, godly, smart, talented, or notable people down through history whom God could speak to, God chooses to have a compassionate face-to face conversation with an unknown Samaritan woman of dubious reputation.

What kind of God is this?


Boxing Day, The Wizard of Oz, Kikuyu Bibles, That Sort of Thing…..

And now, for a holiday that Americans don’t spend any money on….because it is British.

Many years ago, when I was teaching at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, I took part in an old English tradition on Boxing Day.  As I found out, Boxing Day has nothing to do with that dubious athletic goal of punching another person senseless, (sorry for sounding like an elitist snob here, but why do we consider boxing to be a “sport?”)  Boxing Day, rather, stemmed from a 19th century tradition when people would box up food and other items on December 26 to take out to the neighborhood poor.

As a former British colony, Kenyans still celebrated Boxing Day.  Like the British, though, few Kenyans actually boxed up food for the local poor any more.   In fact, most Kenyans, like Americans, may not even know what this holiday was all about.  The Brits themselves may be a bit fuzzy themselves.  From what I can tell from my English friend and colleague, Malcolm Gold, when he was growing up the English primarily celebrated Boxing Day by watching “The Wizard of Oz” on the telly.  Because, you know, munchkins and flying monkeys.

A time-honored holiday tradition!  For some people, I guess.

A time-honored holiday tradition! For some people, I guess.

At any rate, one year when I was in Kenya, the chaplain of our school for missionary kids had decided that it would be good to resurrect the old English custom since there were a lot of poor in our area.   He had collected money from the students during the previous term and then purchased goods to take out to the community on Boxing Day.  I went along to help because it sounded like a good thing to do.  And I didn’t have TV reception to get “The Wizard of Oz.”

Our chaplain had worked with the Kikuyu elders of the local church to identify about a dozen of the poorest households in the community.  In Kenya this means those who are what economists would call “desperately poor” rather than just “poor.”   These people had far fewer resources than those in poverty in the US — we’re talking about people who make something like $200 to $600 a year, with no soup kitchens, welfare or rescue missions around.  They were, of course, quite grateful to be getting a box full of food.  These people knew what it was like to have days when you did not have much, if anything, to eat.  And that is why I was rather surprised to see that a number of them got even more excited (as did a few neighbors who had gathered around) to find that our chaplain had included a Kikuyu Bible in the box.

Think of this:  you are poor, you sometimes don’t have enough food to eat, you receive a box of food, but you get most excited about a Bible in the box?

I could end the post right here with a nice evangelical moral about how valuable the Bible is.  I won’t do that though, for two reasons.  First of all, it is a little too simple.  It sounds a little too much like the sappy moralistic stories that Victorian Christians used to tell their children in Sunday School to get them to be good.  Therefore it would come off sounding shallower than what it really was.  (I ought to point out, though, that those same sappy Victorian Christians did think they ought to personally get up and try to do something to help others, which is much more commendable than sitting at home watching Judy Garland and Toto cavort with a scarecrow.   Though, you know, that would be fun).

Today you can get the Kikuyu Bible online for free...if you have enough economic resources to have internet access.

Today you can get the Kikuyu Bible online for free…if you have enough economic resources to have internet access.

The second and primary reason I don’t end the story here is because there are important theological and cultural dynamics at play here.  These were Bibles that had been translated into Kikuyu.  At that time, for reasons that I don’t understand, there had been publishing problems in Kenya.  Kikuyu Bibles were in short supply.  But not other Bibles.  There were plenty of English and Swahili Bibles to be found.  Most of the Africans in our community spoke Kikuyu, English and Swahili.  So, if they could get Bibles that they could read, what was so special about a Bible in Kikuyu?

The answer lies in understanding how language works and what that has to do with the Christian faith.  A friend of mine who is an anthropologist and a missionary talks about the importance of the “heart language.”  For those of us who grew up in the United States and really only know one language, this is kind of hard to grasp.  But for those who know several languages, there is often something special about the “mother tongue” or language that one learned first, as a child.  Great truths take on far more power, meaning and significance when they are communicated in the first language one learned.   It might be something like the mix of passions and emotions that can arise within you when you hear a favorite old hymn or song.  For those who grew up speaking Kikuyu before learning Swahili or English, a Kikuyu Bible will have far more meaning and power.

