December 24, 2008

Is the Orthodox Church losing ground?

Dear Deje Selamaweyan,
Greetings to you all at the eve of the Western Christmas. We need some more days to celebrate our Orthodox Christmas. We beseach all our readers to enjoy both Christmases, thanking God for giving us these gifts. Unfortunately we have still an issue at hand talking about the Ethiopian census, which angered especially the Muslim community. Numbers and statistics are instigating basic question about Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Church and the fate of that country in respect to religion. We request you all to the following article posted by Arefe on Addis Journal. Are we really losing ground?
Cher Were Yaseman
+++++++

Is the Orthodox Church losing ground?
By arefe
(Addis Journal):- One thing which may be a cause for concern in the new census is its indication of decrease in the number of Orthodox Christians, traditionally the dominant church in Ethiopia. The orthodox now comprise 43.5 percent of the population, as against just over 50 percent in 1994.The erosion is mainly due to the rising influence of Pentecostal churches and the recent Muslim revival in the country, it was said.
What does this mean?Why is the Orthodox Church finding it hard to cope with its competitors, the evangelicals and the radical Islam?

What implications does it have for the future? What should be done to reverse the trend?

The rise of secularism and the erosion of faith, and a new mood of independence are often cited for why the Orthodox Church is losing its privileges status.

But historian Professor Medhane Tadesse in his 2003 essay, “Religion, Peace and the Future of Ethiopia” mentions other reasons. The Orthodox Church (EOC) is “weak economically and organizationally,” he says.

“Lack of vision and leadership is part of the problem. Orthodox Christians do their teaching more in their capacity as committed individual believers than as commissioned agents of an international church organization,” writes Prof. Medhane.

There is a marked contrast in the modus operandi between the EOC on the one hand and the charismatic movement and radical Islam on the other, according to the analyst.

“The latter have shown a capacity for mobilization, discipline, patience, flexibility and social engagement that has consistently outshone the EOC. In fact, the EOC has become an easy prey and a soft target for all other religious institutions as each of them seems to be in competition to secure as many members of the EOC as possible for their churches”, argues the scholar.

The EOC opposes what it calls the unnecessary project of evangelizing the Evangelized. This remained key in the conflict between missions and the EOC for many years. According to Prof.Tadesse Tamrat, the clear basis for the permission given by the Ethiopian Christian rulers to the missionaries to operate in their domains was always the understanding that they try to convert only non-Christian subjects of the periphery. Now both revivalism and freedom of movement and other structural, financial and organizational advances have enabled other churches to focus on the center and target followers of the EOC.

Prof. Medanhe notes the fact that the EOC is losing its dominant position could be bad for the country.

”One major basis for the long history of religious tolerance in Ethiopia , I believe, was the feeling on the part of EOC that its dominant position was not in any way challenged; hence it was willing to tolerate the other religions. Now that equilibrium is threatened. Indeed, Ethiopia is undergoing a fundamental revolution, perhaps the deepest in its history, in the area of religion. The religious fabric is in perpetual turmoil. Engulfed by other religions, both radical and moderate, the EOC seems to be worried about losing members to missionary churches and the Wahabis. The long-held belief that the missionaries came to Ethiopia to destroy the Ethiopian Orthodox church has a large following. Arguably, if it has to survive it must prevail. Sooner or later this will lead to violent confrontation and conflict. The chronic problem of denying burial grounds to the Pentecoste and the violent confrontation during religious holidays between the EOC and the Pentecoste in recent years should be taken a s early warnings of an imminent problem.” says the Prof. Medhane.

But Prof. Medhane points that the big threat also come from foreign involvement which he said is “at its highest level.”

“The Saudi-based Muslim World League has remained at the forefront of spreading Wahabism in Ethiopia since the 1980’s.more disturbing, Ethiopia has occupied center stage in the struggle between radical and moderate Islam at a global level. One of the principal points of difference between moderates and extremists is the position they take on Ethiopia, i.e. Christian Najashi versus Islam Al-Nejashi. The former considers Ethiopia as a country which saved Islam and it should be accepted and tolerated while the latter believes that Ethiopia has remained a major obstacle to the southward (Sub-Saharan African) expansion of Islam and it should be punished. This camp seeks not to ensure the rights of Muslims but rather total Islamic victory over the country. Saudi Arabia’s more fundamental wing is at the forefront of this militancy against Ethiopia,” he points out.Radical Islamic groups are flourishing in Ethiopia in various forms and organizations, different from each other and depending rather on thier association with external funding than ideology.Hence, poverty at home and financial and organizational support from abroad is dramatically influencing the nature of political Islam in Ethiopia.



Despite the setbacks, the scholar argues that Orthodox is still important to the Ethiopians.

