Posted by: rogermitchell | January 26, 2013


During my preparation for the Introduction to Christianity lectures I am currently giving as part of the World Religions course in the Lancaster University Politics, Philosophy and Religion Department (PPR), I made an interesting discovery. The shift in the distribution of Christians worldwide over the last century, as you probably know, has moved significantly from north to south. The northern hemisphere and the western world is no longer the the centre of Christianity, the south is, and Africa in particular. That much I already knew.

However, the New Atlas of Global Christianity reveals that if you plot the epicentre of the distribution of Christianity, you arrive in northern Mali. This is not to say that this is where the most Christians are, but that working from the current distribution of Christians worldwide and plotting the approximate centre of global distribution, this is the centre. [scroll down to map on p.33]

This has got me thinking on two fronts.
Firstly, the epicentre is on the fault line between North African Islam and African Christianity and is the current focus of the French government’s military action against Muslim extremists, with the British government’s help.

Secondly, given that this is the statistical epicentre of contemporary Christianity, it is surely the place where the core Christian distinctive of outpoured love, espoused by this blog, needs to be demonstrated and supported.

My thinking is that the desire and responsibility for this belongs to those who recognise the centrality of unconditional love within the Christian faith and those within other faiths or none, who identify with it. Activating this is a matter of urgency. Here is an opportunity for love in action to respond in ways counter to the meeting of violence with violence of the now all too familiar Western war on terror approach. Northern Mali does not need to be a place where Western governments come in with the big guns to sort out those regarded as terrorists. They may or may not be. They could be criminals, they could be warring tribes whose mutual antagonism has been increased by the impact of past colonial policy. They could be those whose understanding of the track record of western powers in Africa causes them to use violence to prevent it continuing. In any case it needs to be the place where the kenotic power of love is made evident for all to see.

This is not going to be easy. Some serious strategic thinking is needed. But it calls for some of us some of us to connect with and support those who are already engaged with positive initiatives for peace in the area. Although I have personal connections in various parts of Africa, with Africans who are working at issues of reconciliation and transformation, I don’t have any in Mali. Do you? If so can you please comment and/or get in touch via


  1. Here’s an important response from a shy friend of mine:

    Hi Roger

    Just responding to your call for those who have connections in Mali.

    A few years ago, not that many – I haven’t got the relevant journal to hand, God spoke to me about the African lands and my responsibility to it. There is much I could share but suffice to say this:

    Whether on a spiritual, economic, socio-political, cultural, anthropological, or any other epistemological perspective we choose to take, we will never understand, get to the root of the problem, start to unearth solutions, until we take a universal, a cosmic, gestalt -if you will- view.

    Africa is many, many, many peoples but it is one land.

    Mali has been in the news, but the boundary line is the Sahara; the battleground, the battlefront, is the whole Sahel region – Mauritania-Mali-Niger-Nigeria-Chad-Sudan-Ethiopia-Somalia. We seem to have resigned ourselves to the fact that Somalia is lost, so too Sudan, parts of Ethiopia and others as well. But that is not so – hope is being kindled, if you we had but eyes to see, and ears to hear – it’s being kindled. This is not an anti-Muslim Crusade, this is about fighting, not with guns, for the peace, the Shalom that all Africa needs and deserves. Unity is key but so is integrity – not just a cosy goodness of heart – but a willingness to work for the greater good, the common good for all Africa. The people may be in turmoil but it is the land – the African lands that are crying out. That is the piercing, anguished cry I hear above all others, at this moment, in Africa.

    So yes, ask for contacts in Mali, but do so in the other Sahel countries as well. Join up the dots, don’t leave a gap. See this as a contiguous issue and see a contiguous answer – a fulsome, wholesome, sustainable one – arise.

    Love & peace

  2. More wise questions from my shy friend: I’m not in a position to answer them anything like fully. I will respond, but would love it if others could too. There is important stuff here!

    Hi again Roger,

    I hope you don’t mind me picking your brains.

    (i) Is it significant that all the countries that border the Sahara – north & south – are ex-French colonies?