The “heart language.”  There is a lot to this — important theological, cultural and historical implications to this relationship between language and culture.  And it is important for the church today.  My plan is to explore these in the next couple of posts.


Brazil, Brazil, Brazil……..

The pope and I were both in Brazil last week.   I left Rio de Janeiro a few days before he arrived, so we didn’t get the chance to touch base.  Should I try to friend him on Facebook?  I’m just not sure how social etiquette works in this new digital age.

We both seem to have developed an interest in Brazil, though.  Brazil is interesting for a lot of reasons:  soccer, its rising economic power, the 2016 Olympics, piranhas, massive street protests, cool music about beautiful people on beaches, Mardi Gras, flip-flops.  Those sorts of things.

The pope attracted huge crowds in Rio de Janeiro…..

The pope and I, however, are interested in Brazil for other reasons.  You know why the pope was there.  I was in Rio, Brasilia and the Amazon with two dozen American and Brazilian evangelical scholars under a program sponsored by the Council for Christian College and Universities and the Nagel Institute.  Our group was studying the role of evangelicalism in Brazil.  This seems to be a topic on the pope’s radar as well.   If you have been following the news of the pope’s visit, you will know that the Catholicism in Brazil has been losing large numbers of followers in the last few decades to evangelicals, particularly Pentecostals.  Protestants made up 2.6% of the population in 1940.  They are now up to 21%.  This makes Brazil both the world’s largest Catholic country and the world’s largest Pentecostal country.  This is a very interesting situation.

….our group….not so much.

(For those of you who wish the United States were number one in these sorts of things, you might take comfort in the fact that the U.S. leads the world in Methodists, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Baptists, Jews, Churches of Christ, Scientologists, Amish, Nazarenes, and Unarians — who believe that we can communicate with extra-terrestrials by using fourth dimensional physics.  This is also a very interesting situation.  But that’s a topic for a different blog.)

Why, though, has evangelicalism been growing so much in Brazil, particularly among the poor?  A little historical background:

In 1968, in the wake of Vatican II, Catholic bishops from Latin America met in Medellin, Colombia to reexamine the church’s relationship to Latin American society.  They declared that the mission of the Catholic Church was to enact “a preferential option for the poor.”  A number of movements sprung from this action, including the development of liberation theology and the formation of something called Base Ecclesial Communities, which sought to address economic inequities and mobilize the poor for social reform movements.  And indeed, the pope’s message in Rio on Sunday sounded these themes as well.

This is a Christian program that ought to gain traction in Brazil.  For centuries, small groups of elites have controlled political power, owned almost all of the land, directed the economy toward their interests and dictated social norms in society.  Most ordinary people have had little opportunity for advancement and social mobility.  As a result, some of the greatest economic, political and social inequities in the world can be found in Latin America, including Brazil.

But here is where things get a bit puzzling.  As one scholar has noted, the Catholic Church implemented a “preferential option for the poor,” but the poor expressed a preferential option for Pentecostalism.  Why?

There have been many explanations for this, but I haven’t found any of them fully convincing.  In reporting on the pope this week, NPR explained that Pentecostals are much better at advertising and marketing their product.  OK, this may help attract people to church, it doesn’t explain why they stay.

Some people argue that Pentecostal churches preach a prosperity gospel message, promising the poor that God will bless them with wealth if they just commit themselves to the faith.   But this message is not preached by many Pentecostals, and this theology seems to be most prominent among the middle class or those that are already on their way up the social ladder.

Some have pointed out that Pentecostalism is very democratized in its structure, vaulting poor and uneducated members into positions of leadership and influence.  This is true, but Pentecostalism also produces hierarchical churches where charismatic leaders hold authoritarian sway over their congregations.

And why has Pentecostalism succeeded so well in Brazil, Guatemala and Chile, but it has had very little success in Colombia, Bolivia and Venezuela?

There are other explanations for these things, which require book-length studies to explain.  It’s complicated.  And there are still a lot of questions for which we don’t have a complete and satisfying answers.

But given the size of Brazil, religiously, politically and economically, it is bound to exercise increasing influence in the Americas in the decades to come.

So pay attention.

An Episcopalian Who May Not Be Your First Choice as a Banquet Speaker

Episcopalians are generally a pretty respectable lot.  Well-educated.  Self-disciplined.  Reasonable.  Dignified.  Prudent.   There is often a certain gravitas to them.

