Unitarianism is growing relatively rapidly in Africa, surprising even American Unitarians who discourage missionaries and even support of overseas congregations. The official magazine of the Unitarian-Universalist Association, UU World (Summer), reports that whereas a decade ago, Africa counted only a handful of UU congregations—mainly in South Africa—today the continent boasts of churches in Uganda, Burundi, Republic of the Congo, Uganda and, most notably, Kenya.
Local Kenyan leaders report that over 100 congregations have sprouted in the Kisii Province, and in Nairobi and central Kenya. “Unitarian-Universalists do not have [the] tradition of proselytizing mission work, but UU principles have make their way into Africa nonetheless. On a continent where Internet access is growing quickly, people in remote areas are discovering Unitarianism in Google-powered spiritual journeys,” writes Scott Kraft. One African Unitarian leader, Patrick Magra, researched Unitarianism on the Internet after meeting some American UUs, and subsequently left the Seventh Day Adventists, impressed by the Unitarian message of freedom and tolerance.
He eventually brought fellow evangelical ministers with him to the UU, and claims that there are now 68 congregations with several thousand members in the Kisii district among poor tribal groups in western Kenya. While Magra’s estimates were impossible to verify, international UU officials verified at least several dozen congregations in this region. In addition, these churches have started pre-schools, schools and an orphanage. Near Nairobi, another cluster of churches have been started that are more ethnically and socio-economically diverse. In such areas, UU teachings are used to stress how congregations should welcome all ethnic groups.
While UU’s tolerance of multiple marriages (in contrast to other denominations) appeals to many converts, African Unitarians’ opposition to gay rights and abortion is far from the social liberalism of their counterparts in the West. Yet the Africans want more assistance from American UUs— something that Western Unitarians are ambivalent about, preferring a more egalitarian “partnership model” instead.
(UU World, 25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108-2892)