It’s too bad Christianity became a European religion. At the beginning of the seventh century, only about a quarter of the world’s Christians were on that continent. The majority were strewn across vibrant communities in Africa and Asia. It’s that way again.
The growth of Christianity in the non-European world over the past century is astonishing. At the start of the 20th century, two-thirds of all Christians were in Europe. Now three-quarters are outside that continent. The Global North is the minority. And it is not simply that missionary endeavours went hand-in-hand with European colonial expansion (which was often true, even for Anabaptist workers). At least nowadays, most of the global population has enough agency to pick their own religious faith, especially if they have a critical analysis of faith and history.
I am not embarrassed by evangelism. I am a Christian because of it, since I was not brought up in a church-going home, and I am very glad. I am also deeply embarrassed by the history of Christianity used oppressively. I believe any of us can learn much from cultures other than our own. Unfortunately, theology from the majority world is a minority strand in the global discourses of Christianity.
I recently finished a book called Theologies of the Land, with chapters by a Cree Canadian, a Palestinian, a Black South African, a Honduran and a Chinese Malaysian. Each is a professional theologian. Each of them challenged something that I had unintentionally normalized. It goes without saying that all are firm in their beliefs in Christ. They all firmly denounce historical injustices perpetrated in the name of the faith, and the way that the Bible has often been weaponized against their people.
For instance, one chapter unpacked the theology of racial inferiority that laid the groundwork for apartheid as “God’s plan.” If this had been my first encounter with such a theology, I would have been aghast. It is diametrically opposed to my own understanding of Christian practice. We cannot dismiss such beliefs today as aberrant and abhorrent.
The latest book in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Shelf of Literature put out by Mennonite World Conference is about “mission.” It begins by unpacking theologies of race that underpinned missionary efforts in Africa. Anabaptist theologian Drew Hart has now written two books about race in the church. Racism, ethnocentrism and power relations of all types are more dangerous when they are subtle. Unexamined assumptions are impossible to deal with.
One never knows how the Spirit of God will work. During the sharing time at my church, I expressed my amazement at Hart’s articulation (and sociological depth). During a potluck months later, one of the much-older fellows in the congregation approached me. He had now read that book and was gripped. Among his observations was whether the anti-Black racial supremacy described in American churches also operated in Canada. (Yes.) And whether Indigenous peoples in Canada faced similar theological suppression.
Of course! Mennonite Church Canada has a full-time staff worker for that very reason. “Indigenous relations” is not only the task for Steve Heinrichs. He is employed to help every congregation and participant on this path, partly by holding open doors for the rest of us to enter, learn and be in solidarity.
Majority-world theologians point out things that I might not have examined here in the minority world of the Global North. Without them, the practice of my faith would be poorer and God would be smaller.
Randoloph Haluza-DeLay (firstname.lastname@example.org.) is a former sociology professor now living in Toronto.