So, if you seated James Madison on one side of the table…….

Consider, for instance, the following list of Episcopalians:  George Washington, James Madison, T.S. Eliot, Eleanor Roosevelt, Buzz Aldrin, Sandra Day O’Conner, Colin Powell, Batman.

Not a single one of them would embarrass you at a dinner party.  If you needed somebody to lend dignity to a national event by saying a few words at the opening ceremony, any in this group would make you proud.   Install any one of them as president of a university, and the U.S. News and World Report rankings of the institution would automatically jump up ten places, even if it was already ranked at number five.

And then there is William Wadé Harris.

Sure, this African Christian started down the path of respectable Episcopalianism.  In Liberia in the 1890s, Harris served as a catechist and teacher for the Episcopalian mission near Cape Palmas.  Working for the missionary machinery that brought education, Christianity, bureaucratic government, scientific farming and modest clothing styles to Africa, Harris was an unimpeachable product of, in the terminology of the day, “the civilizing mission.”

At least that is what it could look like for a while, from the outside.  It became harder to see Harris as a respectable Episcopalian, or any kind of Episcopalian, for that matter, in 1910.

Harris was in jail that year.  He had been convicted of treason after raising the British Union Jack on the beach and yelling at the Americo-Liberians (black immigrants from the United States who dominated Liberia) to get out of his country.  But there is more.  While in jail, as Harris explained later, the angel Gabriel visited him in a trance.  The angel descended three times and felt like ice on his head.  According to Harris, Gabriel anointed him as a prophet like Elijah, Daniel, Ezekiel and John, and instructed him to burn fetishes and preach Christ, who was about to usher in the peace of a thousand years, as spoken of in the book of Revelation.

I’m pretty sure that this sort of thing never happened to George Washington.

… to Prophet Harris, what would the two talk about? The Book of Common Prayer?

And I can’t see Eleanor Roosevelt casting out evil spirits, miraculously healing the sick, adopting polygamy, or cursing dockworkers who worked on Sunday.  All these actions were attributed to Harris, though.  He sometimes engaged African medicine men in showdowns of supernatural power.  Some say he raised the dead to life.

So one does not know what would happen at dinner parties if Harris were invited.

Catholic and Methodist missionaries, who were almost as respectable as Episcopalians, did not know quite what to make of him, either.  His evangelistic tours through West Africa after 1910 brought hundreds of thousands of Africans to the faith, new Christians who followed his instructions to build churches and wait for white missionaries to arrive with Bibles.  The missionaries, of course, were pleased to see their churches overflow with converts.  But they were not sure if Harris’ baptisms were conducted properly.  They did not approve of polygamy.

This, of course, raised intellectual and theological challenges to the missionaries of his day.  But Harris also raises challenges to westerners today.  Some secular anthropologists like Lionel Tiger often assume that a certain kind of functional coherence exists in traditional religions.  They assume people of other cultures are content with their religious faith and values.  Yet traditional African religions, like religions in the West, are not as tidy as assumed.  Nor are their adherents necessarily content with them.  Many west Africans felt conflicted about the power for good and evil that they experienced in their traditional religions.  William Wadé Harris proclaimed that his African audiences could encounter a spiritual power – the power of Christ – that would release them from the power of their fetishes.  Hundreds of thousands jumped at this chance.

There is a challenge here to American evangelicals, as well.  It is easy, as an American Christian, to view African Christians as if they are American evangelicals with livelier music.  Harris, however, just might make some American Christians uncomfortable if he were to speak in their Sunday School.  Just what are we to do with polygamy and evil spirits, anyway?

We need to keep this in mind:  Christianity that has been transmitted to African soil often bears fruit that may look and taste different from what you’ve plopped on your plate at the Sunday potluck.  Variations of world Christianity can raise issues that many American evangelicals have not considered.  That is just one reason why western Christians don’t have all the answer to issues facing Africa.  As far as I know, the seminaries where we send our ministers don’t offer courses on African fetishes.

Nor do African Christians have all the answers, either.  The challenge, then, is to utilize our resources to collaborate and learn from one another.   The process will probably raise uncomfortable questions, but that happens in the Christian faith.  It can even happen to Episcopalians.