2008: LDS beliefs help, but attitude toward native worship affects, church growth in Africa / Philip Jenkins, Mormon History Association

This is an article in Mormontimes.com reporting on a very important presentation at the Mormon History Association by Christian scholar Philip Jenkins.

This apresentation can only be understood in the context of the explosion of charismatic Evangelical Christianity in the global south, and our growing directly in proportion to our being part of it.

Philip Jenkins is the author of the book on the subject, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, about which I informed people last month. LDS growth in Africa in the last 25 years has been 15% a year, and Jenkins projects it to grow to 3 to 4 million members in the next 25 years. That is the most rapid growth of anywhere in the world. People there do not move into Mormonism from outside Christianity; they move into Mormonism from Catholicism and charismatic Christianity, and also move among Latter-day Saints and other conservative Christian churches. And the same pattern is happening in Central and South America, Mexico, and large parts of Asia.

Thinking that the Latter-day Saints as flourishing by being part of western civilization (especially Europe) will ever result in any growth is futile. In fact, LDS scholars with such deep knowledge of the Church in Europe will hopefully see that they are perfectly positioned to help Latter-day Saints be part of the re-evangelization of Europe, and of the United States not becoming Europe in 50 years (or less).

See the original of this article on the Mormontimes website at this link.

Thanks much,

Steve St.Clair

================

LDS beliefs help, but attitude toward native worship affects, church growth in Africa
By Carrie A. Moore

Deseret News
Published: Sunday, May. 25, 2008
SACRAMENTO, Calif.

Because LDS belief in prophets, angels and healing fits so naturally within the context of traditional African faith and practice, it seems logical that the LDS Church would spread rapidly throughout Africa.

But a lack of accommodation to native African spiritual practices has severely limited LDS conversion there, a religion scholar told members of the Mormon History Association on Saturday.

Philip Jenkins, a professor of humanities in the department of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University, said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deals with “something of a paradox” in Africa.

While membership there in comparison with other parts of the world has grown dramatically in the past quarter-century, averaging about 15 percent annually, “it’s surprising it hasn’t done even better,” he said.

Present LDS membership is about 270,000 in Africa, and 25,000 others are converts to the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church). Jenkins predicted African Latter-day Saints will number between 3 million and 4 million in the next quarter century.

Still, he set out to find why Latter-day Saints “have a message so inherently attractive that has not swept the continent? Why is Africa not Mormon?”

The church has a long history on the continent, with missionaries arriving as early as 1853 in South Africa. But they appealed “mainly to English speakers,” rather than those who speak Afrikaans. The first stake there was not organized until 1970 — more than a century after the first LDS contact.

Though many suggest the church’s priesthood ban for black males — which was lifted in 1978 — was a major factor in the faith’s slow start in Africa, Jensen said that’s only partially true.”In some ways it is, but many of the Christian churches there were very slow to allow Africans into the clergy,” as well, he said.

That widespread dynamic is known as “veranda Christianity,” which says that, “yes, you can come to veranda, but don’t come into house.”The LDS faith “wasn’t that different from other churches — they have their history with race that’s very embarrassing and troubling for them. Africa is a very young society. The vast majority of Africans have no direct memory of 1978.

“To illustrate, he said the median age of the population of Uganda is 14. Most Africans “have no memory of anything as distant as the Clinton administration…. It’s a recent story.”

The relative youth of the church as a formal institution in Africa also has a large impact on conversion, he said, noting “Mormon churches tend still to be led by white faces. That’s unique in Africa. The vast majority of (Christian) churches there have been black African-led for a long time.”

They also rely heavily on women as leaders, both in the church and in political circles, in a way that isn’t mirrored by Latter-day Saints.

Also, the vast majority of LDS converts there are not leaving paganism or animism to join the faith. They’re leaving Catholicism or another branch of historic Christianity, and they have great loyalty to the denomination that first “led to their salvation” through Jesus Christ.

The LDS Church is also “very unique in its attitude toward native worship and worship styles. By the 1960s, most Christian churches had given up trying to make Africans look European.

“Now, most have moved across the spectrum from their European or American origins to embrace distinctly African religious practices as part of their worship. Some have struggled with how far they should accommodate, he said, and whether to “acknowledge blood sacrifice or polygamy,” which are traditional African religious practices.

Virtually every African ritual “begins with a sacrifice,” he said. Many denominations struggle with “what is the dividing line between what is Christian and non-Christian. The LDS Church has stated specific policy that it would make very few concessions to local custom.”

Jenkins said that is so because church leaders “do not want to let their African brothers and sisters feel they’ve been shortchanged. They want them to feel they’re equally believers with anyone else in the world. But what that means is that the LDS Church stands out dramatically from churches which accept local traditions.”

So how far should drumming and dancing be incorporated into LDS worship in Africa? One congregation in Uganda decided that Sunday worship would mirror LDS practices worldwide, but on Wednesday nights, drumming and dancing would be permitted.

The response from a local member? “But drumming and dancing is the real service.” Jenkins said he can’t conceive of an African worship service that excludes those cultural practices, yet he acknowledged a “realistic fear” on the part of leadership that “the LDS Church would mutate into something radically strange. They’re anxious to avoid doing that, but at the cost of exploiting so much potential,” he said.

“That may be the single largest reason there are 270,000 Latter-day Saints there and not 10 million.” That issue looms large among many others that would have to be resolved “before (Mormonism) would spread far, far beyond its present bounds” there, he said.Many churches also suffer from a high attrition rate, as members move between Christian denominations. Latter-day Saints are no different, he said, noting about half of membership “will slip out after about two years.”

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