22 January 2010

Evangelism, or cultural imperialism

Since the US invasion of Iraq, Western-style Protestant evangelical Christianity has begun to appear in that country. It is not, however, converting Muslims to the Christian faith, but proselytising among other Christians.

Evangelicals Building a Base in Iraq - washingtonpost.com:
The U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein, who limited the establishment of new denominations, has altered the religious landscape of predominantly Muslim Iraq. A newly energized Christian evangelical activism here, supported by Western and other foreign evangelicals, is now challenging the dominance of Iraq's long-established Christian denominations and drawing complaints from Muslim and Christian religious leaders about a threat to the status quo.

The evangelicals' numbers are not large -- perhaps a few thousand -- in the context of Iraq's estimated 800,000 Christians. But they are emerging at a time when the country's traditional churches have lost their privileged Hussein-era status and have experienced massive depletions of their flocks because of decades-long emigration. Now, traditional church leaders see the new evangelical churches filling up, not so much with Muslim converts but with Christians like Tawfik seeking a new kind of worship experience.

There is much talk in Western Christian missiological circles about inculturation and contextualisation, and the need for Christianity, when it enters a society of a different culture, to become part of that culture.

But this seems, on the face of it, to be the opposite: taking already indigenous Christians, and converting them to an exotic culture.

On the other hand, globalisation is such that exotic cultures often seem attracive. Some traditional Christians in countries like Iraq achieve their desire to identify with exotic cultures by emigrating. Others, perhaps those who can't afford to emigrate, do so by joining exotic churches, like Western Baptists, and enjoy the foreign cultural ambiance.

So is it evangelisation, proselytisation, or disinculturation (or could one say "exculturation"? Is that a word?)

2 comments:

Yewtree said...

Given the beauty and complexity of the Eastern churches and liturgy, it seems terribly sad that there is this influx of dumbed-down protestant evangelicalism. It's like selling your inheritance for a mess of pottage. I honestly can't imagine preferring guitars and tambourines and PowerPoint to the beautiful eastern liturgy. Not to mention the theological differences between the traditions.

The Western Confucian said...

Yuck. I'm ashamed again to be an American.

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