World Christianity Initiative to explore Africa project

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

The World Christianity Initiative at Yale, led by Lamin Sanneh, the D. Willis James Professor of Missions and World Christianity, is spearheading a project aimed at marshalling the strengths of growing African churches to help shape societal values and influence institutions in Africa.

The Initiative will use a $50,000 grant from the Lundman Family Foundation in Fredonia, WI to bring together a group of about a dozen influential church leaders and academics from Africa and the West to begin the planning process at a March 25-27 gathering at YDS.

“The impetus for this initiative is the extraordinary resurgence of the Christian movement across the world, with Africa as one of the most important areas of expansion,” Sanneh wrote in an Oct. 26 letter to the Foundation requesting support.  “It places the churches in a strong position to influence society and help shape new value systems in an environment where public institutions are weak and often unproductive.”

Sanneh, a Roman Catholic convert from Islam and a recognized authority on interfaith relations, noted that churches have been instrumental in bringing peace to South Africa, Mozambique, Sudan and Kenya.  The aim is to bring similar church influence to bear in other parts of Africa through activities such as development of a curriculum on church and society for inclusion in theological training in Africa, design of modules for short-term courses and workshops geared to leaders in public and private life, and creation of institutional links with strategic church-related initiatives in Africa.

Following the planning process, funding would be sought to actually launch the project over a three- or four-year period.

According to Sanneh, preliminary support for the Africa project has come from Archbishops Obinna and Onaiyekan of Nigeria and Cardinal Turkson of Ghana.  Sanneh is scheduled to give lectures on church and society in both countries in July 2010.

“The proposal would fill a crucial gap between a growing church and religious leadership in the new societies of Africa,” Sanneh wrote in his letter to the Foundation.  “My ambition is for Yale to contribute to the laying of the intellectual and ethical foundations of the emerging social order in which churches often have been the main burden-bearers.”

Philip Lundman, a Lundman Family Foundation director, said, “This initiative can provide both the church and society valuable insight into the important place of religion in securing the well being of all individual persons and the common good.

“The Church by nature of its accountability to a loving God attempts to permeate society with uncoersive, other-oriented, even sacrificial morality that honors God and favors the most vulnerable. This counters a tendency in society toward control, exclusivity, and favoritism primarily benefiting those with political or economic power.”

The Lundman Family Foundation has also provided financial support for the Oxford Studies in World Christianity, a nine-volume series for which Sanneh is editor.  The Foundation’s mission is “to enable Christian communities, especially those that are disadvantaged or experiencing religious or ethnic persecution, to be true disciples of Jesus by establishing and empowering churches to serve their local communities.”

The World Christianity Initiative at Yale was created in August 2008.  Executive director of the Initiative is James Ehrman ’05 M.A.R.  He served 13 years as a commissioned missionary with the Evangelical Congregational Church before being named the denomination's director of global ministries.  Initiative advisors are YDS Dean Harold Attridge and Jonathan Bonk, director of the Overseas Ministries Studies Center in New Haven.