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The Soviets Killed Him. Free Newsletters. Christianity Today Weekly Weekly. The Galli Report Weekly. CT Women Weekly. Email Address. And that percentage is likely to continue rising, because Christian African countries have some of the world's most dramatic rates of population growth. Meanwhile, the advanced industrial countries are experiencing a dramatic birth dearth. Within the next twenty-five years the population of the world's Christians is expected to grow to 2.
By , 50 percent of the Christian population will be in Africa and Latin America, and another 17 percent will be in Asia. Those proportions will grow steadily. By about the United States will still have the largest single contingent of Christians, but all the other leading nations will be Southern: Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and the Philippines.
By then the proportion of non-Latino whites among the world's Christians will have fallen to perhaps one in five. The population shift is even more marked in the specifically Catholic world, where Euro-Americans are already in the minority. Africa had about 16 million Catholics in the early s; it has million today, and is expected to have million by The likely map of twenty-first-century Catholicism represents an unmistakable legacy of the Counter-Reformation and its global missionary ventures. These figures actually understate the Southern predominance within Catholicism, and within world Christianity more generally, because they fail to take account of Southern emigrants to Europe and North America.
Even as this migration continues, established white communities in Europe are declining demographically, and their religious beliefs and practices are moving further away from traditional Christian roots. The result is that skins of other hues are increasingly evident in European churches; half of all London churchgoers are now black. African and West Indian churches in Britain are reaching out to whites, though members complain that their religion is often seen as "a black thing" rather than "a God thing.
In the United States a growing proportion of Roman Catholics are Latinos, who should represent a quarter of the nation by or so. Asian communities in the United States have sizable Catholic populations. Current trends suggest that the religious values of Catholics with a Southern ethnic and cultural heritage will long remain quite distinct from those of other U.
In terms of liturgy and worship Latino Catholics are strikingly different from Anglo believers, not least in maintaining a fervent devotion to the Virgin Mary and the saints. European and Euro-American Catholics will within a few decades be a smaller and smaller fragment of a worldwide Church. Of the 18 million Catholic baptisms recorded in , eight million took place in Central and South America, three million in Africa, and just under three million in Asia.
In other words, these three regions already account for more than three quarters of all Catholic baptisms. The annual baptism total for the Philippines is higher than the totals for Italy, France, Spain, and Poland combined. The number of Filipino Catholics could grow to 90 million by , and perhaps to million by The demographic changes within Christianity have many implications for theology and religious practice, and for global society and politics.
The most significant point is that in terms of both theology and moral teaching, Southern Christianity is more conservative than the Northern—especially the American—version. Northern reformers, even if otherwise sympathetic to the indigenous cultures of non-Northern peoples, obviously do not like this fact. The liberal Catholic writer James Carroll has complained that "world Christianity [is falling] increasingly under the sway of anti-intellectual fundamentalism. The denominations that are triumphing across the global South—radical Protestant sects, either evangelical or Pentecostal, and Roman Catholicism of an orthodox kind—are stalwartly traditional or even reactionary by the standards of the economically advanced nations.
The Catholic faith that is rising rapidly in Africa and Asia looks very much like a pre-Vatican II faith, being more traditional in its respect for the power of bishops and priests and in its preference for older devotions. African Catholicism in particular is far more comfortable with notions of authority and spiritual charisma than with newer ideas of consultation and democracy. This kind of faith is personified by Nigeria's Francis Cardinal Arinze, who is sometimes touted as a future Pope.
He is sharp and articulate, with an attractively self-deprecating style, and he has served as the president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, which has given him invaluable experience in talking with Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and members of other faiths. By liberal Northern standards, however, Arinze is rigidly conservative, and even repressive on matters such as academic freedom and the need for strict orthodoxy.
Anyone less promising for Northern notions of reform is difficult to imagine. Meanwhile, a full-scale Reformation is taking place among Pentecostal Christians—whose ideas are shared by many Catholics. Pentecostal believers reject tradition and hierarchy, but they also rely on direct spiritual revelation to supplement or replace biblical authority.
