Africans vs. Americans: Christianity Not Part Time in the South

WASHINGTON – African Christians regard their Christian faith as their whole life and not just a part-time activity, said the head of the World Council of Churches on Sunday.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia's response was to a question posed by Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III of the famed Washington National Cathedral about why Christianity was exploding in Africa whereas Christian denominations in the United States have been reporting declining membership.

"Religion is seen not as a part-time occupation, but it permeates the whole life," WCC General Secretary Kobia answered. "There are many Africans therefore that think their future will be much more hopeful if they embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

It is projected that by 2025 there will be 700 million African Christians in the world – a phenomenal increase from about 10 million in the early 20th century.

Current Anglican Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, for example, has more people in his church pew on any given Sunday than all of the Anglican churches in the United States and Europe combined, according to Kobia.

"They (Africans) don't know who else [can] provide that kind of hope that the Gospel provides," Kobia added. "It is not politics, not economics - many of them have given up listening to political leaders or any other leaders other than those who say faith in Jesus Christ does give you hope."

The WCC leader noted that churches in Africa respond to the needs of the people in physical, mental, and spiritual ways that the political body has failed.

"Christianity in Africa, sub-Saharan Africa especially, is seen not only as a religion, but this is the opportunity of people to contribute to national building, to peace and reconciliation, to development," said Kobia. "Therefore the church becomes the center of activity."

In contrast, the general secretary recalled witnessing the decline of churches in the north, particularly in Europe, during his extensive travel around the world. Magnificent gothic cathedrals in Europe have fewer and fewer people worshiping inside them, Kobia lamented.

The WCC, now for the first time, has more member churches from the global south than from the north.

"For the first time we see this shift of what has been seen as a North Atlantic ecumenical organization to a truly global Christian fellowship," said Kobia, who is the first African WCC general secretary.

The Kenyan church leader also spoke briefly about Pentecostalism in Africa, the Anglican Communion's division over homosexuality, and globalization.

Kobia was an invited guest at the Washington National Cathedral's "Sunday Forum," a 50-minute discussion hosted by Lloyd. The session addresses critical issues in the light of faith. The forum takes place every Sunday before the main service.

The WCC representative has been visiting the United States since last Wednesday to attend a two-day retreat with heads of churches in Washington, D.C.; a meeting with young ecumenical leaders; a preaching engagement at Bethesda Baptist Church; and a Pan-Orthodox gathering in New York hosted by Archbishop Vicken Aykazian, of the Armenian Orthodox Church of America. His stay is scheduled until Tuesday.