All too common: another Protestant church for sale in the US

Had the pandemic not happened, two monumental events in Protestantism would have gone ahead. In Kigali, Rwanda, the Global Anglican Future Conference or GAFCON, which comprises the majority of Anglicans worldwide (two-thirds according to estimates), planned to meet in June 2020  ahead of the decennial Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Communion.

 GAFCON describes itself as a global family of Anglicans who are holding steadfast to traditional Biblical teachings and represent the majority of Anglicans in the world in resistance to what they refer to as the false teachings being propagated across the Anglican Communion by increasingly liberal Western churches, especially on gay marriage, homosexuality, abortion, social justice and the ordination of women. Now GAFCON 2020 Kigali has been postponed until 2021. 

The other monumental event was the proposed split of the United Methodist Church (UMC), the third largest congregation in the United States, over differences between traditionalists and liberals on gay marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ people. It was scheduled to be decided with a vote in the UMC General Conference in May 2020, before the pandemic upended the plan and postponed everything

Despite the postponement, one thing is clear from the above two events: that a monumental, worldwide realignment within mainstream Protestantism is now fully underway. Led from the front by conservative African churches who hold on to socially conservative traditional Biblical beliefs on sexuality and divinity, it is resolutely rejecting the increasingly woke decay of mainstream Protestantism in North America and Europe today.

African churches are staging the comeback against this ideological colonialism and for the first time ever, conservative mainstream Protestant Christians in the West are now relying on their African brethren for support in their faith in an increasingly hostile environment. So the tables have turned spectacularly. Mainstream Protestant Christianity has long been on the decline in the West. The decline can be traced all the way back to the modernist-fundamentalist controversy, when modernism entered mainstream Protestant denominations in American Protestantism which questioned Biblical inerrancy, the authenticity of the Christ’s miracles and virgin birth.

As intellectual battles raged on, a clear split emerged between fundamentalists and modernists across mainstream Protestantism. This planted the seeds for the increasingly liberal teachings and the modernist takeover of many denominations until a resurgence in conservative Christianity emerged around four decades later. But by then, most of the traditional “Seven Sister” churches that shaped the “WASP” elite of America decisively went for modernism, adopting a historical critical method approach to the Bible.

More than eight decades later, mainstream Protestant churches are no longer the majority in America. In fact, they are imploding spectacularly, bleeding members across the United States for decades. But despite the increasingly dire outlook for membership numbers, mainstream churches have enthusiastically adopted the “Great Awokening”, with the US Episcopal Church leading the way in ordinating the first openly gay Anglican bishop in 2004, sparking anger across the Anglican Communion, especially in Africa.

Many other mainstream churches have also shed members while continuously accelerating in their wokeness, with the Presbyterian Church (USA) adopting a distinctively anti-Israel position and enthusiastically supporting the allegedly anti-Semitic Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement and allowing its reverends to conduct same sex marriages.  

In Canada, the mainstream United Church of Canada has an openly atheist minister serving a congregation in Toronto and also produced another Toronto minister who went on TEDxtalk to offer a “queer positive reading of the Bible” in which she called Sodom and Gomorrah a “queer-affirming story” but also hilariously claimed that John the Baptist appeared as a feminine queer man on da Vinci’s the Last Supper, when the man she was talking about is actually John the Apostle.  

But most importantly, it can be argued that most of today’s regressive liberalism and wokeness has a strong base of support among the remaining mainstream WASPs, which in turn are the wealthy elites and donors to the Democratic Party and Black Lives Matter today. Despite their shrinking numbers demographically, these people had long dominated the culture and the media in the US and have a huge influence which does not match their size.  

Conservative Christians in the same denominations, meanwhile, have long suffered from being silenced, ostracized and forced to go along with increasingly “heterodox” practices, with some having to take a decade of lawsuits in messy splits from their churches to form new orthodox congregations. The human cost of all of it was huge — congregations split, relationships were frayed and communion was broken forever. 

But had African churches not intervened for their conservative Western brethren, things would have been even more precarious for them. When conservative Anglicans, dissatisfied with the liberalizing turn of the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church in Canada, left and voted to transfer their allegiances, it was the Anglican provinces in Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya and South America that took them in.

When these different congregations and parishes joined each other to form the Anglican Church in North America in 2009, it was the provinces of Nigeria and Uganda that announced full communion with them, having already severed ties with the Episcopal Church themselves in the years prior.  

