Sunday, March 18, 2012

Christianity and its socio-cultural context

I know this is a very touchy topic and I hope I do not offend God and man by the views I will share in this blogpost. However, I have carried the thoughts in mind for about a month now and I feel the need to let them all out this evening.

Two things happened in the month of February that led me to this reasoning. Firstly, I had cause to attend a Sunday service at a branch of a very popular Nigerian Pentecostal church in East London; secondly, I attended an International Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) conference in Lagos, a week after.

I will begin with the church service. As I walked into the auditorium that fateful Sunday, I expected to see a mammoth crowd as you would usually see if you visited the church's headquarters here in Lagos. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case. The pews were largely empty and the aisle clear. I however got seated but what was more interesting to me was the Pastor’s message.

She enjoined the congregation to pray without ceasing stating that we wrestle against principalities and powers, and thereafter began to highlight instances during which we need to pray, but they seemed a bit mundane to me. For instance, she said – ‘if you are a woman whose pot of food constantly gets burnt, then you need to pray’.

On our way home, my BFF with whom I went to church and I reviewed the message and laughed. The message was awkward to us because in Nigeria, we are used to praying about getting jobs, spouses, financial breakthroughs, visas, protection from armed robbers etc.

Few days after I returned to Lagos, I attended an international CSR conference and the keynote speaker stated that what is considered as CSR would differ from one country to another based on the local socio-cultural influences. His classic example was the health care system in the UK and US. He said that while corporations who invest heavily in health insurance for their employees in the US pride themselves as being socially responsible, that practice cannot be considered CSR in the UK because the British government has a robust healthcare system under the NHS which caters to the well-being of the populace.

This analogy got me thinking about the preaching I received in the UK, and as I pondered, I came to a conclusion that perhaps socio-cultural influences also play a role in the way Christianity is received and practised.

In a developed society where good largely thrives over evil, corruption is minimised, truth and justice prevail, people get jobs and appointments on merit, visas are obtained if you meet the stipulated requirements, food is affordable, there is security, healthcare is subsidised and the common man can secure a mortgage to purchase a home, then perhaps all you may need to pray about could be - how to be a better cook. Furthermore, I came to a realisation that those who were seated in the congregation were individuals who genuinely wanted a fellowship with God.

This again brings me back home. Would the corrupt politician who occupies a front seat in church be in church if we have a system that effectively checks corruption? Would the young school leaver be in church if he was certain that without prayers or breaking a sweat he would get a job? Would the average worker be in church if he knew he would get a promotion when it falls due? Would the mums be in church if our men were more disciplined? Would the spinsters be in church if our society did not stigmatize young unmarried ladies; and so on and so forth.

The answers to these questions will be helpful in ascertaining if we genuinely love God, or if we are just a religious people seeking miracles.