Hearing about the Anglican Communion asking the US and Canadian branches to leave for three years (to think about what they've done, re. the "crime" of consecrating Gene Robinson Bishop) reminded me of this article I wrote last year. I think it's still relevant, don't you?
All of my family and most of my best friends are Christians, running the gamut from Southern Baptist to Catholic to Dutch Reformed, so I need to say up front that I love and respect many Christians. That said, maybe I should stop watching The 700 Club! I just saw a terrifying report about the exploding growth of orthodox, “Biblical” Christianity in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. Pat Robertson, The 700 Club and their allies are doing everything in their considerable power to evangelize the Third World–not just to “save souls,” but to raise a spiritual army of radicalized Christians (what they call the “Third Church”) to evangelize the First World: the United States and Europe.
Apparently, already hundreds of millions of Third World people have been converted to this traditional, fundamentalist, supernatural Christianity, and it’s estimated that by 2050, members of this “Third Church” will number over ONE BILLION.
Why should this worry us? Don’t people have the right to share their religion with other people? Is it ethical, or even legal, to be against the radical Christianization of the Third World? How could we change this direction if we wanted to? Who will do it? I don’t have the time, and don’t we have enough problems of our own here at home?
Well, there are a number of reasons to be concerned by the rise of fundamentalism in the Third World, including:
• The increasing potential for armed clashes between “jihad” and “crusade” as fundamentalist Islam and Christianity collide;
• Conflicts between “First Church” nations and “Third Church” nations, that is, those using secular humanism and modern Biblical scholarship conflicting with those intensely dedicated to traditionalism and literalism;
• The skewing of church politics (for example, Third World Anglicans’ condemnation of the confirmation of gay Bishop, Gene Robinson, and their consecration of American conservatives as “missionary Bishops” to advance traditionalist causes in the USA);and,
• The grossly negative impact of fundamentalist Christianity on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning people’s human and civil rights, family planning, women’s rights, and religious freedom in developing nations.
Those are good reasons to worry! Of course, things aren’t a whole lot better now for LGBTQ and Ally people in developing nations. Amnesty International’s OUTfront project says, “Not only are people beaten, imprisoned and killed by their own governments for engaging in homosexual acts, but those suspected of being LGBT are routinely the victims of harassment, discrimination and violence. Many of those who speak up for Lesbian and Gay rights - regardless of their sexual identity - are themselves persecuted with impunity.” Imagine how much worse things could get when the number of passionate fundamentalists quadruples.
In all fairness, I should admit that it’s disingenuous to talk about Christians of the Third World as being of one mind or one “Third Church.” As in any large group of people, there is much diversity in spirituality and opinion among Third World Christians. Not all of them are intent on executing queers and bringing America “back to Christ.” Nor are their fundamentalist versions of Christianity all the same; Latin American Pentecostalism and African Initiated Churches do not share a uniform theology.
At the same time, the danger of an enormous, powerful, fundamentalist “Third Church” is very real, and if progressives, particularly progressives of faith, don’t find ways to stem the rising tide of Christian orthodoxy in the Southern Hemisphere within the next forty years, the world could face intense conflicts based on traditional permutations of religions that many of us in the First World thought we’d moved past. It’s true that we in developing nations have “developed” not just culturally, materially and technologically, but spiritually, as well. That makes it easy for us to forget that people in developing nations may have to pass through the same stages of development we progressives did. The First World has so many organizations working to help the Third World develop culturally, materially and technologically. There must also be ways we can help make their spiritual development smoother.
But don’t Pat Robertson, his 700 Club, the Asia Center for Missions, and the rest have the right to share their religion with other people? Do we have the right to oppose their indoctrination of our Third World sisters and brothers? Is it ethical, or even legal, to be against the radical Christianization of the Third World?
I believe in freedom of religion, and Rev. Robertson and his friends are welcome to believe whatever they like, and tell whomever they like about their faith tradition. At the same time, I have the right to believe differently and to speak out for what I believe is true, and I feel an obligation to speak out, first because I believe fundamentalist messages are so harmful, and second, because I believe in the separation of Church and State, and an explicit long-term goal of the establishment of the “Third Church” is to make my country a “Christian Nation.”
This column isn’t a call to oppose the expansion of Christianity, but the onus is on us to offer the Third World viable and appropriate alternatives to fundamentalism and its absolutist call to obey authority. It’s time First World progressives explored ways we can positively effect the development of the majority of the world’s nations and peoples. This is not the time to be insulated in our own lives or our own LGBT issues. We have to become activists, missionaries, and politicians in our own right if we’re to defend the future from the tide of fundamentalism rising outside our shrinking circle of concern.
For more about social change and religion, read A THEORY OF EVERYTHING by Ken Wilber, and SPIRAL DYNAMICS by Don Beck and Christopher Cowen.
For more about the rise of fundamentalism, you might check out THE BATTLE FOR GOD by Karen Armstrong, and RESCUING THE BIBLE FROM FUNDAMENTALISM: A BISHOP RETHINKS THE MEANING OF SCRIPTURE by John Shelby Spong.
Ko Imani’s book, SHIRT OF FLAME: THE SECRET GAY ART OF WAR, is available now!