Out of Africa
Students of religion have been saying for a long time that Africa is the future of Christianity. Twenty years ago, Philip Jenkins argued, in his still enlightening book The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, that by 2050 there will be more Catholics in Sub-Saharan Africa than in Europe, and by the end of the century more than there were in the whole world then. (And that was before the rapid decline of Christian numbers in Europe and America.) He also predicted that “global” Christianity, which takes its most dynamic forms (both Catholic and evangelical) in Africa and Asia, will change the face of the churches in the rest of the world.
I have to confess that when I first read that, shortly after the book appeared, I assumed that Jenkins was right, if only owing to sheer population growth in Africa. But if you reflect on the matter a bit, Church growth is never automatic. Children abandon the faith of their parents, the parents themselves drift away or grow indifferent, other influences – notably militant incursions from Islam or economic infiltration by the Chinese – may lead people astray in various parts of the developing world. It takes evangelization – not our first-world fears of “proselytizing,” but a robust presentation of the Gospel and the truth about the living God – to transmit the Faith across generations, even in Africa.
Happily, the effects of that evangelization don’t stay in Africa. During the past few synods in Rome, the African bishops have stoutly helped hold the line on matters such as marriage, homosexuality, and the formation of young people. Cardinal Kasper, whose work helped get Communion for the divorced and remarried on the table at the two synods on the family, became so exasperated when things didn’t move in the direction he hoped that he was caught on tape saying “they [the Africans] should not tell us too much what we have to do.” If you agree with him about where the Church should go, of course, he had a point. Those traditional societies aren’t intimidated by what they see happening in our confused and – let’s say it frankly – decadent cultures.