It’s a Global Christianity Question

DR. GINA A. ZURLO

CO-DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF GLOBAL CHRISTIANITY


The other day I was scrolling through Instagram and noticed an “ask me anything” session with Nadia Bolz-Weber, the Lutheran pastor and founder of House for all Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. Amidst questions related to religion, her personal life, etc., someone asked this:

“How do you reconcile your faith when the majority of Christians support Trump?”

Her answer was a decisively global Christianity answer:

“The majority of Christians do not live in this country.”

Dumbstruck as I was to see such an obvious reference to my discipline in a mainstream place (nearly 15,000 people “liked” this post and she has 128,000 followers), I was also intrigued with the implication of the question. It does not surprise me that many still believe the United States to be the center of the Christian universe – however, inherent in the logic of the question is that the majority ought to articulate the essence of our faith. But her answer implies otherwise.

How do Christians in the United States conceive of faith if far more Christians live in the global South (67%) than the global North (33%)? How do we think about our faith if the average Christian today is a woman under 25 living in relative poverty in sub-Saharan Africa?

In short, how is the reality of our global Christianity providing a corrective to our Western cultural perspectives?

For starters, world mission is deeply related to global Christianity. There would be no global Christianity without mission (and colonization, indigenous initiative, and a host of other historical events and actors). The question of how missions should be done in the 21st century should be answered by global Christianity. People in the North living in former missionary-sending countries are encountering new kinds of Christianity from the South in their own contexts (see the work of Jacob Olupona). Churches around the world should be considering mission more in terms of wholistic partnership, not a continuation of a white or Western narrative of the Christian message.

Denominational Christianity also grapples with world Christianity questions. For example, recent disagreements regarding LGBTQ inclusion in the church is tearing global networks apart, like the United Methodists and the Anglican Communion. What does it mean for a denomination to spread around the world and tackle tough theological and social issues together?

What about theological education? Last week I talked about teaching American Christian history from the perspective of a globalist. In essence I was saying that teaching American Christian history requires a global Christianity perspective. New pedagogies are needed to teach theology, biblical studies, preaching, and all other subjects as globalists, not localists. How can Christian institutions of higher education in the West recruit students from the global South only to teach them white Western understandings of faith and history? For theological education to be truly global, it has to embrace more relevant and contextual methods of teaching and learning (see Andrew Walls).

Let’s talk about gender inequality. For example, United Nations Women estimates that 35% of women have experienced physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, a figure that is as high at 70% in some countries. Gender inequality is indeed a global Christianity issue since some of the “most Christian” countries have some of the highest instances of violence against women, such as Papua New Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

I could go on. Christians are 34% of the world’s population (2.5 billion of 7 billion) and 155 of 234 countries (66% of all countries) are over 50% Christian. It seems reasonable to me that many of today’s pressing questions should and can be addressed by global Christianity; meaning, Christians should have something to say and should be able to intelligently discuss challenges of society in some sort of agreement. Safe water, internet access, education, corruption, HIV/AIDS, pandemics, money…  Are not these global Christianity issues as well? Unfortunately, world Christianity is fragmented. With 45,000+ denominations and probably even more perspectives on faith, scripture, tradition, and practice, it’s difficult for world Christianity speak with a unified voice, even on issues that are pertinent to the faith.

I often recommend my students to continue pushing themselves to think globally. Remember that the majority of Christians in the world live in a different cultural context than you; they ask different questions and expect different things from the faith. How do we reconcile our faith with the fact that the majority of Christians live outside of America? We begin by embracing our belonging to a global Christian family.