Image courtesy of David Swartz

Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity

Author Q&A with David Swartz about his book, "Facing West"

 

MCC UN Office: In this book you talk about transnationality and the “global reflex” in world Christianity. What does this mean, and why is this important? 

David Swartz: Throughout the past few centuries, mainstream Protestant Christianity was firmly in the grips of the West, who exported it to the rest of the world, often intermixing their religion with their own cultural standards and power system. As my book discusses through examples from Korea, India, Uganda, Guatemala, Thailand, and the Philippines, the global reflex points to how Christians from the East have been facing West and challenging the dominant ways of how things are seen and done.  

My favourite example of this reflex comes in the telling of World Vision’s founding. The U.S. version—in which Bob Pierce started the organization after seeing the horrors of the Korean War—is being challenged by a Korean story in which Pastor Kyung-Chik Han is a cofounder. These are contrasting stories, and both are legitimate. Koreans remain grateful for Bob Pierce; U.S. Americans need to learn to see and be grateful for Pastor Han. Still powerful for me is author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on the Danger of a Single Story. We absolutely have got to tell different, alternative stories. We can even tell contrasting ones at the same time!  

Your book discusses rising “Christian nationalism” around the world—how is that a problem? 

Christian nationalism is not just a U.S. problem. It has also taken root in many global communities, sometimes with an intensity that surpasses churches in the West. In a survey conducted of Evangelicals gathered at Cape Town, South Africa, in 2020, 58 per cent of leaders from the Global South favoured making the Bible “the official law of the land in their country.” As numbers of Christians increase in a country, they often become a political force. In South Korea, for example, there has been a variant of Christian Americanism that has mixed gospels of personal salvation, insatiable consumerism, military strength, and efforts to establish Christianity in national laws and the halls of power in ways which, counterintuitively, have diluted the power of the Gospel. 

You say a “missiology of peace” is the antidote to Christian nationalism—what do you mean? 

Christian nationalism is “offered” through coercive means. A missiology of peace goes back to the gospel being offered invitationally. It further requires that those who offer it listen to those who receive it. It is simultaneously local and part of a global communion, with the local adding gifts to the whole and the global bringing outside influence into the local.  

 

David R. Swartz teaches history at Asbury University. He is currently working on two books: one on the U.S. American evangelical antitrafficking movement in Southeast Asia and one on Civil War memory in Jessamine County, Kentucky. He is the founder and faculty sponsor of Plowshares Peace Talks, a Central Kentucky group that promotes peace and reconciliation. Learn more about his book Facing West here.