Thursday, March 16, 2006

On Sheep in Nigeria

Today on NPR’s “Morning Edition” there was a report on religion in Nigeria. You can hear it here. It makes for interesting listening.

The scholar interviewed spoke of a “Christian renaissance” in Nigeria, and of the number of Christian denominations that are spreading, not only in Nigeria, but abroad, including to the United States. And she wasn’t speaking about the Church of Nigeria in America. The specific Christian group cited was the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which has built a major new church in Texas. When I did a search, I also found this story about Nigerian churches in America, and the pastoral problems of their pastors.

The NPR story got me to thinking. In the past few years – at least before the 2003 General Convention - the most energetic conversations about changes in the Episcopal Church haven’t been about our work reaching out to the unchurched. They have been about the loss of Episcopalians and other mainline Christians to the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and especially to mega-churches. Sure, we talked about 2020, and about immigrant communities. But until we were wrestling about moral issues, we were concerned that our people were drifting away for the emotional excitement and simplistic answers of those churches.

Which brought me to wonder whether the same were true in Nigeria. What I have heard and read about other Christian churches in Nigeria suggests that there are many significant Evangelical and Pentecostal churches. I wonder whether there is as much anxiety about losses to those churches as there is about living with Muslims.

That’s not necessarily a difference that makes a difference. After all, I would expect that these other churches in Nigeria would be just as clear as Muslims in their condemnation of homosexual behavior. They would have similar moral expectations, as do the conservative Evangelical and Pentecostal churches in the United States.

On the other hand I had to wonder: is all this part of the concern about how others in Nigeria will see the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and so the Church of Nigeria - Anglican? They complain about the pressure from Muslims. Are they secretly just as concerned about sheep-stealing among Christians. Something to think about, anyway.

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