In her column in the Globe’s Christmas Eve edition (God’s far from dead in the Global South, Dec. 24), Margaret Wente attempts to shed light on the growing number of Christians in developing countries, as well as immigrant populations in places like Canada. It’s an interesting and important topic, for sure: too bad the sub-plot in her piece is the demise of what she considers the irrelevant mainline traditions in the West.
From the work of the Salvation Army in Canada’s inner cities, to organizations like KAIROS working to promote human rights worldwide, there’s plenty of evidence that Christians other than Pentecostals and other charismatics (whom Wente highlights) are enthusiastically drawing from their faith to change the world around them. I felt incensed enough by Wente’s superficiality to write a letter in response to the article; the version below is slightly longer than the final copy I sent to the G&M in abiding by their length rules, but I like this one more!
Margaret Wente uses statistics well to portray the Christian faith’s increasing adoption of a non-Western identity. Her downfall, however, is assuming that northern European Christian traditions are irreversibly bland and anemic. As we speak, 30 000 young people from all over Europe are in Berlin, Germany, attending the annual prayer meeting of the France-based ecumenical Taize Community. They have gathered to explore ways that the church can better pursue unity and justice worldwide. As someone who has visited Taize, I can affirm that enthusiasm for change – driven by faith – abounds, despite the fact that charismatic Christians constitute a small minority there.
There are similar wellsprings in Canada. The church I attend in the west end of Toronto every Sunday afternoon, called “river,” brings together Christians from a range of denominational backgrounds, including the non-evangelical types that Wente considers so lifeless. We participate in an Anglican liturgy, not with the sterile motives that she suggests, but in a way that sheds new light on the living Gospel. And that “whole deal” of the Resurrection? Far from seeing it as “bizarre,” it is the inspiration for the work that we do welcoming and serving the vulnerable and disadvantaged in our community, whether they are refugees or the infirm.
My examples may be anecdotal, but they challenge Wente’s sweeping assertion that Christianity in the West has been attenuated. It sounds as if her Christmas Eve service is failing to satisfy her interest in active expressions of the faith; perhaps before attempting another treatise on the topic, she might consider visiting my church this Sunday.