The 2010s and the Global Church

The 2010s and the Global Church January 6, 2020

I have been reviewing some of the highlights of the decade just past, as they affected Christians and Christianity. That includes events within the US, and the films of the era. Here, let me shift my focus to the global stage, as I offer my own listing (tentative and perhaps idiosyncratic) of the key developments of that era. In each instance, I focus on a particular year, although the event that I highlight might epitomize a larger trend that in fact spanned several years within the decade.

2010, or thereabouts: The population of the African continent reached a billion.

That event in itself has no religious significance, except that it illustrates the continuing shift of global population to Africa, with its legendarily religious communities. According to reasonable estimates, that means that the number of African Christians by that point was around 450 million or so, and due to reach a billion in the 2040s.

2011: Islamists lead savage rioting against Egypt’s Coptic Christians.

The military overthrow of the country’s elected Muslim Brotherhood regime resulted in extraordinary violence against the Copts and their churches and monasteries, in fact the worst single outbreak of its kind in Egypt since 1321. That highlighted the extreme vulnerability of Christians anywhere in the region: where might a safe place be found?

2013: Brazil’s Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage.

Several Latin American countries were ahead of the US in recognizing same sex unions, but this particular event was so notable because it occurred in such a vitally significant country, and despite the ferocious opposition of both Catholic and evangelical churches.

2013: Pope Francis elected.

I make no apology for quoting the convenient summary in Wikipedia. Jorge Mario Bergoglio is “the first Jesuit pope, the first from the Americas, the first from the Southern Hemisphere, and the first pope from outside Europe since the Syrian Gregory III, who reigned in the 8th century.” And likely, the first of many Global South successors.

2014: The Islamic State secures hold of much of Northern Iraq and proclaims a Caliphate.

The takeover by resulted in vicious persecution and murder of religious minorities, including Yazidis and Christians. The Christian communities – the Nazarenes, or Nasrani – are some of the oldest surviving in the world. Following so closely on the Egyptian violence discussed earlier, the event raised serious question about the possible survival of Christians in the whole Middle East.

2015: The Synod of [Catholic] Bishops on the Family meets in Rome.

Whatever the particular events under discussion, the key point from a global perspective ws the strong emergence of the African prelates as a powerful conservative interest group, opposed to liberal Europe.

2017: “Ahok” is arrested, convicted, and jailed in Indonesia.

Indonesia is by far the world’s largest Muslim nation, and it was remarkable when a Christian of Chinese origin, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, or Ahok, was elected as governor of Jakarta. That seemed to demonstrate extraordinary tolerance in the society. But ruin came in 2017 when Ahok was arrested on trumped up charges of blasphemy. That has vast implications for Muslim-Christian relations in Indonesia, and in the larger region.

2018: Ireland votes by a landslide to legalize abortion

Through the years, many Catholic countries have adopted policies condemned by the Church, from the relatively easy – contraceptive access, divorce – to the much more contentious, such as abortion and euthanasia. The victory in Ireland, and its enormous scale, demonstrate a social revolution in what was long famous as a conservative heartland.

2019: The Orthodox Church of Ukraine secures its independence as an autocephalous church, free of control by the Moscow Patriarchate.

The break with Moscow naturally reflected political tensions between Russia and Ukraine, but whatever the reasons, this represented a massive break from centuries of Orthodox tradition.

2019: Australian Cardinal George Pell is convicted in abuse case.

I mention this not because the particular case has any global significance, and indeed the legal aspects of it remain open to question. Rather, I note the impact of the abuse cases, and how totally unsurprising it seems to us today that a Catholic prelate should be convicted of such a crime, and not in an obvious show trial in a socialist “People’s Democracy.” Also indicative of an ongoing social/religious revolution is the international spread of laws mandating reporting of abuse, regardless of Confessional privilege.

2019: The Amazon Synod meets in Rome

Technically the “Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region,” the gathering was multiply significant in its exploration of ideas which would once have been unthinkable within the Catholic church, and which remain contentious for many. These include a decisive shift to acknowledging indigenous perspectives; and a radical restatement of ecological values and priorities within the church. Proposals concerning married priests and women deacons in this particular region remain very controversial.


As usual, I offer a question: what other events do you think might belong? What am I missing here? If your response is “It’s too soon to tell,” you are a wise person. You are already over-qualified for political office.





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