09 March 2009

The State of Global Christianity

I made a couple of comments at Daily Kos on March 4, 2009, about the state of Christianity globally. I'm recapping them here, with some slight edits, for future reference. These impressions come from my readings in a wide variety of sources (both Christian periodicals, and various secular magazines and insights from other media) over the last half a decade or so. I said:

One of the big under reported stories of the last three decades or so is the incredible rise of African Christianity, which has a huge energy and distinctly African character (with Evangelical leaning roots) in areas where traditional beliefs and non-Islamic faiths were until recently predominant.

Denominations like Lutherans, Episcopalians and Roman Catholics that are fairly staid in the U.S. are dynamic centers of community organizing and community expression in much of Africa, almost to the point of being unrecognizable. These churches (and more denominationationally evangelical ones) are filling lots of gaps created by weak secular states and disease/war/famine ravaged civil societies.

Their image is generally positive, but the movement also has a militant tone as Christian churches and communities resist the Southward migration of Muslim communities as the Sahara and the Sahel extends South with a changing climate. To some extent, the Islamic-Christian divide in Africa parallels the Protestant-Catholic divide in Europe.

In Latin America, Evangelicals are part of an emerging small business oriented entrepreneurial middle class (and are disproportionately represented in U.S. immigrant communities). Evangelicals in Latin America vis-a-vis the dominant Roman Catholic Church also fill something of the role that the English dissenters did vis-a-vis the Anglican Church.

In China, Christianity, including Evangelical Christianity, sits within a context of a dissident community that scares the establishment to death. This is not entirely unfounded, because in South Korea, Evangelical Christians and (of all people) the YMCA were important players in anti-Japanese occupation political activity and have become part of mainstream Korean life.

In Japan, in contrast, Evangelical Christians are more of a weird novelty, viewed more similarly to how Americans view the Salvation Army, than how Americans view Evangelical Christians.

In Eastern Europe, feelings are mixed in the post-Communist atheistic world. Orthodox Christianity is the historical faith. Evangelicals are on one hand part of the post-Communist re-emergence of Christianity in Eastern Europe, and on the other are viewed as a threat to fragile Orthodox Christian institutions (or Roman Catholic in Poland) hobbled by two generations of suppression.

Evangelicals are rare and tend to be seen as ignorant rubes in most of Western Europe (a view that predated Bush), and tend to be associated with immigrant churches in the U.K. (where immigrants are disproportionately the ones still going to church).

Christians are particularly popular among the dalits (untouchables) for whom the faith provides a bridge out of the traditional Indian caste system that they have been screwed by.

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