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Protestant sects make rapid gains in Africa and Latin America

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  • thekoba@aztecfreenet.org
    The following article, attributed to Somini Sengupta and Larry Rohter of the New York Times, appeared on page A11 of the Tuesday, October 14, 2003 edition of
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 14, 2003
      The following article, attributed to Somini Sengupta and Larry Rohter of the
      New York Times, appeared on page A11 of the Tuesday, October 14, 2003 edition
      of the Arizona Republic. There is a class conflict or national conflict
      behind most missionary activity, and I fear those behind this trend are
      imperialists up to no good.

      --Kevin Walsh


      Pentecostal, Traditional Religionos In Contest

      On the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Nigeria--For many, this highway leads to the
      future of the Christian faith, and at 9 PM on a Friday, traffic is heavier
      than a Los Angeles rush hour.

      Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians, from street vendors to computer
      consultants, sit through exhaust and the squealing horns to reach evangelical
      campgrounds with churches as large as airplane hangars. The names are as
      spectacular as the hopes they sell: Mountain of Fire and Miracles, Deeper
      Life, and the largest and oldest, the 12,000-acre [5000-hectare] Redemption

      The worshipers are drawn by a program of rousing song and dance and by an
      eminently practical gospel promising health and prosperity.

      "In countries where everything is very OK, where they take care of their
      citizenry, people are very lethargic when it comes to religion and God,"
      said Oluwayemisi Ojuolape, 27, a lawyer in Lagos, who attended this all-night
      vigil. "They seem to have all of it."

      A Newer Word

      Not so in the developing world, where Christianity is drawing followers as
      never before. That growth is changing the complexion and practice of the
      Christian faith and other religions in a fervid competition for souls,
      generating new tremors in places like Nigeria, marbled with ethnic and
      political fault lines, and causing schisms between the old Christians of the
      Northern Hemisphere and the newer ones.

      Christian expansion is particularly striking in Pentecostalism, a denomination
      born only 100 years ago among Blacks, Whites and Hispanics in an abandoned
      Los Angeles church. Emphasizing a direct line to God, its boisterous style
      of worship employs healings, speaking in tongues and casting out demons.

      Spreading Pentecostal congregatoins, a quarter of all Christians worldwide,
      are bumping up against established Christian churches as well as Islam in
      Africa, and chipping away at what has long been a virtual Roman Catholic
      monopoly in Latin America.

      In the 25 years of John Paul II's papacy, Brazil's Protestant population
      has quadrupled, with the biggest surge coming in the 1990s among evangelical
      and Pentecostal groups. More than 25 million Brazilians belong to such
      churches, leaving pastors like Ezequiel Teixeira of the New Life Project
      Church in Rio de Janeiro giddy. "In another 25 years, Brazil will have a
      Protestant majority," he said.

      A third of Guatemala's population is Protestant, and Pentecostal churches are
      making inroads in Argentina, Colombia and Chile, despite the 70 percent
      Catholic population.

      In Africa, a big part of the success of Pentecostal movements, scholars say,
      rests on the ability to tap into traditional cosmology: The gods have long
      been solicited in pursuit of specific favors.

      "God has become a modern-day juju God," said Chichi Aniagolu, a Nigerian
      sociologist and a Catholic who, by her own admission, dips into Pentecostal
      services. "You appease him. You bring him yams, goats, make sacrifices,
      and you get what you want. Today, you're ... giving tithes."

      >From the stage at the Redemption Camp outside Lagos on a recent evening
      came a gospel of success.

      "There will be no more sickness," sang Pastor Enoch Adeboye, general
      overseer of the vast empire known as the Redeemed Church of Christ.

      "Yes, Lord, I believe," the worshipers, more than 100,000 of them, sang back.

      "There will be no more failure," the pastor sang.

      "Yes, Lord, I believe," the crowd answered. "Yes, Lord."

      Like other proponents of prosperity theology, the pastor likes to remind his
      congregation that God multiplies what the faithful give to the church.
      Abundance certainly has come to the Redeemed Church: 5,000 Redeemed parishes
      worldwide, 4,000 of them in Nigeria.

      A former mathematics professor close to Nigeria's president, Adeboye estimates
      total membership at two million. Asked about revenues, he demurred, saying
      only, "By the grace of God, we are able to take care of our ministers."

      Ministers number 40,000, and the church has built a school and a health clinic
      at Redemption Camp. A university is under construction.

      A Different Face

      Congregants are not all in need. Emmanuel Dania, a British-educated
      computer consultant, rolled into the VIP parking area in an air-conditioned
      Toyota, then high-fived a friend who had arrived in a chauffeur-driven BMW.

      Still, many traditional theologians, particularly Catholics, dismiss the
      message that faith will bring wealth and success.

      "They're preaching Crossless Christianity," said Father Iheanyi Enwerem of
      the Catholic Secretariat of Lagos. "The idea of everything joy-joy,
      prosperity-prosperity, well-well ... For them, everything is Easter joy,
      no Good Friday. We say it's totally un-Christian."

      The expanded Christian following in the developing world has translated into
      increasing power, within developing countries and within mainstream
      denominations. The growing assertion of the Christian south is provoking
      fierce doctrinal arguments, often about their preference for literal
      readings of the Bible and a conservative social view.

      The Anglican Communion meets this week to heal an unprecedented rift about
      homosexuality, a charge led by the head of the Church of Nigeria, which, with
      18 million congregants, is the largest member of the Anglican Communion.

      Tensions extend to the political sphere. The proliferation of Islamic law
      in northern Nigeria, which has set off rioting that has killed hundreds, is
      widely seen as the Muslim elite's response to Nigeria's new, hard-line

      Throughout Africa, the rivalry between Islam and Christianity, from Sudan to
      Ivory Coast, is growing. In Nigeria, a nation of 130 million that accounts
      for one-fifth of Africa's population, the rivalry is so intense that it has
      been impossible for the goovernment to conduct a census to know the numbers
      of each group.

      Critics say the flourishing of Christianity has added to Nigeria's poverty
      and corruption.

      "The movement is clearly reflective of everything that's wrong with
      Nigeria," charged Nosa Igiebor, the outspoken editor of <Tell>, a weekly
      news magazine. "Poor people are forced to pay these tithes, and by doing
      so, every problem they take to the pastor will be solved. Pastors know
      it won't be. Just the same way our politicical leaders deceive people, by
      making promises they have no intention to keep."

      The resurgence has led a group of young Muslim professionals to create their
      own Pentecostal-style movement. On Sunday mornings in a Lagos parking lot,
      men and women sit in separate tents, and volunteers collect prayer requests.

      The group calls itself Nasrul-Lahi-Il Fathi Society oof Nigeria, or Nasfat.
      What began eight years ago at a banker's house now boasts 80 branches in
      Nigeria and three in the United States and Britain.

      Nasfat's efforts are in direct response to what its leaders see as the

      "Now you see young folks defecting to Christendom," said Saminu Oki, a
      U.S.-educated official of Lagos State.

      "They've been able to attract the young ones," the committee executive
      said of the Christian churches, who have received Muslim converts. "They
      made it so simple. You don't even have to read the Koran. They poisoned
      them. If you read verses of the Bible, all your problems will be solved."
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