New Christianity and Old Imperialism

Catholic Africans have made themselves heard at the recent Synod on the Family:

What was new at the extraordinary synod—and what helped make it “extraordinary” in the ordinary sense of that word—was the emergence of African Catholicism as a major factor in shaping the future of global Catholicism. African synod fathers were among the leaders in challenging the Kasper proposals [regarding divorce and receiving the Eucharist], arguing forcefully that the Christian idea of marriage had come to their cultures as a liberating force, especially for women. They also suggested, implicitly if not explicitly, that bishops representing dying local churches ought not be exporting Western decadence to the Global South, where Catholicism was growing exponentially by preaching the truths of the Gospel with compassion but also without compromise.

And representation of Asian countries in the Catholic hierarchy is growing along with the numbers of Catholics in those countries:

Pope Francis has just named 15 new “voting cardinals” to the body of prelates who will elect his successor, and his choices represent a further dilution of the power of the Italian bureaucracy which has hitherto constituted the hard core of global Catholicism. The new cardinal-electors hail from a total of 14 countries; only five come from Europe, and the European choices are somewhat unconventional.

With the growth of Catholicism and Christianity in general in Africa and Asia, Europeans and Americans are also finding something out: The new Christianity is the old Christianity. The Christianity of Africa and Asia is not the intellectualized Christianity of late Europe. It’s the Christianity of the New and Old Testament, complete with belief in miracles, the power of prayer, the importance of communal worship,the existence of angels and demons, and in the case of Catholicism, all the traditional Church views on abortion, marriage, divorce, and other topics.

Catholicism and Christianity are growing into a more truly global belief with voices heard from all nations. All Christians should be happy, right? Wrong.

In the interview [Cardinal] Kasper tries to dismiss the opinions of African bishops (which need not be accepted in whole to be taken seriously) as the product of mere taboo:

“Africa is totally different from the West. Also Asian and Muslim countries, they’re very different, especially about gays. You can’t speak about this with Africans and people of Muslim countries. It’s not possible. It’s a taboo. For us, we say we ought not to discriminate, we don’t want to discriminate in certain respects.”

Cardinal Kasper then went on to say how Africans “should not tell us too much what we have to do.” Turns out, Cardinal Kasper isn’t alone in his views on non-European Christians:

Ekeocha perceived Kasper’s words as typical of the dismissals she has encountered as an African Christian living in Europe. She’s heard it before, and now she hears it again:

“Reading this interview brought much tears to my eyes and much sadness to my heart because as an African woman now living in Europe, I am used to having my moral views and values ignored or put down as an ‘African issue’or an ‘African view point.’ I have had people imply that I am not sophisticated or evolved enough in my understanding of human sexuality, homosexuality, marriage, sanctity of human life from conception, openness to life and the so called ‘over-population.’

So as a result, in many circles, any contributions I make in discussions are placed in second or third rung. How can Africa stand shoulder to shoulder with other cultures if our views are considered uncouth or uncool by a standard strictly scripted by Western, worldly and wealthy nations?”

So as a bonus to finding out the new Christianity is just like the old Christianity, we’re also finding out that, for all the talk of diversity and respecting different points of view, we have the same old imperialism. Europe knows best, and anyone who disagrees just isn’t enlightened enough. It couldn’t possibly be that Europe is decaying while Africa and Asia are growing and renewing, even though all demographics and personal testimonies point to that conclusion. It couldn’t possibly be that Africa and Asia are holding to enduring values while Europe is busy progressing itself into cultural oblivion. Which reminds me of a favorite C.S. Lewis quote:

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

I’m willing to bet Africans and Asians are the most progressive Christians on the planet by that definition.