After decades of looking heavenward, Christians on this changing continent are successfully flexing their political muscles.

Over recent decades in Africa, the political climate has never been calm. The excitement of independence from the European colonial powers in the early 1960s was quickly quenched, by the rise of ruthless military dictators and iron-fisted, one-party regimes, giving way to crumbling economies, poverty, and infighting among fellow citizens.

“We cannot think about Africa without shedding tears,” says Panya Baba, president of the Lagos, Nigeria-based Evangelical Church of West Africa (ECWA).

But while the political and economic environment seems to be gloomy in many portions of the continent, such factors have served as a breeding ground for a new wave of evangelical influence in the politics of Africa.

The Christian Political Wave

Evangelical involvement in politics is a recent phenomenon. Early evangelical missionaries from Europe and North America discouraged their African converts from participating in politics. The understanding was that political liberation was “of this world,” and Christians should focus on the kingdom of heaven.

But as African evangelical leaders have gradually taken over the churches and church organizations on the continent, they have stressed that it is critical for churches to speak up for the economic and political well-being of the people. Otherwise, they say, the message of the church will become irrelevant.

“As Christians, our eyes have been opened and we have found that we are living in this world,” says Baba, who confesses that until recently, evangelicals in Africa were jittery over political involvement.

Another bitter realization that has hit African evangelicals is the fact ...

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