And it is Pentecostals who stand in the vanguard of the Southern Counter-Reformation. Though Pentecostalism emerged as a movement only at the start of the twentieth century, chiefly in North America, Pentecostals today are at least million strong, and heavily concentrated in the global South. By or so there could be as many as a billion, at which point Pentecostal Christians alone will far outnumber the world's Buddhists and will enjoy rough numerical parity with the world's Hindus. The booming Pentecostal churches of Africa, Asia, and Latin America are thoroughly committed to re-creating their version of an idealized early Christianity often described as the restoration of "primitive" Christianity.
The most successful Southern churches preach a deep personal faith, communal orthodoxy, mysticism, and puritanism, all founded on obedience to spiritual authority, from whatever source it is believed to stem. Pentecostals—and their Catholic counterparts—preach messages that may appear simplistically charismatic, visionary, and apocalyptic to a Northern liberal. For them prophecy is an everyday reality, and many independent denominations trace their foundation to direct prophetic authority.
Scholars of religion customarily speak of these proliferating congregations simply as the "prophetic churches. Of course, American reformers also dream of a restored early Church; but whereas Americans imagine a Church freed from hierarchy, superstition, and dogma, Southerners look back to one filled with spiritual power and able to exorcise the demonic forces that cause sickness and poverty. And yes, "demonic" is the word. The most successful Southern churches today speak openly of spiritual healing and exorcism.
One controversial sect in the process of developing an international following is the Brazilian-based Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which claims to offer "strong prayer to destroy witchcraft, demon possession, bad luck, bad dreams, all spiritual problems," and promises that members will gain "prosperity and financial breakthrough. Americans and Europeans usually associate such religious ideas with primitive and rural conditions, and assume that the older world view will disappear with the coming of modernization and urbanization.
In the contemporary South, however, the success of highly supernatural churches should rather be seen as a direct by-product of urbanization. This should come as no surprise to Americans; look at the Pentecostal storefronts in America's inner cities. As predominantly rural societies have become more urban over the past thirty or forty years, millions of migrants have been attracted to ever larger urban areas, which lack the resources and the infrastructure to meet the needs of these wanderers.
Sometimes people travel to cities within the same nation, but often they find themselves in different countries and cultures, suffering a still greater sense of estrangement. In such settings religious communities emerge to provide health, welfare, and education. This sort of alternative social system, which played an enormous role in the earliest days of Christianity, has been a potent means of winning mass support for the most committed religious groups and is likely to grow in importance as the gap between people's needs and government's capacities to fill them becomes wider.
Looking at the success of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the historian Peter Brown has written, "The Christian community suddenly came to appeal to men who felt deserted Plainly, to be a Christian in brought more protection from one's fellows than to be a civis Romanus.
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Often the new churches gain support because of the way they deal with the demons of oppression and want: they interpret the horrors of everyday urban life in supernatural terms. In many cases these churches seek to prove their spiritual powers in struggles against witchcraft.
The intensity of belief in witchcraft across much of Africa can be startling. As recently as last year at least 1, alleged witches were hacked to death in a single "purge" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Far from declining with urbanization, fear of witches has intensified. Since the collapse of South Africa's apartheid regime, in , witchcraft has emerged as a primary social fear in Soweto, with its three million impoverished residents.
The desperate public-health situation in the booming mega-cities of the South goes far toward explaining the emphasis of the new churches on healing mind and body. In Africa in the early twentieth century an explosion of Christian healing movements and new prophets coincided with a dreadful series of epidemics, and the religious upsurge of those years was in part a quest for bodily health. Today African churches stand or fall by their success in healing, and elaborate rituals have formed around healing practices though church members disagree on whether believers should rely entirely on spiritual assistance.
The same interest in spiritual healing is found in what were once the mission churches—bodies such as the Anglicans and the Lutherans.