African Anglicans know very well what is at stake here. Unlike their woke sister churches in the UK and the US, African Christians often face the real “Black Lives Matter” issues. Nigerian Archbishop and the General Secretary of GAFCON, Benjamin Kwashi of Jos, knows radical Islamic terror through personal experience. He and his wife have fostered hundreds of orphans who were orphaned by Fulani and Islamist attacks on Christians. In June 2018, his own village was attacked, his neighbour was murdered and his cattle stolen by Islamist Fulani herdsmen. In the past few decades, he has witnessed countless attacks and has often called for international attention on the genocide on Christians in northern Nigeria. #BlackChristianLivesMatter, anyone? 

While his European and North American counterparts in the Anglican communion send signals about Black Lives Matter and speak in church legalese, African bishops like Benjamin Kwashi know what is at stake for actual black lives. While the Archbishop of York acts all righteous and woke and says “Jesus is a black man” and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, ridiculously directed the Church of England to review church statues and take down statues potentially offensive to the tiny minority of leftist activists, tens of thousands of actual black lives are taken for their Christian faith in Africa. 

While the bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun, joined the protest over the death of George Floyd, one can search the entirety of Google and not find Mr Chessun speak a single word about his actual black brethren killed in bomb attacks, herdsmen raids and Boko Haram kidnappings. While the Church of England battles an invisible, made-up enemy called “institutional and systemic racism”, the Church of Nigeria and Burkina Faso faces very real ones in guns and bombs.

While BLM rakes in millions, African Christians never get any attention for their persecution, never receive anywhere near the amounts of donations and are called “superstitious Africans” by sneering and condescending US Episcopal Church bishop John Shelby Spong as far back as Lambeth, 1998. This, coming from a man who does not even believe in the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth and questions whether God is even supernatural, and yet is a prominent Anglican/Episcopal bishop and called a “leading Christian intellectual”

No wonder all the Global South bishops in GAFCON have wanted to boycott the Lambeth Conference for years. And no wonder the Church of England, just like its counterpart in North America, is rapidly shedding members. No wonder African churches who actually believe in the traditional tenets of Christianity shake their heads in disgust and severed their ties with Spong’s Episcopal Church. 

The global realignment is not just happening within Anglicanism. In the United Methodist Church general conference, the 4.9 million Africans out of the total congregation membership of 12 million is now flexing its muscle to defend traditional teachings at their denomination. To them, it is “mind-boggling” for the Western church, which brought the gospel to them, to have strayed so far from the original gospel into what they perceive as heresy and heterodoxy. African churches are growing fast, with the largest single delegation at the 2016 UMC general conference being from North Kantanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Africans aligned themselves with conservative Methodists in the US and Asia to pass the traditional plan which continues to ban the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and officiating same-sex marriage. Africans formed the bulwark of the conservatives at the UMC and, without them, that plan would have never passed at the UMC General Conference in 2019. If the UMC eventually dissolves, the conservative Africans will join their conservative brethren in America to form their own denomination. 

Lutheranism is also witnessing paradigm shifts as African churches stand up to defend traditional values. The single largest Lutheran denomination of the world, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY),  voted in 2013 to break fellowship with their Western sister churches who had openly accepted gay marriage, namely the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Church of Sweden, despite decades of ties and the fact that EECMY was founded on the missions of Northern European missionaries. Instead, the EECMY entered fellowship with the more conservative US denomination of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). In August 2019, the EECMY also voted to end ties with the ultra-woke Presbyterian Church (USA) over the disagreements on the biblical understanding of marriage

Moreover, more and more African churches are leaving the Lutheran World Federation because of its liberal theological leanings and realigning themselves with the more conservative International Lutheran Council as well as the Global Confessional and Missional Lutheran Forum.  

African churches are leading the worldwide Christian defense against the liberal teachings of their fast-depleting sister churches in the West. They believe it is a great pity that the continents that once brought the faith to Africa appear to have completely lost that faith and now their African counterparts are severing ties with them while supporting the conservative breakaway denominations in the West.  

What once were denominations full of devout people now appear to be filled with virtue-signaling bishops and reverends who speak the jargon of woke and “social-justice talking points” that simply repeat what is coming from the liberal university campuses of the West. If they continue on this route, these denominations appear to be in danger of perishing within decades.

But African churches would do well to be careful about the future — the very same heresies they see now in the West could well be exported to their own shores. Some believers predict that if they are not careful and steadfast in combating these heresies, they could be “devoured by the Religion of Woke”.

For now, though, Western conservative Christians should take comfort in the fact that they have reliable allies in Africa, who are growing fast and remain faithful to the traditional tenets of Christianity. Many observers, particularly in Africa, are praying that the global Protestant realignment will continue to fight back. 

William Huang is a product of the one-child policy as he is the only son in the family. Born and raised in China, it is only when he went overseas to study that he had an epiphany, realizing just how much...