A progressive Christian pastor in the United States recently sent out a letter advocating that progressive Christians begin missionary outreach in Africa and build alliances with struggling progressive congregations in Africa. This idea originated from two African activists from Zambia and Uganda touring the United States.
Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest originally from Zambia, has been doing research on this for the Political Research Associates, a watchdog group observing right-wing political movements and concentrating on the movements of the "Christian" right. Frank Mugisha is executive director of a Ugandan liberation group called Sexual Minorities Uganda (or SMUG). Together they have laid out the picture of the central African situation: large, rich conservative churches which have received lavish support from right-wing American "Christians," who are there spreading a gospel of hate and building schools where their bigotry is being promulgated.
Meantime, progressive Christians, who do not believe that non-Christians will go to hell and who are sensitive about imposing our culture on others, have avoided missionary activity, leaving small, poor, progressive churches and their pastors in Africa to fend for themselves.
Kapya and Frank say that Africans are spiritual. It would not help for secular rights groups to go to Africa with an eye toward supporting the liberation movement. The support and the language must be Godly in order to be effective. Moreover, since Uganda is about to pass even harsher legislation making it illegal to harbor or support anyone who is GLBTI, the safest and best approach is to go and preach a gospel of love, and give money and support to those who are there already doing it. People need to hear that there is no room for hate in our Christian faith.
Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary's Center for the Study of Global Christianity recently published the Atlas of Global Christianity. The Africa Map (pdf) is available online. In introducing the Africa Map, the Atlas of Global Christianity reports:
Over the past 100 years Africa has experienced the most dramatic demographic religious transformation of any continent. In 1910 Africa was largely animistic in the south and Muslim in the north. There were 11.7 million Christians. By 2010 Christians have mushroomed by 40 times to more than 490 million. Ethnoreligionists dropped precipitously from 58% in 1910 to about 10% by 2010. Yet today’s presence of even a small percentage of ethnoreligionists is an unexpected development, for many in the early twentieth century predicted the complete disappearance of these traditional religions in a generation.
Christianity does not have a monolithic presence in Africa. Christians in Africa now number almost 50% of the population.
Over the past 100 years, Christianity has grown at nearly twice the population rate of Africa.
The claim that only 50% of Africa is Christian is misleading because there are many parts of Africa where 100% of the population is Christian. Here is a clip from the Atlas:
The darkest blue areas of the pie chart represent nations with populations where 95 to 100% are Christian. The nations in this category are: Congo, Burundi, Malawi, Angola, Uganda and DR Congo. The width of these nation's "piece of the pie" show the percentage of Christian population they have relative to all Christians in Africa.
Uganda with its pending Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 is on the list along with Malawi and the imprisonment of the gay couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. Burundi recently criminalized homosexuality.
Will progressive Christian outreach to these nations liberalize conservative African theology so that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people can be accepted?
Christian conservatives have long demonstrated a strong resistance to liberalizing their theology. Couple that with the progressive churches reluctance to do missionary work and it does not seem like a winning strategy. Christian outreach aimed at the acceptance of LGBTI people would need to be conducted within an Evangelical Christian framework to be heard in many African countries. More importantly, outreach should be done to meet the needs of African LGBTI Christians living in exile from their faith.
A more fruitful strategy may be to advocate for the separation of church and state. The lack of separation of church and state is bad not only for the state, but also for the church.
This was one of the major points in the The Evangelical Manifesto.