First Nations

The Economist: Stuck in a time warp, misses real news about Global South missionaries

The Economist: Stuck in a time warp, misses real news about Global South missionaries

The classically liberal British weekly, The Economist, is known for its authoritative, tightly written, analysis-infused news coverage. While I sometimes disagree with its editorial conclusions, I include myself among those who find The Economist a satisfying read.

But even the news outlets I favor the most are capable of sometimes publishing pieces that leave me wondering.

Such was the case with an Economist piece from earlier this month on the spread of Christian missionaries coming from the Global South (formerly known as the Third World) to North America and Europe — a 180-degree reversal from the historical pattern.

This reverse flow says a lot about the state of global Christianity. It speaks to the real possibility of the political and cultural West entering a truly post-Christian age. And it underscores how the Global South — Africa, Asia and Latin America — are likely to define Christianity’s future.

But why now? Why did The Economist  bother to publish, both online and in print, a story about a phenomenon that’s been picking up speed for several decades and play it as if they’d uncovered a breaking trend?

Why would a publication as exemplary as The Economist  publish a piece that reads as if its been sitting in the magazine’s ever-green file for years?

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Al-Jazeera piece on Native church in Vancouver has the right mix of information and analysis

Al-Jazeera piece on Native church in Vancouver has the right mix of information and analysis

Here’s another story that proves that Al-Jazeera gets religion.

Most stories one reads about Native Americans in either Canada or the U.S. concentrate on how they’re into peyote, dumping all traces of their colonizers’ faith or were on the short end of abuse from some religious order.

A year I spent living close to the immense Navajo reservation that straddles New Mexico and Arizona showed a more complex story. Many Natives belonged to established denominations that set up mission churches on the reservation. Every summer, revival tents would pop up everywhere. The same is true for Alaska. When I asked a professor in the Native studies department at the university in Fairbanks to get me a speaker who’s into Native religions, she said most Natives attend church.

Which is why this piece about Canadian Native converts to Christianity rings true. It only took a little bit of effort to add some complexity to the reporting.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Inside a cramped, run-down loft in one of this city's poorest neighborhoods, Cheryl Bear Barnetson sits at a communal drum, leading a group of people in song.
The sharp beating of the drum grows louder and faster. She and the other aboriginal singers surrounding it begin to chant.
“Jeeee-sus, Jeeee-sus, Jeeee-sus …”
Although it doesn’t look like a typical house of worship, this place is a church. Bare brick walls surround small coffee tables and chairs. A large wooden cross is all that distinguishes the space from a 1920s speakeasy.

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