February 21, 2006


Evangelical Christianity shifting outside West (Paul Nussbaum, 2/20/06, Philadelphia Inquirer)

Evangelical Christianity, born in England and nurtured in the United States, is leaving home.

Most evangelicals now live in China, South Korea, India, Africa and Latin America, where they are transforming their religion. In various ways, they are making evangelical Christianity at once more conservative and more liberal. They are infusing it with local traditions and practices. And they are even sending "reverse missionaries" to Europe and the United States.

In 1960, there were an estimated 50 million evangelical Christians in the West, and 25 million in the rest of the world; today, there are an estimated 75 million in the West, and 325 million in the rest of the world (representing about 20 percent of the two billion Christians worldwide), according to Robert Kilgore, chairman of the board of the missionary organization Christar.

Other experts differ on the number of evangelicals (estimates range from 250 million to nearly one billion) but agree that the number is growing rapidly.

"As the vibrancy of evangelicalism seems to have waned somewhat in the West, many in the non-West are ready to pick up the banner and move forward," said Kilgore, a former missionary who is now associate provost at Philadelphia Biblical University. "Most Americans have no idea how big the shift has been." [...]

Evangelicals are among the fastest-growing segments of Christianity. Their global numbers are increasing at about 4.7 percent a year, according to Operation World, a Christian statistical compendium.

By comparison, the rate of growth for all Protestants is put at 2.2 percent a year, and for Roman Catholics at 0.5 percent a year. The world's population is growing at about 1.4 percent a year.

Broadly defined, evangelicals are Christians who have had a personal or "born-again" religious conversion, believe that the Bible is the word of God, and believe in spreading their faith. (The term comes from Greek; to "evangelize" means to preach the gospel.) The term is typically applied to Protestants.

American evangelicals have gotten most of the public attention because they're in the center of the media universe and because they played a pivotal political role in the 2004 U.S. election. But American evangelicals are a distinct minority, and their beliefs and practices are often significantly different from those of evangelicals elsewhere.

In Africa, some evangelicals practice polygamy. In China, some revere their ancestors. In South Korea, many believe in faith healing and the exorcism of evil spirits.

The melding of local traditions with Christianity has produced a religion that looks unfamiliar to many Westerners but is "vast, varied, dynamic and lively," said Joel Carpenter, provost and professor of history at Calvin College, an evangelical college in Grand Rapids, Mich. Carpenter, an editor of The Changing Face of Christianity, is soon to be director of the new Nagel Institute for the Study of World Christianity at Calvin.

Evangelicals in the global South and East are, in many ways, at least as conservative as their U.S. counterparts. But they often diverge on such issues as poverty and war.

"On abortion or gay marriage, they sound like American conservatives. But on war and peace or economic justice, they sound like the Democratic Party," Carpenter said. "And I have not met one foreign evangelical leader that approves of American foreign policy."

If we can transform them from within there's no need for a foreign policy geared at transforming them from without.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 21, 2006 12:16 PM

True. But the probability they will transform from within is probably not too high if they so vehemently disapprove of US foreign policy which is now well aligned with the values they supposedly hold.

Posted by: JAB at February 21, 2006 12:29 PM


We vehemently disapproved of England which was identical to us.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2006 12:33 PM

They haven't gone against the muslims yet.

There's an article on Lucianne which says the feelers are out beween the Pope and the Russian Orthodoxy.

Changes in church practices that are seen as liberal, such as allowing women to serve in the clergy and permitting same-sex marriages, are creating a widening gulf within world Christianity, a leading Russian Orthodox bishop said Monday. That growing divide may prompt Orthodox churches to consider a tactical alliance with Roman Catholicism to defend traditional Christian values,

Posted by: Sandy P. at February 21, 2006 12:39 PM


They have and they're winning.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2006 12:44 PM

I get your point, OJ. However, I fear that in this case we're looking at the emergence of an evangelical version of 'liberation theology', which to me was nothing more that marxism without the atheism.

This comment comes from a Catholic who grew up in a parish where everybody was gung ho for the sandinistas but pro-life and probably anti gay marraige, though such a concept was unknown at the time. Marxism was not the answer for the 3rd world even when implemented by religious folks.

Posted by: JAB at February 21, 2006 1:06 PM


The problem with liberation theology was the atheism.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2006 1:33 PM


You should have hung with my peeps. Every year or so in the early 80s some sandle-wearing, Sandanista-loving priest or nun would be given the pulpit at our parish in Brooklyn to sermonize on the peaceful,loving Marxists in central america.

My dad would rise and shepherd my mom and us kids out of the church.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at February 21, 2006 2:02 PM

I went to a Catholic high school whose "religion" department was largely run by these fools. I always thought "Lesbian Nuns with Guitars" would be an excellent name for a punk band.

Posted by: ted welter at February 21, 2006 2:42 PM

Yeah. I had the saem experiences as Jim and Ted. My parents did not buy into the marxism but wanted me exposed to the Catholicism.

This experience makes me very skeptical of any 'religious left' in the 3rd world.

Rightly or wrongly, I have concluded that the historical role of the Catholic church in former Spanish colonies often put it in the position of convincing people to accept an aristocratic ruling class against their best interests. In the 80s it seemed the church was trying to make people accept communism instead. Either way, people stayed materially poor.

