The bishop who ordained me was ordained by African bishops. My priesthood is a gift granted by the global body of Christ. As a result, the rise of the church in the Global South has never felt like a distant sociological fact. It is personal and vital to my work. I identify more with believers who speak other languages, have different skin colors, and live on the other side of the planet than with fellow white Americans who live on my block.
This is a miracle—an ongoing act of grace that would have been unthinkable before the coming of Christ. Jesus made a new family whose kinship trumps cultural, national, and biological ties. But though miraculous, this extended family affects my ordinary day—the way I pray, worship, vote, and think about my neighbors, my church, myself, and the world.
At the beginning of the 20th century, 80 percent of Christians lived in Europe and North America, with only 20 percent in the non-Western world. Now it’s almost the reverse. Two-thirds of the world’s Christians live in the Global South. This reversal is due not so much to the decline of faith in the West but to the explosive growth of the church in the rest of the world. I see this in my own Anglican Communion, which wanes in wealthy Western nations and blossoms in the Global South.
This reality offers me hope. The vanguard of the Christian movement is not on American shores. North American culture, then, does not determine the future of the church. Western secularization, or even the marginalization of Christianity in the West, has about as much power to limit the flourishing of the church as it has to stop a hurricane or change the seasons. The indigenous growth and revival in global Christianity—which would have been unimaginable merely 100 years ago—reminds us that we need not be afraid. God is relentlessly at work in the world.
This global growth also shapes my perspective on how we talk about the church. When my community of primarily educated urbanites criticizes “the church,” we most often mean the American church or even merely the white American church. Given our context, this oversimplification makes sense, but it also subtly centers white American voices and experiences.
Similarly, when younger evangelicals leave “the church” because they are frustrated with certain Western iterations of it, they simultaneously leave behind a global body of largely black and brown people. These global evangelicals often hold together what many white American evangelicals too easily pry apart: a shared commitment to orthodox doctrine and care for the poor and oppressed.
When I think of evangelicals, I think of Singaporeans planting churches in Thailand, or Rwandan families serving refugees in Uganda, or Nigerian seminarians, or the evangélicos of South America—a label widely used by Protestant Latinos. We need to keep these voices front and center in any discussion of the church. They are our future and also our present—the ones who make up the majority of evangelicals on earth.
These global believers also remind me not to give up on the American church. A few years ago, I caught myself thinking, “The American church is dying and probably deserves it, so let’s focus exclusively on what’s happening elsewhere.” I gave us up for lost. But then I was reminded by my brothers and sisters overseas that many of these now-blossoming movements abroad began small. Men and women suffered joyfully for the gospel. They continue to do so. Amid suffering and even persecution, their impulse is to take up the mission of Jesus and love their neighbors. We are called to do the same wherever we are.
During the season of Epiphany, many Anglican churches use the Kenyan liturgy, and each year it reminds me that the church—and even evangelicalism alone—is bigger and more complex than my limited context. Right before we take the Eucharist, the celebrant says, “Christ is alive forever.” The congregation responds, “We are because he is.” Because Christ is alive, we the global church can flourish together as a new family. I am a disciple of Jesus, an evangelical Anglican, and a priest in Christ’s church because we are a global body. And we are because he is.
Tish Harrison Warren is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and the author of Liturgy of the Ordinary and Prayer in the Night (IVP, 2021).
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