“Whether it is against aging and frustrating or it is more utopian than practical, the EOC still commands a sizable and very influential section of the Ethiopian society.”

But, as the religious equilibrium is collapsing very quickly, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church should be encouraged to face the challenges. How?

The first advice is to look out for religious militancy that come from foreign radical Islam and evangelical church.Explaining his reason, Prof. Medhane says that indigenous Islam and the early actvities of the Ethiopian Evanglical church were not directed against the Ethiopian state.Indeed although excluded from national life, indigenous Muslims had infact proven themselves to be unwilling to collaborate with external aggresive forces and they were no less loyal or patriotic than Christians.There has been an ongoing process of religious revivial in Ethiopia over the centuries, but the contemporary religious militancy should be seen as a wholly new phenomenon and a threat to the peace, stability and independence of the country.It is externally energized and directed, and focus should be made on the Ethiopianization of its leadership, resources and religous content.We should be consistently reminded that the new trend does not automatically equates to Islam or Western Christianity in its broader, cultural sense, and Ethiopia must always make efforts to distinguish between the two.

According to Prof. Medhane, something should be done to effect a mechanism of shared resources among the different religious institutions, above all capacity building and internal reform In the EOC, so that it cope with the new challenges.



Prof. Medhane warns that Saudi Arabia is becoming the main influential factor in Ethiopia’s Islamic affairs.” This new trend, coupled with Saudi economic activities in Ethiopia, triggers mixed signals. Ethiopia needs to learn how to seek accommodation with the Saudi connection, carefully mange its dangers, and possibly turn its advantage as a momentum that enriches its economy, pluralism and international dynamism.

The scholar is of the opinion that that religious freedom should be regulated (e.g. through a code of conduct), but religious conflict should be handled wit great care by the government.” A critical feature here is properly interfacing uncontrolled religious freedom with controlled democracy in the country. The media and school should play a pivotal role in disseminating a culture of tolerance and serving as forum for interreligious dialogue. Civic education is very important in this regard. The most serous challenges to religion tolerance and diversity usually come from exclusivist truth claims. Religious institutions should take such issues into account when preparing religious books and materials.

But of great consideration, according to the scholar, is poverty.” At the heart of militancy, the fast change in religious equilibrium and the growing influence of religion lies in the wide spreading of poverty, the economic weakness the state and the bankruptcy of ideologies.” he states.

“Whether to dream of better world, or try to live less poorly in this one, many people in Ethiopia (as elsewhere when the state fails) have switched their allegiances from politics to religion. Surely, the Ethiopian state couldn’t prevail if its economic policies continue to be poorly financed, directed or implemented. With events unfolding, it will have little chance to prove its usefulness to the masses. Instead, substantial majorities of Ethiopians will continue to pin down hopes on religion, but are likely to become more ready to experiment and accept different versions of it” concludes Prof .Medhane.

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18 Responses to “Is the Orthodox Church losing ground?”
Girma Kasa Says:

December 8, 2008 at 11:00 am
“Arguably, if it has to survive it must prevail. Sooner or later this will lead to violent confrontation and conflict. The chronic problem of denying burial grounds to the Pentecoste and the violent confrontation during religious holidays between the EOC and the Pentecoste in recent years should be taken a s early warnings of an imminent problem.’
Very true!
We in the Disapora should lead the effort to assist our mother Church become strong economically and organizationally.Many monasteries and churches are in ruin for lack of money.We should our utmost before it is too late!

Belay Says:

December 8, 2008 at 1:08 pm
Orthodox will remain the biggest because the evangelicals are slowing down the last 2 years. the census shows evangelical grown in 1990s.

anyway, EOC ..

- needs to change all geez bibles to amharic SO THAT OUR PEOPLE CAN FINALLY READ!!
- also translate it to Qubee afaan oromo instead of oromos using western bibles.
- the EOC priests are corrupt and sometimes they don’t EVEN READ ANY BIBLE but collect money!!
- advertise antiquity as an advantage, don’t try to radically modernize the ancient EOC just to compete with evangelicals!!
- every EOC member needs to be ambassador, this means stop vilifying the evangelicals (evangelicals grow more and more when we vilify them but their growth is slowing down recently because there is less vilification. stop vilifying them!!)
- evangelize more. especially in sidama,SNNPR and gambella states, we need to evangelize

bitew Says:

December 8, 2008 at 7:19 pm
One thing that the scholar,Ato Medhane, forget is that the EPRDF regime has done a lot to defame the church in the south and Oromia region. They usually associate the church with the previous rullers in their propaganda and as aresult many people in the south and oromia region even those who were strong member of the church are forsed to go out only due to political reason. We all remember what Ato Tefera Walwa had said in a political rally during the 1997E.C election.