    (ii) Is it significant that these countries are, not just the poorest in Africa, but in the world?

    (iii) Is significant that Algeria is rich in Gas and Oil; Niger has the world’s largest Uranium reserves – which by the way powers France’s nuclear plants; Mali is Africa’s third biggest gold producer; and so on, and so on…?

    (iv) We talk about the spirit of something, that which energises it, controls and influences it. We know that from this definition that institutions, nations, ideologies, not just corporeal beings, can be possessed, energised by spirits/ or the powers ( as Walter Wink so ably concluded). We talk about a God of abundance yet Africa, for all its landed wealth, has poverty that is both ignoble and unjust. We always think of poverty as being the result, the effect of something, of situation, circumstances. What if poverty wasn’t just a result, a product but a Spirit, a power in itself?

    I’m not talking about ‘a poverty spirit’ that’s an entirely different concept – even though the words have gone through the merest permutation. What if one of the greatest hindrances to peace/ shalom in Africa is poverty, the power and the spirit of poverty? Poverty engendered, en-fleshed, yes- materialised, but also covenanted poverty. Poverty bought at the highest price – the blood of sons and daughters. Covenants made long ago and constantly being energised by spilt blood, occult practices and unrighteous treaty or contract.

    We seem to address things on only one level – temporally and otherwise. We never dig deep to the real roots of a land’s formation – to the place where the treasures are stored in darkness and riches in secret places. Africa is so much older than its colonial history, the truth of it so much more ancient. Words have been spoken, and deeds enacted, that have been forgotten and need to be remembered. Good words and bad words; words from heaven, words from hell; words of blessing and words of cursing. Africa is the land of long memory, of ancient memory. Africa the land where every stone has a story to tell and we need to start listening again – listening with wax-free ears and unsequestered hearts. Maybe then we might know and understand, and then be able to act effectively.

    I don’t know much really, but I do see a dawn, a long slow morning crepuscular, one that will captivate everyone with its beauty. I long to see Africa arise to the full light of day in all its God-given glory. I long for, I pray for and I work for that. It will come. There is always a day and that day will come.

    • Hi friend,
      I so appreciate the wisdom of someone like you, whose roots are African.

      I certainly go further than say, Walter Wink, in recognising the reality of the powers. I was teaching the Orthodox Church’s ‘Christus Viktor’ view of the atonement in my lectures this week and trying to communicate the significance of understanding the cross as being about defeating Satan, not appeasing God. In order to get the students to grasp the seriousness of this view rather than viewing it as a quaint idea, I found myself remarking that belief in the devil and demons helps explain aspects of evil that it is difficult to account for otherwise. So I have no difficulty in regarding an evil as endemic as poverty to be evidence of Satan’s entenched presence.

      But the simple depth of the story of the cross and resurrection seems to be that kenotic love demonstrated at the right time can overwhelm and trump violence and poverty completely. I’m certainly not saying that there are no important strategies and methodologies for dealing with past spiritual and historical sources of conflict and I have been involved in many such with my African brother and sisters in different parts of the African continent. This has been some of the main motivation behind the Europe/African Reconciliation Partnership. I also agree that there is much more to understand and activate. However I still believe that love is the key, and all other action is inadequate without it.

  3. Just a quick comment here, making reference to the 2nd comment – my perception of France, having lived here now for 10 years is that there is definitely a manifestation of a “spirit of poverty” in the way people think/act. It would not surprise me to find that African countries would have amplified problems that mirror the problems of their colonizing European country.

    I’ve NO evidence to back this up, simply an observation based on what your “shy friend” shared.

    • May I join in this discussion. I also live in France. I’m making some huge generalisations which I would qualify a bit when it comes to the details.

      (i) When it came to colonisation it seems to me that France got the left overs. Britain ‘got’ India, West Africa, North America, and so on; the Dutch – South Africa; Spain and Portugal got South America, etc ie a lot of the rich pickings at the time.

