Religious Liberalism = Spiritual Senescence
Continuing the discussion of American cultural imperialism, First Things (which has had some great stuff lately) publishes an essay by the Rev. John Azumah, a Presbyterian pastor from Ghana, who teaches at a PC(USA) seminary in the United States. He talks about how Americans — well, liberal Americans at least — are completely accepting of homosexuality, which is deeply rejected by Africans. Excerpts:
My first “welcome to America” moment occurred when I invited an imam to my Introduction to Islam class at Columbia Theological Seminary.The imam talked about the basic tenets of Islam for an hour and asserted, among other things, that Jesus is not the Son of God, denied that he was crucified, and maintained that the Bible has been falsified. My students listened respectfully throughout the lecture. When he paused and invited discussion, the students replied with rather timid and politically correct queries, at which point the imam said: “Why are you not asking me about jihad, about terrorism, women? I know you have all these questions. Why are you not asking me the hard questions?” So one student queried him about Islamic teaching on homosexuality. The imam answered by defining the practice as un-Islamic, not of God, unnatural. Suddenly, the faces of a good number of the students went red with shock and rage. I stepped in and gently steered the discussion away from the topic.
After the class ended, the few conservative students in the class approached and slyly suggested that I invite the imam again. Other students urged me to cancel a scheduled visit to the mosque the following Friday. I resisted those efforts and we all visited the mosque, after which the imam and his elders unexpectedly hosted the class for an Ethiopian feast. A lesbian student who had been most upset after the class confessed that she was glad she came, because she saw a hospitable and warm side of the imam.
As I look back upon the whole episode, I think I ended up more unsettled than my students. They were agitated by what the imam said about homosexuality, but seemed wholly at ease with his negation of fundamental Christian beliefs. If this were a seminary in Ghana, my home country, the reverse would have been the case.
Amazing, but unsurprising. Most of these students studying to be ordained Christian pastors didn’t have any particular reaction to the imam’s denial of basic Christian teaching (not that they should have been offended, but at least they should have engaged him). They didn’t even care enough to engage him critically on some disturbing aspects of contemporary Islam. But when the imam criticized homosexuality? Well, the imam defiled the high holy of American liberalism right there!
Pastor Azumah comes off as an irenic figure who is trying to mediate within his church between the liberal West and the “Global South.” Here he gets to the heart of the problem:
I have come to the conclusion that the doctrinal differences between American liberals and African traditionalists originate in deeper conflicts. We may argue about what the Bible says about sexuality, but there is a broader, unstated disagreement over the Bible itself. For mainstream Western society, the Bible is an ancient text that might arouse intellectual curiosity or become the subject of historical analysis, but it is hardly a sacred book. It has no more authority in American culture than the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King’s speeches, and other notable historic statements. Dropping the language of “obedience to Scripture” and “conformity to the historic confessional standards” from the PC(USA) Ordination Standards underscores this point.
The Bible has a very different status in African societies. Where Christianity has become dominant in the last century, the Bible remains a sacred text, relevant and living. The Bible is more than a compilation of historical documents. It is, in very significant ways, an African Testament. For large segments of African Christian societies, the world of the Bible is contemporary. Old and New Testament narratives of sacrifice, polygamy, plague, agriculture, dancing, shepherds, tensions between nomadic pastoralism and peasant dwellers, epidemics, and war have immediate relevance. Andrew Walls remarks, “You do not have to interpret Old Testament Christianity to Africans; they live in an Old Testament world.”
Azumah says that a basic difference between African Christians and liberal Christians in Europe and North America is the “enduring importance of traditional conceptions of family and morality.
This largely shields Africans from the cultural upheavals that America has suffered, including redefinitions of male-female roles, chastity, holiness, and, of course, the normalization of homosexual sex. Liberal American Christians judge the African position on homosexuality as cruel to one set of human beings. But Africans have no problem in naming homosexuality a sin and praying for the redemption of all sinners. We heed the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew 13. We remember that the harvest and separation of the wheat from the weeds is none of our business and belongs to the not yet, the final consummation of the Kingdom of God. There should be no place for homophobia in the African church. But there is also no place for redefining the Word of God.
As a result, Africans still believe in marriage as the union of man and woman and view homosexuality as contrary to God’s design and will, a reflection of the broken sinfulness of humanity. To hear mainstream Western media and Western liberals dismiss African disapproval of same-sex relations as the work of right-wing American Evangelical groups brings to mind a long history of patronizing attitudes and contempt. The fact that the views of the vast majority of African society on issues of sex and marriage align with those of American Evangelicals does not mean Africans are mimicking or acting as proxies of American anti-gay groups. African views, which are shared by the overwhelming majority of non-Western societies, are based on sound biblical interpretation that reinforces and is reinforced by the traditional African view of life, family, community, and sexual ethics.
Agreed! Read the whole thing. It’s important — especially the part where the author talks about the effect Western liberalism on homosexuality has on African Christians having to face down militant Islam. Pastor Azumah speaks from a church and a cultural milieu that, for all its flaws, remains Christian. Unlike our own. Note the statistics on the liberal, post-Christian PC(USA). The church is in ongoing collapse. At its current rate of decline, the last PC(USA) member will turn out the lights around the middle of this century.
It’s hard to deny that Western liberalism, especially with its obsession on sex and sexuality, means spiritual sterility and ecclesial senescence. And not just senescence in the churches. It’s not enough that we’re slowly killing our own civilizations; we have to try to force Africans to kill theirs as well.