Christianity’s centre of gravity moves from Europe to Africa

Posted: 8 October, 2019 | Category: Religion

Christianity's centre of gravity moves from Europe to Africa

By TREVOR GRUNDY in Busan, South Korea


The shift of Christianity’s centre of gravity away from Europe towards Africa is one of the most dramatic developments since the Christian story started 2000 years ago, Professor Kenneth Ross of Edinburgh University told a gathering of religious leader at a seminar held at Busan, South Korea’s second city, during the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches (WCC) held in Busan, South Korea between October 30 – November 8, 2013.

“This 100 year shift between 1910 and 2010 is the most dramatic in all Christian history,” h said at a briefing for WCC participants organized by Geneva-based Global Christian Forum (GCF).

“While Europe’s share of the world’s Christians has fallen dramatically from 66 percent in 1910 (the date of the first ecumenical conference on missionaries’ activities in Edinburgh, Scotland) to just over 25 percent in 2010, Africa’s share has rocketed from a mere two percent to 21.6 percent during that time period.”

The new trend reverses an earlier demographic situation in the history of Christianity globally.

“Christians of the Global South were in the majority for the first 900 years of Christian history, Ross said. “ The European domination of global Christianity which we noted in 2010 is a recent phase of world Christianity which now seems to have passed. Since 1981, Southern Christians are once again in the majority. The Christian Faith is on the march in the Global South.”

Ross, one of the world’s leading religious scholars and co-author of the long awaited ‘Atlas of Global Christianity,’ (Published by Edinburgh University) told an enthusiastic gathering of sometimes surprised men and women that the most dramatic occurrence that had taken place since the first great missionary conference was the way Africa has changed.

“In 1910, less than ten percent of the people in Africa were Christians. That figure today is 50 percent.In sub-Sahara Africa, that’s well over 70 percent. In absolute terms, the number of Christians in Africa has risen from 12 million in 1910 to almost 500 million today. There are now parts of Asia with a significant Christian presence and that was absent in 1910. A hundred years ago, there were 25 million Christians in Asia. Today, that figure is 358 million. So, we talk about the Global South. But let’s not forget the Global East.”

And while Africa and Asia are witnessing a huge swelling of the number of Christians, Europe is suffering a serious decline.

When Dutch bishops visited the Vatican shortly before Christmas (2013) they gave Pope Francis a snapshot of the steep decline of Roman Catholicism in Europe.

In many parts of Britain hue and expensive to run Anglican churches are almost empty on Sundays.

Both Catholic and Protestant Christian ranks have shrunk dramatically across Europe and hundreds of churches have been sold off to be turned into fashion houses, shops, warehouses and sometimes private flats and pubs.

In the Netherlands churches have been closing at the rate of one or two a week. The bishops told the Pope that about two-thirds of all Roman Catholic churches in the Netherlands would have to be shut or sold by 2005. The only bright spot on the horizon is the new Pope himself. How long the glamour surrounding the pontff will last remains to be seen in a fast changing world and with terrible sexual scandals surrounding so many priests.

Between 1910 and 2010, Christians made up approximately one third of the world’s population and they were overwhelmingly located in Europe – 66 percent of the world total.

And if the number of Christians in North America was added in, that means that over 80 percent of all Christians in the world were to be found in the Global North. And of the remaining 20 percent, the majority was in Latin America – leaving only two percent in Africa, Asia and Oceania.

But there has been a stunning change over the decades.

Said Ross: “The majority of Christians now live in Africa, Asia, Latin America or the Pacific and the proportion is rising. With the retreat of Christianity from the West (Europe) in the 20th century, things went just as the visionaries of 1910 hoped they would go.”

Taking note of the phenomenal rise of Christianity in Africa, the American author and former WCC council member Wesley Granberg-Michaelsonsaid: “I have argued for some time that all the ecumenical organisations should move their offices out of Geneva (Switzerland) into the Global South. I think it’s just a sensible gesture. The two top countries on my list would be South Africa, or Ghana. I think you would find in Cape Town, or Johannesburg, all that you need for a modern international organization. I wish that all the ecumenical organisations would seriously consider moving to the Global South.”

