“Anglocostalism” in Nigeria and Obstacles to Anglican Unity

One of the most important developments in the world church in the last few decades has been the rise of neo-Pentecostalism, sometimes called the “Born Again” church. These denominations, particularly prevalent in Africa, are marked by their concern with spiritual healing, the preaching of the prosperity gospel, fixation on a world of good and evil forces, and much else.

What is perhaps less remarked upon is the way in which these neo-Pentecostal churches have influenced the historic mission denominations, including the various provinces of the Anglican Communion. This is one of the main things I learned on my travels in the church in Nigeria last summer. (The observations prompted the post, “What is Peter Akinola Afraid Of?”)

The Journal of Anglican Studies has just published my article, “‘Anglocostalism’ in Nigeria: Neo-Pentecostalism and Obstacles to Anglican Unity,” which takes a close look at how what it means to be Anglican is changing in Nigeria.

Here’s the article’s abstract:

In the last several decades, the religious landscape in Nigeria has been transformed by the rise of neo-Pentecostal or ‘new generation’ churches. These churches teach a gospel of prosperity, advance an oppositional view of the world, focus on a supernatural arena of spiritual forces, accord a unique weight to the Bible, and practice a charismatic worship style. One result of the presence of these churches has been to change the face of Anglicanism in Nigeria. Concerned about the possibility of diminished influence and prestige, the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) has responded to neo-Pentecostal churches by adopting more of its rivals’ beliefs and practices. This paper argues that this changing environment explains, in part, Nigerian opposition to efforts at global Anglican unity and argues that it is impossible to address the future of the Anglican Communion without first understanding the on-the-ground religious context in Nigeria.

It’s an academic article, which means it’s a bit longer than a regular blog post, but I hope you’ll have a read through. Already, in the few weeks since the article went online, I’ve been pleased with the e-mail conversations this article has generated with people in the Nigerian church. I’d be happy to expand those conversations to folks elsewhere.

As I have travelled in the world church, I’m repeatedly reminded of just how little we know about each other around the world. This article—and others like it, still in the pipeline—are efforts to help increase that sense of mutual understanding.

Anglican Communion awareness increasing?

The Episcopal News Service has a lengthy article today that follows up a lot of the questions raised at General Convention about the Church’s huge cuts to funding for the Anglican Communion Office. It also makes some grand claims about the nature of the Anglican Communion nine years after the election of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

Here’s the article’s lede:

The world’s 80 million Anglicans are much more aware today than they were 10 years ago that they belong to a global communion, a realization that has led to a flourishing of international relationships between the Episcopal Church and other provinces, dioceses and individuals.

Although the article claims to be concerned with Anglicans all over the world, the only evidence it musters is in the Episcopal Church. This is a hallmark of one of the most depressing of all American characteristics, namely the willingness to generalize from quite particular experience. To write an article like this merely reinforces what many people around the world already think: Americans are self-centred, solipsistic, and parochial.

The thing is, our brother and sister Anglicans around the world have known and cared about the Anglican Communion for a lot longer than many Americans have. When I traveled in the church in Nigeria (where 1 in 4 of those 80 million Anglicans live) last summer, one of the aspects of the church that was most noticeable to me was the way Nigerian Anglicans cared about being part of the Communion. The official name of the church is Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). When you leaf through a diocesan newsletter, there’s plenty of material about other Anglicans around the world. In a remote diocese in South Sudan a few years back, I was asked what I thought about Rowan Williams’ decision to deny Katharine Jefferts Schori her mitre on a visit to England. In a remote Bible college in a China, I was once asked about the Anglican Communion. It’s the Americans who have woken up and smelled the Anglican Communion coffee in the last decade. The rest of the world, at least, was already aware.

My sense of the last decade is that the American church, particularly its liberal wing, has been rushing to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of understanding itself as part of a global Communion. For a variety of reasons—including prioritizing domestic concerns, feeling unsure about how to relate to newly-independent churches, and so forth—the Episcopal Church began a fairly large retreat from its global commitments in the late 1960s all the way through the 1990s. This, in many ways, set the stage for the “crisis” of the last decade.

In 1963, Anglican lay people, priests, and bishops from around the world got together for an Anglican Congress in Toronto. One of the speakers was a man named Howard Johnson, who, a few years prior, had completed a two-year tour of every province in the Anglican Communion. At the Congress, he had this to say:

We Anglicans stumbled into universality – prodded, I believe, by Providence. But our consciousness of ourselves has not yet caught up with the reality of ourselves. In actuality we are a multiracial, multilingual, multicultural body, but in awareness we are still parochial and provincial.

My sense is that Johnson’s observation is still largely correct. It is true, however, that the election and ordination of Gene Robinson means that Episcopalians now know more than they used to about the Anglican Communion whether they like it or not. But has that had the positive impacts the article claims? On that question, I think, the jury is still out.