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The African Influence

by John Paul Donaldson

Not since Saint Augustine left Algeria and crossed the Strait of Gibraltar on his way to Rome has Africa impacted worldwide Christianity as it is today. News last week about the Anglican Church is just one example. According to the BBC, there are now more than 38 million Anglicans in Africa, compared to just 26 million Anglicans in England. The increased numbers have translated into increased influence, and the African Anglicans are more conservative than their English and American brethren. There was a meeting last week in Tanzanian, Africa, of Anglican leaders from around the world. High on the agenda was what to do with rogue elements, like the Episcopal Church United States of America (ECUSA). The ECUSA (membership about 2.5 million) has created a stir by being the first Anglican Church to elect women as bishops, to elect an openly gay bishop, and to support same sex unions. Tensions were so high last week that when Holy Communion was served several African leaders would not participate with their American counterparts. The meeting closed on Tuesday, February 20, and the Anglican leaders issued a statement rebuking the ECUSA. The Episcopalians must bar same-sex blessing and the election of gay bishops or face unspecified consequences.

In another development, Anglican Archbishop Kolini of Rwanda has started a movement called “the Anglican Mission to America,” in which he has sponsored conservative congregations in the Untied States. The movement began in 2000 and now has 109 churches; the latest to switch over is Christ Church Plano, an Anglican Mega-church in Texas.

Anglicans are just one example of the wave of orthodoxy hitting American shores from the south. As the center of the Christian faith has gone below the equator, the new orthodoxy is being felt in many denominations.

The second largest protestant church in America, the United Methodist Church, has increasingly been influenced by conservative Methodists from Africa. The United Methodist Church is a community spread over 35 countries on 4 continents. UM Bishop Ann Sherer said recently that “The greatest vitality of Christian movement today is in the Southern Hemisphere -- in Africa, in Asia, and in Latin America.”

The chief legislative body of the UMC is the General Conference. It is made up of a 1000 delegates from around the world. Based on the latest numbers, at the next General Conference the number of US delegates will decline while the number of African delegates will go from 94 to 186. As Bishop Sherer said, “There's a potential that the global church will revitalize the Western church in Europe and the United States."

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