Mulat Says:

December 9, 2008 at 6:01 am
Hey, for me I see it the difference between Ortothodx and Penetecoastal is minor in comaparison the new threat coming from the imported muslim radicalsim.The Orthodx and the Pentes are making unnecessary noises about thier differences in the way they view St. Mary but the biggest threat for the country comes from the non-chirtian elements who are to ready to use whatever to convert people.
I am bewildred why the goverment is alowing those radical from Sauid, pakistan, Yemen to make head way to Ethiopia using legal means like the Ethiopian Airlines.

Global Voices Online » Ethiopia: Is the Orthodox church losing ground? Says:

December 9, 2008 at 6:58 am
[...] of Addis Journal comments on the decrease in the number of Orthodox Christians, traditionally the dominant church in [...]

Melka Says:

December 9, 2008 at 7:20 am
It would be foolish to expect a lot from the Diaspora in restoring the once almighty Orthodox Church. The Ethiopian Diaspora is dispersed in different parts of the world. At best what they could is to build new churches in their host country.
They are too scattered and uninformed to help the church at home.
Whatever must be done must be done by people at home. First, the orthodox priests should come out of the Byzantines like fight and dispute to move to the city and get better resources, leaving their mass followers in the country side. Every priest can’t have an office at bete kihent. There is whole work to be done in the countryside.

Kermo Tija Says:

December 9, 2008 at 9:25 pm
There was a decree published during the Emperror’s time in Negarit Gazeta partitioning the nation into closed and open zones. The closed zones were areas closed to missionary activities. The open areas were the part of the country that EOC was non existent or minority. The EOC thinks Ethiopia belongs to them and expect a favorable treatment from the government. This is a wrong way of curbing membership erosion. They should go out and strengthen their message and work hard at getting back members they lost. They are not mission oriented. The way EOC grows is simply by reproduction of its members. This is a sure way to a minority status. The evangelicals I think are running out of steam. The dedication, commitment and integrity they showed during the Emperor’s, Derg and early years of EPRDF is giving way to mass conversion and their commitment to the cause is not what it used to be and their message is being watered down from the simple message of the Gospel to all sorts of imported feel good quick fixes. Who is left the? The Muslims. One thing to be clear is whether Christians like it or not Muslims have just as much right as anybody else to propogate their faith. Religion just like any idea should compete in the market place of ideas. One thing I have concern about Islam is its refusal to separate church and state. To Islam the state is an instrument of the Mosque. You will not find any credible Muslim who believes in a secular state. This is of great concern should Muslims become a majority. Without a firm separation of church and state there will not be democracy as we know it. That will indeed be scary.

Curious Says:

December 10, 2008 at 1:17 pm
“Why is the Orthodox finding it hard to resist the strong appeals of evangelical churches and RADICAL islam”

What is your basis for labeling the “growth” of Islam as Radical?

Fikru Helebo Says:

December 10, 2008 at 7:51 pm
The commentary by Kermo Tija is spot on and the other commentators also make some valid points. The best and surest way for the EOC to regain members is to modernize itself and rid itself of factionalism and by freeing itself from government interference. Having said that, I do question the integrity of the person (Medhane Tadesse) whose quotes seem to form the basis for this article. I believe he works hands and gloves with the Woyane regime, a regime that has contributed to the continued politicization of the EOC, and should not be seen as an objective analyst. Medhane works for a Woyane think-tank and was the main propagandist for the Ethiopian invasion of December 2006, although he seems to have backtracked a bit since then.

One thing that needs to be pointed out with regard to Protestants is that it is incorrect to label all Protestant Christians as Pentecostal (or with the pejorative term Pente). Evangelical would be a better term, but there are some Protestant Christians who are not evangelical. Most of the Protestants in Ethiopia are not even Pentecostal (charismatic). The two largest Protestant churches in Ethiopia (Kale-Hiwot and Mekane Yesus), which together probably constitute two thirds of the Protestants, are not Pentecostal.

Fikru Helebo Says:

December 10, 2008 at 7:54 pm
…Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in December 2006…

arefe Says:

December 11, 2008 at 6:17 am
Hi curious,
Thanks for the comment and pointing out the misconstruction in the sentence.
The reference to the radical Muslim is of course, not the indigenous, but the foreign financed, imported version of Muslim. I stand corrected.
And Fikru, point well taken!
thanks a lot.

beki Says:

December 14, 2008 at 11:34 pm
It is true that the EOC is loosing its memebers beacuse of many reasons. one of them could be the outdated and boring old way of preaching styles. Most memebers of the church are proud of just being the first and the last. That is not true at all. I don’t beleive that the church even keeps the old arc of covenenat because it never been revealed and public. I can’t be persuaded that Ethiopian churches are out of the political drammas that the country has been facing. In fact, they are the main reasons of the deep involvement in government affaris. The so called Zemene mesafint is the old version of ” Mekefafel”. Today, amhara or tigrie people will not accept any preist from none of their tribes. That is when they decide to go by their own.

