Pianos & Drums: Taking The Gospel Global. What’s Universal? What’s Cultural? Lessons From Africa In her forthcoming book (fall 2000), Jan Shipps concludes that the last four decades of correlating and streamlining Church programs, materials, and procedures has resulted in the dislodging of Mormonism from its culture of origin and the transforming of it into a religion that can be applied in many different cultures around the world. Every would-be world religion confronts this challenge; darn few succeed. Pioneer stock Mormons who lament the loss of roadshows and bazaars would get little comfort from the Apostle Paul, who told Jewish Christians the Gentile converts did not have to keep the Jewish feast days and traditions. For him, the testimony of Jesus, becoming a new creation, and the unifying Lord’s Supper were the universal demands. And yet, ironically, his epistles give specific, opinionated, instructions to the struggling convert congregations. This same dualism between implementing tested ways and allowing cultural diversity exists as the latter-day Zion spreads abroad. Mormonism’s twenty-year engagement in Africa shows how our American-born religion must change to be preached and practiced in every tongue. As this panel reflects on their experiences as Church leaders in Africa, we can glimpse and marvel at the work of the Spirit as Mormonism changes Africans and as Africans change Mormonism. Just what is happening? What are the practical, logistical demands in establishing the Church? What long-held assumptions had to be jettisoned? Who joins? Who stays? What traditional Mormon (American?) ways work? Which don’t? What can’t be changed? How easy is it to separate the gospel from culture? What about spirituality from culture? Is having one world-wide Church program realistic, or will we eventually delegate and decentralize program development? Even in replacing one culture’s arbitrary ways with another’s, how much diversity even in cultural things can one Church bear? What challenges have we overcome, and what ones loom on horizon? What might a mature Mormon Church in Africa be like?
Barnard S. Silver, Paul Clark, Gretchen Clark, Homer Lebaron, Norman Bangerter, Hollis Johnson