      (ii) Anyone living near the Sahara is living in difficult climatic conditions, amongst the harshest in the world and getting worse as the Sahel grows. North Africa has the fact that it borders the Mediterranean going for it so at least it is significant for trade etc

      (iii) The gas,oil and uranium are relatively recent factors that have made it worth while ‘having’ these countries after all. Of course the gold is a much older story and makes up for the climate a little bit.

      (iv) I agree absolutely about what your shy friend says about the dominant spirits. In Africa just like in Europe there seems to be a perpetuation of certain patterns. In Africa there has been a historical pattern, just as in pre reformation Europe, of gutter poor peasants and a few extremely rich. There are still some very very very rich Africans in comparison with their compatriots. That is their pattern of government, to bleed the country as much as they can as long as they can stay in power. (Remember this is gross generalisations) This is the pattern followed by many European monarchs in Europe too. It’s a very very deeply rooted habit – like who could get the money and labour to build Stonehenge for example without exerting “a little pressure” shall we say ? When Europeans went to Africa they had largely stopped doing it so much to fellow Europeans and went and did it to Africans instead. And look what we did to China – French and Brits together – groan 😦

      Continuing about the dominant spirits I heard a fascinating account by a historian of Ghanain descent who has looked into the history of Ghana in West Africa. Apart from many wonderful things, he also found that there was already a history of slave taking long before the Brits got there. The Northern tribe used slaves from other neighbouring tribes to work the gold mines. When the Brits arrived the Northerners then sold these same neighbours to the Brits who then sold them on. Eventually the Brits found it cheaper to go and fetch the slaves themselves. I use this west african example to say that I think we must be very careful about generalisations based on Live Aid images which then permeate public attitudes, a fact that you’re very aware of.

      My personal opinion is now that “Africans” may or may not need us. Maybe we’re more of a nuisance than a blessing sometimes, not cos we perpetuate colonial attitudes but cos they do. However I believe that the next wave of revival in the world will come from Africans from Africa reaching out. I think we desperately need their intercession and their willingness to share the gospel. I also think that people will be willing to respond to them without the strings attached cynicism that we give to westerners talking freely about just about anything.

      I think we need to be very very careful about replicating the spiritual and powers that we have at work too. There’s nothing very clever about how our markets are going about things and so called democracy, which isn’t really, and can just become a tool for buying support as opposed to earning it. For example I think the system of village elders and negotiation is much stronger than the dribs and drabs of democracy we have here . But overall the key not the question of whether we have serial leaders or keep the same ones, it’s partly how to help them leave power without losing face – a house of elders and seniors (as opposed to a house of land owners or lords) could be a very useful addition to the democracy we export – ditto in the church. It’s so much easier to leave any sort of leadership if you know you will still have some sort of status and respect afterwards.

      The key seems to me to pray that we will have the courage to think beyond our boxes and, as you suggest, kenarchy (or the same thing but with a less clunky name – inventors are rarely good at chosing the best name that the public can attach to) has to be a key. Church structure patterns can often mirror those in society I get the impression, and every where we need to have the courage to live and organise ourselves in radical, alternative ways without giving in to anarchy on the other extreme. If we don’t give people a structure to copy they’ll go and reproduce what they’re used to.

      Thank you for your work promoting love and goodwill, what ever we call it.

  4. Just another comment on the continuity of powers front – We need to remember that one of the next biggest colonising powers after the Romans is Islam. Mohammed was himself an excellent or at least successful warlord chieftan, and his two aids then successors also gifted warriors and strategists. “Christian” powers required over 300 years before they took up arms, and then it was on the back of the Roman empire and under their direction. Islam was imposed by the sword from the word go. There is nothing incongruous about Islam, when it goes back to it’s roots in it’s most fundamentalist form, being warlike. The ‘peace’ which comes from it therefore has more in common with the Pax Romana – you get peace if you give in. Of course not all Muslims want to live like that now, far, far from it. The conquered ones didn’t necessarily want to live like that then either. Let’s not just see the “terrorists” as hole in a corner crazys. They follow in a tradition of fearless, brave warriors. If they were from our culture we’d be proud of them. I don’t agree with what they do, but I don’t agree with how we decide who are heros and who are deadloss loonys either. We went much the same way about conquering Africa too.

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