Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Arnold Bertram | Christians Awake

Published:Thursday | August 4, 2016 | 8:09 AM
Egyptians attend Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, at a public park, outside al-Seddik Mosque in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, July 6, 2016.
Worshipers at the National Emancipation and Independence Thanksgiving Service at the Pentecostal Gospel Temple, 111 Windward Road, Kingston, on Sunday, July 31, 2016.
In this 2014 file photo, hundreds of worshippers turned out at the Jamaica Baptist Union 164th general assembly to witness the installation of a new president Rev. Michael Shim-Hue, pastor, at the Greater, Portmore circuit at the National Arena in St Andrew in 2014.
Arnold Bertram
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The recent wave of terrorist attacks in Europe and North America by radicalised Islamic elements has brought renewed interest in the study: A Report of the World's Changing Demographics. This study published in 2008 predicts the demise of White Christian civilisation in Europe and North America by 2050 and its replacement by Islamic states.

It has been established that a civilisation can only be sustained with a fertility rate of more than 2.11 children per family, and that no culture has ever recovered from a birth rate that went below 1.9. At the time of the study, in the 31 countries which comprise the European Union, the fertility rate among white Christians had dropped to 1.38.

 

ISLAMIC MIGRATION

 

However, despite this decline, the population of Europe continues to grow thanks to migration. However, 90 per cent of the migrants to Europe are Islamic, and in contrast to the white Christian fertility rate of 1.39, the fertility rate among Muslim families is 8.1. Based on the projected growth of Islamic migration the prediction is that by 2047 France will be the first of the European countries to become an Islamic republic.

In 1978 the Muslim population in Britain was 82,000. By 2008 when the study was done it had grown to 2.5 million, and there were more than 1,000 mosques. In the Netherlands, Muslim families account for 50 per cent of the children born. The Germany Federal Statistics Office has reported that "the fall in the German population ... is no longer reversible. Germany will be a Muslim state by 2050".

In North America the situation is much the same. The fastest growing religion in Canada is Islam, and immigration accounts for 75 per cent of the population increase. In 1970 there were 100,000 Muslims in the United States. By 2008 this number had grown to nine million and the Islamic Strategy Conference held in Chicago in 2005 predicted an increase in the Muslim population to 50 million by 2035. While the terrorist threat is confined to a relatively small percentage of Muslims, experience shows the extensive damage to life and property that can be wrought by a single radicalised Muslim

The Christian community in Jamaica

Given the predictions of profound changes in global demographics, what will be the fate of the Christian community in Jamaica? Too many Christians seem to take comfort in the fact that the Christian Church in Jamaica is experiencing robust growth. They point to the fact that the 1,200 Christian congregations in 1942 grew to 7,843 congregations in 1999, while the number of denominations also increased to 606. (Devon Dick, 2002).

What should be a matter of deep concern to every Christian in Jamaica is that despite its continued numerical growth, the Christian Church does not demonstrate the capacity to inculcate Christian values in either its following or the wider community. In the same communities, where Christian congregations are most concentrated, crime, antisocial behaviour and anti-Christian values flourish. Truth is, Christianity today has become more of a fertile ground for hustling than for inculcating Christian values.

 

THE REVOLUTIONARY TRADITIONS OF CHRISTIANITY

 

At another level the Church seems increasingly disconnected from its revolutionary traditions. Many seem ignorant of the fact that it was the revolutionary life and teachings of Christ that inspired Paul of Tarsus to liberate the early Christians from the strictures of Judaism and to transform Christianity into the gospel of salvation, freedom and equality. By carrying the gospel to the enslaved populations of both Jews and Gentiles in the urban commercial centres of the Roman Empire, Paul established the revolutionary character of Christianity which triumphed over Mithraism and led Emperor Constantine to decree Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD.

Over the next 1,000 years the Christian Church, as the official Church of Rome, lost its revolutionary character and was rendered impotent by abuse and systemic corruption at the highest level. It was militant protest that led to the Reformation of the Church in the 16th century and the creation of the Protestant movement.

Here in Jamaica it was the Baptists, Methodists and Moravians who restored the revolutionary character of Christianity by leading the international crusade for the abolition of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and for the abolition of plantation slavery throughout the British Empire. The missionaries risked their lives and sacrificed their health to minister to the enslaved Africans, preaching the brotherhood of man and the equality of all men before God. More importantly they nurtured a cadre of deacons, leaders, aides and elders who became a part of the leadership of the Christian Church in Jamaica. The most outstanding of these local leaders was the Baptist Deacon, Sam Sharpe, who took the fight against plantation slavery to another level when in 1831 he led a rebellion of some 60,000 enslaved Africans that influenced the British Parliament to accelerate the time table for the abolition of slavery throughout the Empire.

 

THE PROGRESS OF THE MASSES

 

In the post-emancipation period when the estate owners took back the provision grounds from the formerly enslaved, it was the Baptists and Methodists who led the Free Village Movement which established 116 'free' villages, in which some 18,365 newly-freed Africans were assisted to build their own houses on their own piece of land. When it became clear that the injustices meted out to the formerly enslaved by the planter/merchant class, who dominated the Assembly, could only be brought to an end by political action, William Knibb led the initiative for the Christian Church to organise politically by establishing The Jamaica Anti-Church State Convention in 1844 to campaign for the election of black candidates to the Assembly.

Finally, as education and training became increasingly critical to the progress of the masses the Christian Church operated over 600 elementary schools, established high schools, and colleges for training ministers and teachers.

The challenges of the Christian church today

The major challenge to the spread of Christian values in Jamaica today is not radical Islam but the 300 criminal gangs island wide which exert far greater influence than the 7,000 Christian congregations and spread a culture of violence and anti-social behaviour. One contributing factor to the impotence of the Christian church is the fact that it exerts little or no influence in its schools and makes little or no effort to ensure that the staff recruited in its schools is capable, not only or delivering the academic curriculum to global standards, but to inculcate Christian values and prepare the students in their charge for responsible citizenship as well.

The rise of radical Islam coincides with the greatest concentration of wealth globally, the indebtedness of the middle class and the criminalisation of the poor. In the process the most fundamental Christian values - life and freedom - are threatened. Revolutionary Christianity must not only take a stand for justice but for equity as well. Christians Awake! "The Church militant will be the Church triumphant"!

- Arnold Bertram is a historian and former cabinet minister. His email address is: redev.atb@gmail.com