thomas Says:

December 16, 2008 at 9:05 pm
If one considers the history of christianity both in the west and in ethiopia, it has been changing with time and prevalent situations. chriatianity started as a single religion and it was not divided into orthodox, catholic or protestant until the third century. due to some major heresies and internal differences it first divided into orthodox(in the east) and catholic(in the west), later in the 16th century the protestant movement grow out of the catholic christianity. and all these divisions and different manifestations of the christian religion we see now are the result of the historical developments. but in all this they share the same scriptures, traditions and creeds. now they may vary in terms of their styles, language and the way they do spirituality, but that doesn´t make them more truthful or more right. they all belong to the same root. there are too many common things between these religions than their differences. in fact they are not enemies to each other. the most challenging thing in all these great religions of christianity is not their difference but the underlying ideology of exclusivity and narrow-mindedness of the leaders who are causing all the conflicts and wars among their followers. the authors of this article is not serving the truth of the religions but is feeding more to the problems caused by those leaders. his analysis of the religious atmosphere of our country is more driven by fear than tolerance. as the saying goes like ‘ when the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers’, the masses of ethiopia are dearly paying the price for all the mess caused by the so called leaders of these religions. those leaders are willing to kill in the name of the truth.it doesn’t matter whether the orthodox, or chatolic or protestant or even islam claim to have the truth, if this truth doesn’t have respect for the very life of human beings, it is not worth of following. let’s stop seeing each other as enemies- we have other enemies we should fight together. secularism, atheism, consumerism and radicalism are all the real enemies of our faiths. look how they are eroding the basic beliefs we hold and are destroying the good and worthy virtues in our life, especially in our country. i think most of the people in our country are innocent believers who don’t hold any evil or harm against their fellow neighbours regardless of their religious backgrounds. we should spend our energy and resource on combating those enemies than fighting each other and competing for followers.

stazshu Says:

December 17, 2008 at 1:34 am
Late night American television broadcasts commercials and infomercials asking for money to bring the Gospel to the pagan Ethiopians. Orthodox Christians are portrayed as primitive pagans who once worshiped Christ but now have slipped back into primitive African pagan customs with only minimal connection to Christianity. Orthodoxy must proudly proclaim itself.

Elias Says:

December 17, 2008 at 9:53 am
Peace to you all,

It is really sad to see all this. Oh guys, come on. Religion is not a race. It doesn’t matter how many followers it has as long as it meets the objective…and the objective for being religious is to be in peace in this life and most importantly in the Life after death. The moment we embrace a religion for objectives beyond that, we are definitely mislead. We are actually out of the way because we may be actually doing politics in the name of religion. Unfortunately, the majority claim to be following this and that with out reflecting why actually they are doing so…and then we end up in the mess we are witnessing everyday.

The fact is …if something is wrong and the whole world follows it, it’s still wrong!!!

netsanet Says:

December 18, 2008 at 1:53 am
If the Orthodox Christianity was open for modernization just as its Catholic counterpart, it has a chance to slow down and even stop the onslaught of evangelical erosion. It is not willing to change; it has to meet its fate. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church must learn from the Roman Catholics and field highly educated priests to the debunking the myths perpetuated by “evangelicals” as it is successfully done in the USA by the Catholic Church.

Blen Says:

December 18, 2008 at 6:51 am
I think this topic has become a hot issue among Ethiopian diaspora bloggers. Here is what they have to say.
Evanglical:- http://ethiocross.com/Report/New_census_result_splits_Ethiopian_bloggers_view.htm

Ortodox view :- http://deje-selam.blogspot.com/

Muslims:- http://ethiopiajustice.blogspot.com/2008/12/ethiopia-credibilty-quetion-is-raised.html

Merew Says:

December 20, 2008 at 11:21 pm
We Ethiopian Young Orthodox Followers are doing to our assignments to solve the financial and organizational problems of our Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Don’t worry we are strongly working for that even if Woyane is trying to paralize our movement!. We never give up! God is with us and we go up to death to defend our church!. We are following each act over our church from whom? by whom? why? with the support of what?. Any ways, now we try to do things patiently, if not, if pressures over our church are continuing as it has been, We shall also use FORCE THAT MIGHT NOT BE SEEN IN THE HISTORY OF ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH. But, we have very little patience now! Generally, We are not slept, yet we are doing our assignments; we don’t want to speak loudly any ways, God Knows what we are doing for our church!
Merew, Ethiopia
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