Protestant sects make rapid gains in Africa and Latin America
- 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.
CHRISTIANITY RESURGENCE ENTERS NEW TURF
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
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 eveningcame 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
"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."