Monday, January 28, 2008

A Propensity for Imitation

William Watty, former president of the United Theological College of the West Indies, has observed that the Caribbean church has a high propensity for imitation:

It is here in the Caribbean, not in Europe, that you are likely to find the classic and pristine expressions of European denominationalism. It is in the Caribbean that you will hear Moravians talking about Jan Hus as though he was burnt at the stake last night. It is in the Caribbean that you will hear Methodists talking about the conversion of John Wesley as though Aldersgate Street is around the corner and they were there that night, that you will see Anglicans celebrating as though Newman, Keble and Pusey had them specially in mind when they inaugurated the Anglo-Catholic Revival, that you will hear Catholics speaking as though Pius IX took care to canvass their opinion specifically before he enunciated the Dogma of Papal Infallibility.

If we were to substitute the United States for Europe, we would find that Watty’s illustration could easily be extended to include the twenty-first century Bahamas. Consider, for example, how the books, movies, television programs, and personalities that are currently fashionable in American Evangelical culture have influenced Bahamian Christianity. Local Christian book shops prominently display stacks of Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life, Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, and Bruce Wilkinson's Prayer of Jabez. Cable Bahamas regularly pipes in religious programming from the major U.S. television networks, making household names of personalities like Joel Osteen, John Hagee, Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, and Juanita Bynum and, just a few years ago, Bahamian movie theaters were packed out by church groups attending showings of Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ. Given this influence, we should not be surprised that many Bahamian clergy have chosen to imitate the message, method, and promiscuously wealthy lifestyle of U.S.-based television preachers.

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