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Why The Western Church Needs The Majority World Church
Part 2 of 2
About a year ago, I had the unique opportunity of sitting down with some cross-denominational Filipino church leaders in Winnipeg, MB (Canada).
When I asked these leaders about the unique value they see Filipinos adding to the Canadian Church, the Catholic community leader in this group casually remarked:
“I don’t think the Catholic Church in Manitoba would still be around if weren’t for the Filipino Catholic community here.”
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She went on to tell me in great detail how Filipino Catholic migrant workers were also keeping the *Roman Catholic Church in Italy* going. Yes, you read that right.
Apparently, in cities like Milan, most Catholic mass-goers are Filipino these days because of the growing Filipino blue collar expat community in Milan.
I’ve also seen this to be true for South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalis, Bangladeshis & Sri Lankans) in the Canadian Church. While many South Asian denominations (like the Indian Pentecostal Church, the Mar Thoma Church and the Syrian Malankara Orthodox Church) are experiencing unprecedented growth with recent diaspora immigration, many local churches within Canadian evangelical denominations such as the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, Christian and Missionary Alliance & Fellowship of Evangelical Baptists are seeing a strong growth in their South Asian membership - especially in urban areas.
Now this is where (at least in my experience) most majority culture missiologists and Western Church experts stop in their assessment of why the Western Church needs the Majority World Church: Immigration.
But as a two time immigrant Christian myself, here’s the thing about immigration: Western Church leaders can take zero credit for diversity caused by immigration. And if we’re being honest, many Western Church leaders (including ironically, non-white immigrant ones themselves) are fearful of immigration because many of them think of immigrants as, “Muslim, Hindu & Buddhist invaders bringing their own religious agendas into our Christian West”.
So instead of taking a posture of humility and asking, “What can we learn from these diaspora immigrants?”, they take a posture of white savioristic colonization (yes, non-white immigrant church leaders are guilty of this too by the way) and ask, “How can we convert these people into our way of life?”
Meanwhile, non-white immigrant Christians who join majority white churches often find themselves overlooked and get patronizing questions like, “Oh, you’re actually a Christian?”1
Yes, some of us in the Indian, Ethiopian, Egyptian & Middle Eastern Church have ancestors who were worshiping Jesus since many European folks’ ancestors were worshiping Marvel superheroes like Thor.
But here are a few things I think Western Church leaders will learn from Majority World Christians if they took a posture of humility:
A robust theology of justice: Because Majority World Christians come from contexts where systemic oppression & injustice are everyday realities for millions of their neighbours (and often, themselves), most Majority World Christians do not have the luxury of debating what the Christian response to injustice & poverty should be. We just roll up their sleeves and do what needs to be done on behalf of their marginalized neighbours. Because to us, the brown, colonized, middle eastern Jesus cares about physical liberation just as much as he cares about spiritual salvation.
A robust political theology: Because Majority World Christians come from contexts where they have seen the evils of corporate greed, mercantilism & colonialism, they have a healthy skepticism of the laissez faire capitalism that is often worshiped right alongside Jesus in large swaths of the Western Church. Most Majority World Christians I know are way more politically liberal on things like government regulation of the private sector, social safety nets and environmental protections than their North American counterparts. Now of course, many first generation Majority World Christian immigrants will still ultimately vote conservative but that’s mainly because of the oversized influence of the white evangelical Political Right in the United States and the role that unseen factors like assimilation, theological colonization & white supremacy play into the immigrant Christian psyche. For every Trumpian Majority World Christian in North America, there are at least two Majority World Christians back in their home country wondering what on earth happened to their friend’s mental health after they moved to North America.
A robust theology of the Holy Spirit: I remember reading a John Piper book2 for my World Missions class in seminary and realizing at the end of it that he completely neglected to highlight the Holy Spirit’s role in World Missions. This was especially weird considering that Piper had entire chapters dedicated to the role of the Father and the Son in World Missions. Not surprisingly, most mentions of the Holy Spirit in this book had to do with the Prosperity Gospel. I believe my reaction to Piper’s book to be a microcosm of the typical Majority World Christian’s reaction to the Western Church’s neglect of the Holy Spirit’s living & active nature in our world today. In my experience, Majority World Christians are much more Spirit-filled, Spirit-focused and Spirit-led than Western Christians. Christianity isn’t intellectual to most of us; it’s primarily lived. Naturally, the Spirit is moving and the Church is growing a lot more in the Majority World than it is in the West.
A strong identification with people on the margins: Because most Majority World Christians are on the margins of our societies (both pre & post-immigration), we identify a lot more with other marginalized people than many North American Christians do. This of course can also get clouded once we get exposed to the comforts & privileges of the West but deep down inside - our hearts beat for poor, marginalized and oppressed communities everywhere because of our own lived experiences.
Now obviously, a lot of our theology in the Majority World is colonized, white savioristic and anti-Black, so it’s important for Western Church leaders to be able to weed through that while listening & learning from Majority World Christians in their churches. For example - after George Floyd was killed and Black Lives Matter became a hot topic across the North American Church, many white Canadian pastors I know got the most anti-Black pushback from their South Asian & East Asian congregants. There’s only so much that Western Church leaders can do about this as Majority World Christians everywhere have a responsibility to decolonize our theology of its white, western, individualistic, colonial-era influences so that it’s in closer alignment with the theology of Jesus of Nazareth.
Still, if Western Church leaders were to take a posture of humility and ask the right questions of their newer Majority World church members, I’d suspect they’d learn something new about Jesus and how he is viewed by people on the margins of society.
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For a thoughtful deep-dive into this, read Mekdes Haddis’ book, A Just Mission.
Let The Nations Be Glad.