There’s the guilt and fear. There’s the drama and emotion. There’s the conformity and the teaching of “Us versus Them.” Of course, there is also that feeling that you’re not good enough, that you have to somehow work your way into God’s love.
These are hallmarks of cults, dangerous but strangely appealing religious groups like ‘666’ who, according to a recent New Vision report, are attracting more Ugandans. Why?
We know cults can operate anytime and anywhere. But East Africa seems extra open to both the wonder and harm of religious belief. Is that big rally truly worship? Or emotionalism? Mass hysteria? And while the West struggles with empty secularism, too many Ugandans, it seems to me, have settled for a shadow of faith that is a mile wide and an inch deep.
Some context is helpful. East Africa’s Christian revival of the mid-20th century has had lasting effects. It had roots in earlier Western revivals, and also grew, in part, from the West’s first mission here in the 19th century. The movement then rightly developed into an indigenous African experience. Even while charismatics splintered from the Anglican Church, East Africa has remained heavily Christianized.
But the question of any conversion is always quantity versus quality. What is a “Christian,” anyway? Is church attendance the key? Or is there something more? And what about these cults?
I wonder if their proliferation is because too many mainstream churches act just like them. This, after all, is human nature. It’s much easier to follow a set of rules – don’t drink, dress smartly, attend church – than it is to sort out the thornier mystery of God presence in our broken world.
The Scriptures tell us this, that while moral principles are important, they’re not the foundation. This is why Jesus hung out with prostitutes and drunkards and called them his friends; why he said there will be people in hell with suits and people in heaven with torn jeans. It’s a startling message.
So, really, are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? This is what Jesus asked. Then he said, “Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to get a real rest.” This is how he said it: “Learn from me the unforced rhythms of grace.” Has your church heard this lately? Why not?
The request is now for Uganda’s traditional churches to liven up with more singing and dancing, especially to attract youth. That’s not enough. What is needed more-so is teaching on why Jesus was the irreligious rule-breaker that he was. Why? Because we tend to worship all the wrong things, including religion itself. As C.S. Lewis said, “There’s no good trying to be more spiritual than God.”
Globally, Christianity’s influence is changing dramatically. It’s believed that by 2025 South America will have 600 million Christians, about double North America. Asia will likely rise to 460 million, almost that of Europe. And while Africa had 10 million believers in 1900, that’s now grown incredibly to about 500 million.
So the missionized are becoming the missionaries. I wonder, though, what exactly is everyone believing in? Is it that unforced rhythm of grace? Or something less? It’s a good question because tomorrow’s children will surely ask about God. And if nobody can tell them about his deep and undeserved love for us, our world will become a very dark place.