March 18, 2007

The Face of the New Christendom

The face of Christianity is literally changing as Christians in the Southern Hemisphere are rapidly growing in number. This is not a new finding, but I was recently reminded of this and its importance while discussing issues of how Southern Baptists relate to the global community. It started with Marty Duren putting up a fun post at his blog, SBC Outpost. His post dealt with the news that former megachurch pastor Bobby Welch has been selected to represent the SBC as it tries to (re)build relations with other Baptists worldwide. The position is the result of the SBC's withdrawal from the Baptist World Alliance a few years ago.

The news of Welch's appointment was disappointing considering that he spent tons of money during his last position with the SBC (when as its president he went on a 50 state bus tour with a fancy personalized bus). And though I don't think the final baptism numbers are in, it seems to be a good guess that he failed in his plan to encourage more baptisms. But now he will again get to travel around (this time the world and not the U.S.) with expenses paid by missions money. What makes this even more tragic is that the new position is not even really needed. The best representative for Baptist missions, fellowship, and cooperation is the BWA. Sadly, the withdrawal from the BWA was simply about the fact that the SBC wanted control (which could have never happened because the BWA is a global body). Since the SBC could not have complete control they decided to take their marbles and play alone.

As a result, the SBC has chosen Welch to help them build a new network of global relationships. While I applaud his focus on evangelism, I do not think he will be a good representative to the world community. His book (You The Warrior Leader: Applying Military Strategy For Victorious Spiritual Warfare) will likely not go over well with many people around the world. It is a violent and pro-America account that downplays the lives of those from other countries. Hopefully this book has not been translated and sent around the globe. With such an ethnocentric book I do not think Welch is the best ambassador to the world. Also, I wonder how his hard-line approach to alcohol will go over with some of our European Baptist brothers and sisters (see his over-the-top column in SBC Life last year).

All of this becomes particularly interesting because the BWA has nominated Jamaican pastor, theologian, author, media manager, and educator Neville Callam to be its new leader. This is a choice that shows they are planning for the future since the face of Christianity is literally shifting away from being Caucasians. This choice seems much wiser and future-focused than that of Welch. The Baptist General Convention of Missouri became a member of the BWA last year, and so I am glad that my representative in the global community will be Callam and not Welch. I hope that more U.S. Christians will begin to think about the future of Christianity and what we can do to improve global relations. We cannot be isolationists and we must be careful to always put our faith ahead of national pride. So which of these do you think should be the face of global Christian leadership?

5 comments:

  1. Yes, the face of Christianity is changing, and that is a very good thing.

    I don't think there should be any one face of global Christian leadership. Americans believe in democracy, right? From the Anglican perspective, I'd nominate Desmond Tutu, ex-Archbishop of South Africa. I don't think I need to explain his deeds.

    Rick Warren would probably nominate Peter Akinola of Nigeria (he wrote a piece on him in Time), but Akinola is a strong supporter of a Nigerian law that would criminalize any sort of advocacy on behalf of the gay and lesbian community in Nigeria. It would even ban same-sex marriages performed privately in church, and could ban any sort of public meeting between gays. Akinola's actions at the latest Anglican Primates' Meeting were rude at best.

    I know Baptists aren't very big on iconography, but I'd like to suggest that you browse Trinity Stores for the icons of Robert Lentz. He draws Jesus as an Apache, as a Navajo with Mary, as an Aztec, as an African, and as a (gasp!) woman of color (probably Palestinian).

    http://www.trinitystores.com/?alpha=x

    African has already produced Christian leaders with vision, like Tutu and his sucessor, Njongonkulu Ndungane. Asia will, I hope, soon do the same.

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  2. Yours is a most provocative post - I like it.

    True the South best represents the shift in Global Christianity. I do not believe, and neither did you say, that any single ethnic face should now replace the Caucasian one that has dominated Christianity since its arrival in Europe.

    To interpret the symbolism of Callam's representational role and what it reflects, as a singularly ethnic move is erroneous. Furthermore, to do that would be to surrender to the temptation to jump on the runaway train of 'Reactionary Christianity'. Today this is being passed off as 'apologetic Christianity' but which for me is not so cleverly disguised extreme fundamentalism, that breeds the same kind of religious extremism and nationalism for which some are being punished in certain parts of the world.

    I too laud the nomination of Rev. Neville Callam, as the one nominated to represent Global Baptists through the BWA. I am also happy that he will represent me, and millions of Baptists worldwide. I say this, not because I am both Baptist and Jamaican but also because I know the balanced views and positions of Rev. Neville Callam. I share my elation at http://www.marviaspanamajournal.com/72/jamaican-baptist-making-history/

    And to my friend in the previous comment - I love the idea of the Christ as a woman of colour. However, I would argue that She is certainly, Jamaican :-)

    Regarding the great leaders of Asia, I feel no compulsion to baptize Mahatma Gandhi and make him Christian in order to acknowledge his positive contribution to Christianity.

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  3. Thanks for the comments! You both offer some things to think about.

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  4. Brian,

    Bobby Welch is a real-deal Christian, and a gem of a gentleman.

    He will be a fine ambassador for Southern Baptists--his graciousness, personable smile and propensity for remembering your name put a person at ease immediately.

    If you've not met him, you would enjoy doing so.

    I echo his sentiments on the use of beverage alcohol, and really can't believe it would be debatable among a group of Baptists--preachers nonetheless!

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  5. Chuck: Thanks for the comment. I do not doubt that. And we should all praise God that he has led many people to Christ. However, I do think he needs to tone down his rhetoric some. As for the alcohol issue, it was his tone that most bothered me.

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