geopolitical changes as a challenge for the mission, evangelical focus
The presidents of RussiaVladimir Putin and ChinaXi Jinping, met on September 15 and 16 in the ancient city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan with leaders from several Asian countries: India, Pakistan, Turkey, Iran and other countries for the meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
The SCO was founded in 2001 as an economic, political and security network by China and Russia and includes India, Pakistan and Central Asian countries as members. Several other Asian countries are listed as partners, including Turkey, Iran, Mongolia, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It has been set up as a rival of Western alliances. According to Russian foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov, the “SCO offers a real alternative to Western-centric organizations. … All SCO members uphold a just world order”he said, describing the summit as taking place “against the backdrop of large-scale geopolitical changes”.
The SCO is not a military alliance like NATO, but rather a platform to discuss common security issues and promote trade. But it is obvious that bRussia and China are keenly interested in building a strategic alliance as a counterbalance to the world domination of the United States and Europe. They no longer seem willing to accept Western rules of international coexistence.
SCO countries are largely responsible for the relative success of Western sanctions against Russia after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, buy Russian oil and gas and offer ways to undermine sanctions. China, India and Iran, for example, easily make up for lost revenue through Western sanctions. It is clear that the SCO marks one of the new geopolitical realities and a potential superpower opposing Western democracies.
As the new geopolitical reality in Asia presents a set of economic and political challenges for the Western world, we focus in this article on the mission of the church of christ, which is largely dependent on Western support. Economic and political issues and challenges should be discussed on another page.
How do geopolitical changes in the world affect Christian mission? What happens to missions when opposing worlds collide? How wise is it to focus on promoting a certain political system? Is western democracy the only platform to develop Christianity in the world or would alternative systems also work?
These are the urgent questions to which Christians all over the world need an answer. Ultimately, the vast majority of the world’s population and also the majority of the Christian population lives outside the Western world. And church growth in Western democracies is dangerously low.
In my own country, Germany, the number of those leaving the Christian church reached in 2021 more than 600,000 people. According to the ecclesiastical political observer Matthias Kamann, the German churches have lost all control over the evolution of their membership and the permanent decline. Some even call Germany the most incredulous region in the world. George Barna claims a similar decline of Christianity in the United States. In reality, Western churches are losing their members by the millions. But millions of new converts are flooding the churches of the non-Western world.
At a time, conservative Christians leave the West and settle in politically neutral countries such as Paraguay and Bolivia in Latin America, and Hungary in Europe, to name a few. 1.5 million Germans have left my country in the last 10 years. Not all of them are Christians, of course, but the vast majority have left their homeland due to socio-cultural change.
Recently I asked one of these migrants in Hungary, why he decided to leave Germany for a country where he would have to work hard to learn the language and understand the culture. The brother replied, “I want to escape the system, which in my eyes is not only individualistic, liberal and decadent, but also by anti-Christian principle”. And then he mentioned the gender debate in Germany. “God created men and women, but the liberal West is breaking all the rules of creation, and my children are learning to reconsider whether they are male or female, or even some kind of neutral being. No, that’s more than enough for me Western culture is ungodly, but I will educate my children in obedience to God.
It makes sense to revisit the question of systemic collaboration between Christianity and Western culture.
The close relationship between the Church and Western-centric societies may soon challenge our mission in various ways. Just consider the following.
1. The church is seen in many countries around the world as an expression of Western culture. Of course, this is actually not the case, and the oldest Christian churches all claim a non-Western origin. But the general feeling is that Christianity is a Euro-American phenomenon. Wherever an indigenous society develops an anti-Western attitude, the church and its mission are automatically seen as an agent of the West and will potentially be rejected or even persecuted. The situation of the church in China, Iran and parts of India supports this thesis.
India is particularly interesting in this regard, since one of the oldest Christian churches in the world comes from India – the Mar Thoma Church of India. And yet, whenever animosities against Christianity in India arise, the Western world is blamed.
With growing geopolitical polarization, it is, in my opinion, strongly advised for international Christian networks to move their headquarters to politically neutral countries and to imply a prophetic attitude of independence from all political systems of the world, to avoid too close an association between Western culture and Christianity.
No, I’m not saying, the church should become apolitical. She has a strong prophetic voice and is charged with engaging with the unjust systems of the world no matter where they are: West or East, North or South. But the church should never engage in ideological political parties. As soon as she does, she will lose her universal call to transform the nations of the world into disciples of Jesus (Mt. 28:19).
2. Christian teaching materials, and especially evangelical ones, are to a large extent Western products. Theological education is based on Euro-American concepts and follows their model. Here, critical minds beyond the Western world see the fundamental root of ecclesial dependence on the native churches of the West. The call of Third World theologians for greater theological independence has been heard since the late 1960s and many improvements have been made. Just think of the establishment of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) in 1976 in Darussalam, Tanzania, and the work of those who work here.
But, especially among evangelicals, reliance on Western educational models continues to be strong. At the same time, there has never been a time when the societal relevance of Western theology has never been as weak as it is today. JWestern theological college seems to have lost both the client (the church) and the university as essential partners in scientific dialogue, and in doing so has lost its prophetic nature in church and society.
Due to geopolitical changes, churches outside the Western world are strongly advised to develop their own non-Western approaches to training leaders. And the Western church is invited to learn from them. The initiative of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) called Re-Forma could show the way.
3. For centuries, the Western world has dominated the global economy, exploiting the world’s best resources to increase its own wealth. The indigenous population, even in the wealthiest places in the world, like the Congo in Africa, remains poor, while Western societies prosper.
Western prosperity made financially sound Christian and evangelical missions and relief agencies possible. The Famous Latecomer Yale Professor Lamin Sanneh attributed some of the enormous financial strength of Western Mission missionary activity to a “guilt complex” of Western Christians. The West helps where the West creates the need for help.
Today, most Christian mission projects around the world depend on Western support. As soon as a given nation or a critical part of a given society turns against the West, all Western financial support dries up or is even criminalized, as is currently the case in Belarus, Russia and China.
Again, I would advise evangelicals to decentralize their financial support and moving the headquarters of international mission agencies to politically neutral locations. The search for funds and financial support must remain as close as possible to the national reality.
It is naive to believe that the SCO and its strategic gathering in Samarkand is just a random event and that the developments of new global superpowers will never overtake the Western democratic order. There are signs on the wall warning of a different scenario. And we Christians do well to be prepared.
Our missionary task is still far from being accomplished. Many ethnic groups are still waiting for the gospel to come to their backyard. It is not wise to stand in their way by sticking to a political system that proves to be ambiguous and which favors a rapid decline of the churches on the one hand, and a growing movement of conservative Christians out of their countries on the other. of Western origin, on the other hand. hand.
Johannes Reimerdirector of the public engagement department of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA).
1. See the story in: SG Pothen: The Syrian Christians of Kerala. (London: Asia Publishing House 1963).
2. On this subject, see my book: Johannes Reimer: Political mission. Church mission and politics. (Carlist: Langham 2017).
3. Deputy Joseph: Non-person theologies: EATWOT’s formative years. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2015).
4. See a critical assessment by Yale professor Miroslav Volf/Matthew Croasmun: For the life of the world: a theology that makes a difference. (Ada, MI: Brazos Press 2019).