I've noted with interest the inroads made by Evangelicals in Latin America. I figured it was probably a good thing to challenge the catholics a bit and potentially show that being religious need not mean accepting diminished liberty on earth.

This article leads me to rethink this latter hope. If the foreign policy views of 3rd world evangelical echo those of Ted Kennedy, then we're no further along than we were in the 1980s.

Posted by: JAB at February 21, 2006 3:15 PM

Why should the Third World want further Western interference after all the damage we've done, starting with exporting Marxism to them?

If they get God right the rest follows.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2006 3:20 PM

I should be more precise. I agree with OJ outside the West. Skepticism is warranted regarding Western interference, especially given what's happened over the last couple centuries. France alone trained the idealogues that killed millions in Southeast Asia.

However, I consider Latin America part of the West even though parts of it are considered 3rd World as well. I could be wrong in this assumption but it was the assumption underlying my comments.

As for getting God right first, good point. But I'd like to see everything else follow relatively quickly if possible. Evangelicals adopting the Democrat's foreign policy views are a) still importing western ideas and b) probably not importing the best ones for their situation. This is a hot button for me since the days of "Dear Commandante".

If anything, there is a chance some of these 3rd world countries will wind up being organized more along traditional western lines than the west itself when everything shakes out as I think you've noted.

Posted by: JAB at February 21, 2006 3:58 PM

History needn't happen quickly so long as it happens.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2006 4:13 PM

Third-world evangelicals may be excused for diverging from us on issues of war and peace: Their vocation is not to bear the sword in defense of world civilization. Sandy's point that they haven't felt Muslim persecution yet is well taken.

Hearing the sad stories about the "lesbians with guitars" and the conscious agents of the Sandinistas should remind us all of what a great vehicle our Church is. My parish was a moderately conservative one within a quite conservative archdiocese. No guitars, ever.

Of the adjoining parishes, a smaller one on one side was set up like a theater-in-the-round, where some guy in a green chasuble would come out with rolled-up sleeves and say somethig like, "Hi, I'm Dave and I'll be your priest today." If you wanted guitars, that's where you went.

The other neighboring parish, a smaller one yet, was called Our Lady of Fatima and was extremely conservative. Latin every week, perpetual adoration, back-to-back novenas, the whole nine yards. There were nominal parish boundaries, but these didn't seem to matter. The two larger parishes shared a school while the Fatima people had their own school which was very tiny.

For the benefit of non-Catholics, I might point out that our Lady of Fatima is an anti-Communist Marian devotion associated with the successful resistance to Communism in Portugal, and greatly favored by John Paul the Great.

The Magnus made pilgrimages there and was said to have attributed his survival to our Lady's intercession, his shooting having taken place on her feast day, May 13. Fatima prophesy is bound up with anti-Communism--things about the "errors of Russia," and the like. There are documented predictions of the Holy Father's suffering and of the ultimate downfall of Communism.

One can as much be a Catholic and a Communist as a Catholic and an abortionist.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 21, 2006 4:51 PM

To the contrary, they have felt the persecution which, as in Nigeria, is being heightened by Muslim conversions to Christianity.

Posted by: oj at February 21, 2006 4:58 PM

The American press catches up with what evangelicals have known for a long time. See: "The Next Christendom: by Philip Jenkins. Of course, he teaches at Penn State, so you would expect it to take a few years for the Inquirer to catch up.

On foreign policy, lots of these folks have been the victims of violence, so htey kind of have a knee jerk reaction to U.S. use of force. Some of the most visible "leaders" are firmly attached to the typical NGO tit, so they follow whatever party line comes from the New YOrk or London headquarters. They are not necessarily representative of what is going on in the pews.

One minor point, as far as I know, no church member is allowed to take more than one wife. If a polygamist wishes to join, the policy varies: Some require divorce of all but one wife, some require separation, some just say take no more wives, some say sorry, you can't belong here.

Posted by: Dan at February 21, 2006 5:40 PM

It's conservative to distrust anyone with power. Distrusting the U.S. is a positive sign.

The question is, will they become willing to sacrifice their own lives to free, first, their own people, and later, when they're stronger, another people, as we're doing in Iraq? That's the test of whether their Christianity is authentic.

Posted by: pj at February 21, 2006 5:46 PM

I haven't heard of the Evangelical church that tolerates either Polygamy or the Charismatic experience: a lot of third world churches ally themselves with an established denomination in name only to gain the associated "mana".

The church leaders can be expected to follow the usual kissy, kissy of government ass to keep the system from stomping on them. The view from the pulpit and the pews can be quite different: my church has established a laison with a church in Uganda that is on the ragged edge of the Muslim advance. It has sent the pastor and church members there several times, financially supports the paster, and sends occasional love offerings from time to time. The pastor there and the congregation don't dare say anything out loud in support of the US of A, but privately have told my pastor that, after the Invasion of Iraq and the visits in that same time frame, have convinced the Muslim community there to take a "hands off or the Marines will arrive" tone for the moment. No news on how the cartoon controversy has impacted that local community yet, but Dubya IS providing cover for SOME church activities.

Posted by: Ptah at February 22, 2006 10:14 AM