Monday, June 14, 2004

God is Black

No blogging for a while - partly due to holiday.

I've just finished watching a documentary on channel 4 called God is Black. It was presented by Robert Beckford and in two programmes he has traced the rise of African Christianity both in Africa and in the UK. Today was largely about the UK, and Bristol was used as an example. Beckford interviewed (not always fairly) my bishop and one of the clergy in the diocese. His argument was that African Christianity is fundamentalist-evangelical and that it is in the process of destroying the Church of England, and implicitly all other forms of organised widespread liberal Christianity.

There was a good deal to complain about, should you choose to. The historical side to the programme was very poor (African Christianity did not start with the Victorian missions; and much of the Pentecostalist Christianity he shows owes as much to the United States as to Africa). But there was other things that are a real challenge.

Perhaps the main challenge I saw was in his conclusion. Beckford visited a Metropolitan Community Church and suggested that the future was a number of 'specialist' churches serving particular needs. This is, with no little irony, remarkably similar to the suggestions of Pete Ward in Liquid Church. Moreover, it is also my experience of working in a part of Bristol that has a mobile population - people choose the church that 'suits' them.

Yet there is a loss here. By taking most of the gay and lesbian Christians in an area, however understandable this is, the MCC deprives the rest of the church of their voices. Of course in this case, it seems clear that the rest of the church has rejected their voices. But as a policy for the running of the whole church of God, it frightens me. When the church underwrites the means by which middle class don't have to speak to working class; black to white; Jew to gentile (and so on) then we appear to have missed the whole point of the church.

What is most challenging about this is not that Beckford (or Pete Ward) are suggesting this as a way that the church should go. Rather the most challenging (and worrying) thing is that the church is already a good deal down the track.

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