Dana Roberts, professor at the Boston School of Theology, was interviewed recently for PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. She addressed the sharp rise in recent years of the new African Christian church, a result of Nigerian missionaries coming to the U.S. to establish new churches.
These missionaries bring with them a cultural tradition full of spirits: good spirits, evil spirits, ancestors; and those spirits seen as evil must be fought and defeated in the church. In this postmodern era when we have come to believe that science does not have all the answers, this custom of active spirits has relatively recent cultural roots that resound in many. But the African traditional religion asserts that evil spirits are behind homosexuality.
To these new churches, the list of laws in the book of Leviticus is very important. Roberts explains:
"...purity is a really important piece coming from African traditional religion that they're carrying into Christianity.
[Purity is important] because if you come from a primal society, and you don't do things exactly a certain way, you are not aligned with the spirits or with the cosmic forces, and you can't succeed in life."
The drive for purity parallels the Old Testament laws that set the Jewish people apart from other tribes. Merged with African traditions, the result is a genuine sense of doing God's will.
In this video that shows the reaction to the recent defeat of same-sex marriage in New Jersey, watch the woman in red and her husband from the 2:38 mark to 3:08:
Aughtney Khan and her husband Amir are pastors at Solid Rock Worship Center in Clementon, NJ, where "purity" is one of four principles of faith. They and their church exemplify this new trend in conservative Christianity.
If we are to counter the zeal and sense of righteousness in this new form of Christianity, we must recognize the source of its appeal and offer an equally attractive alternative. To those whose new faith is active and vibrant, the quiet Christianity of the European tradition is losing its cultural appeal. A church that quietly asserts God's love is not going to be effective here.
While the issue of same-sex marriage and equal rights truly at heart is a civil one, we must acknowledge the role that faith plays in the current cultural bias. It is the primary source of the current polarization we are witnessing on the national level.