Christians in most parts of Central and Southern Africa           for the most part live normal lives The politicization of religion and the religionisation of politics has not yet overwhelmed them although some senior participants at the WCC assembly expressed surprise and concern that amendments to the Zambian constitution declare the country as Christian.

The situation in many oarts of West Africa – particularly Nigeria- is very different.

A recently published report by the London-based All Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom entitled “Article 18 – An Orphaned Right” says that Nigeria is a country of particular concern for religiously motivate communal violence.

In its statements to the APPG, the human rights organisation Open Doors noted that between November 2011 and October 2012 there were 1,201 killings of Christians worldwide of which 791 took place in Nigeria, “making this arguably the most dangerous country for a Christian to live, with outright slaughters in places like Jos, Abuja, Kaduna and Bauchi.”

The report said that the recent wave of attacks across Nigeria by the militant cult Boko Haram (denoted as an Islamist terrorist group by the US State Department and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office) has resulted in large numbers of deaths of Christian and Muslim Nigerians, with estimates of around 2000 dead.

Hausa-Fulani tribesmen continue to raid, loot and attack Christian villages across the Plateau state, often killing scores of villagers.

The report goes on – “Political groups across central Nigeria continue to exploit increasing ethno-religious violence and grievances. Christians in Northern Nigeria face serious human rights abuses and discrimination. Impunity and a weak federal state response continue to enable unprecedented levels of ongoing ethno-religious violence in Nigeria.”

Members of Boko Haram have attacked schools, churches, security forces and journalists in its campaign to impose the Sharia –Islamic law – in northern Nigeria.

The General Adviser of the Nairobi-based Programme for Christian-Muslims in Africa (PROCMURA) Rev Johnson Mbillah spoke at a WCC seminar in Busan on the complexity of Christian-Muslim relations in Africa and called the urgent international action to end the slaughter of Christians and Muslims in Nigeria.

He said – “The world’s political and religious leaders must meet and discuss the great issues of our time. These include politics, religion and the distribution of wealth and social inequalities of ordinary people who are increasingly the victims of religious extremism.

“What we’re looking at is a clash between two powerful and well-organised cultures that seek to dominate Africa – the Western culture and the Middle East culture.

“As far as Boko Haram is concerned, anything Western has to be destroyed, including Western democracy, not only in Nigeria but everywhere in Africa. That’s their aim and that’s their ideology.”

And he warned that it is increasingly hard to stop Christians – encouraged by Jesus to turn the other cheek – seeking revenge.

“There have been reprisals because Christians have retaliated and killed so many Muslims. So it is now tit for tat. Bishops and clerics will tell you that when Boko Haram strikes, people no longer run away. People (Christians) run to where the attack took place and demand revenge. I personally saw that at Jos in Northern Nigeria and I was shocked. One Sunday morning I was there when Boko Haram struck and I saw people running to where it occurred. It is now difficult –very difficult – to control Christians because, as I said, this is now a tit for tat situation.”

As terror spreads, Muslims are also affected.

Explained Mbillah: “If you now go to church in Kenya you have to line up in a queue and be searched in case you’re trying to smuggle in a bomb. The same applies to Muslims at mosques.”

He said that anyone who disagrees with the religious extemists is an enemy.

He said that few Westerners understood the complex nature of the struggle between Christians and Muslims in Africa.

After the American-led attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, Christians in Nigeria were targeted by Boko Haram and branded as “agents” of the “Christian” American armed forces a kind of religious Fifth Column.

With a half smile on his face he told me: “I don’t know when Africans became Americans and when Muslims in Nigeria became Arabs.”

Earlier, Rev Kehinde Stephen, a bishop if the Methodist Church of Nigeria described the bombings in his country as tragic.

“We used to believe that Nigeria was one of the safest places to live and that inside a church or inside a mosque was also safe. Now some Christians think twice before entering a church. I say to them –‘Don’t show fear.’ They say –‘We have had enough of tuning the other cheek. We want revenge.’ It’s terrible to see in the north of my country that Christians in the minority are being moved to safe places where they are in the majority and to know that Muslims in the minority are being moved to places where Muslims are in the majority.”

Photo: anti-WCC protesteres at demo in Busan, South Korea (Picture : Trevor Grundy)

Article was first published by Ecumenical News (Geneva) in November, 2013

First published in The Bulletin and Record in Lusaka, Zambia, 2013