Even critical, world changing events can feel remote when viewed on the television screen. However, when friends or family may be involved, emotional intensity shifts dramatically.
While I have been following, in a general way, the events in Egypt I have noticed a recent increase in my attention. Part of it – and perhaps this is a confession – surely comes from reading the Philip Jenkins’ book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford.2007)
The main thesis of Jenkins’ work is that “Christianity has never been synonymous either with Europe or the West” and that the two main centers of Christianity in the coming years will be in Africa and Latin America. He takes particular aim at the arrogant Western view that has overlooked the strength of the church is Asia and Africa, a church that has been present and active since the beginning.
For its first thousand years Christianity “was stronger in Asia and North Africa than in Europe, and only after about 1400 did Europe (and Europeanized North America) decisively become the Christian heartland.” Christianity was not a “white or Western ideology that was foisted on the rest of an unwilling globe, under the auspices of Spanish galleons, British redcoats, and American televangelists.”
“Of the five ancient patriarchates of the church (in the early 4th century), only one, Rome, clearly stood in the West. The others were at Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria – three on the Asian continent, one in Africa.” He notes that the home of such great early leaders as Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine was in what is now Tunesia.
Though precise numbers are not available, the estimate is that current membership in the Coptic Church in Egypt exceeds 10 million people.
Sometime this week I realized I’m going to have to change the lens through which I view the world from a zoom to a wide angle if I am going to continue to say the phrase I so often easily mouth in worship – “brothers and sisters in Christ.”