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Nowhere in the global South do the various spiritual healers find serious competition from modern scientific medicine: it is simply beyond the reach of most of the poor. Disease, exploitation, pollution, drink, drugs, and violence, taken together, can account for why people might easily accept that they are under siege from demonic forces, and that only divine intervention can save them. Even radical liberation theologians use apocalyptic language on occasion. When a Northerner asks, in effect, where the Southern churches are getting such ideas, the answer is not hard to find: they're getting them from the Bible.
Southern Christians are reading the New Testament and taking it very seriously; in it they see the power of Jesus fundamentally expressed through his confrontations with demonic powers, particularly those causing sickness and insanity. But that is not, of course, how such scenes are understood within the Third Church. Today, as in the early sixteenth century, a literal interpretation of the Bible can be tremendously appealing. To quote a modern-day follower of the African prophet Johane Masowe, cited in Elizabeth Isichei's A History of Christianity in Africa , "When we were in these synagogues [the European churches], we used to read about the works of Jesus Christ That was what was being done in Jerusalem.
We Africans, however, who were being instructed by white people, never did anything like that We were taught to read the Bible, but we ourselves never did what the people of the Bible used to do. Alongside the fast-growing churches have emerged apocalyptic and messianic movements that try to bring in the kingdom of God through armed violence. Some try to establish the thousand-year reign of Jesus Christ on earth, as prophesied in the Book of Revelation. This phenomenon would have been instantly familiar to Europeans years ago, when the Anabaptists and other millenarian groups flourished.
Then as now, it was difficult to set bounds to religious enthusiasm. Extremist Christian movements have appeared regularly across parts of Africa where the mechanisms of the state are weak. In more than a thousand people in another Ugandan sect, the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, perished in an apparent mass suicide.
In each case a group emerged from orthodox roots and then gravitated toward apocalyptic fanaticism. The Ten Commandments sect grew out of orthodox Catholicism. The Lumpa Church began, in the s, with Alice Lenshina, a Presbyterian convert who claimed to receive divine visions urging her to fight witchcraft. She became the lenshina , or queen, of her new church, whose name, Lumpa, means "better than all others. Since it rejected worldly regimes to the point of refusing to pay taxes, the Lumpa became increasingly engaged in confrontations with the Zambian government, leading to open rebellion in the s.
Another prophetic Alice appeared in Uganda during the chaotic civil wars that swept that country in the s. Alice Lakwena was a former Catholic whose visions led her to establish the Holy Spirit Mobile Force, also pledged to fight witches.
She refused to accept the national peace settlement established under President Yoweri Museveni, and engaged in a holy war against his regime. Holy Spirit soldiers, many of them children and young teenagers, were ritually anointed with butter on the understanding that it would make them bulletproof. When Lakwena's army was crushed, in , most of her followers merged with the LRA, which is notorious for filling its ranks by abducting children.
Atrocities committed by the group include mass murder, rape, and forced cannibalism. Today as in the sixteenth century, an absolute conviction that one is fighting for God's cause makes moot the laws of war. The changing demographic balance between North and South helps to explain the current shape of world Catholicism, including the fact that the Church has been headed by Pope John Paul II.
In the papal election of the Polish candidate won the support of Latin American cardinals, who were not prepared to accept yet another Western European. In turn, John Paul has recognized the growing Southern presence in the Church. Last year he elevated forty-four new cardinals, of whom eleven were Latin American, two Indian, and three African. The next time a papal election takes place, fifty-seven of the cardinals eligible to vote, or more than 40 percent, will be from Southern nations.
Early this century they will constitute a majority. It may be true that from the liberal Northern perspective, pressure for a Reformation-style solution to critical problems in the Church—the crisis in clerical celibacy, the shortage of priests, the sense that the laity's concerns are ignored—seems overwhelming. Poll after poll in the United States and Europe indicates significant distrust of clerical authority and support for greater lay participation and women's equality.
The obvious question in the parishes of the developed world seems to be how long the aloof hierarchy can stave off the forces of history. From Rome, however, the picture looks different, as do the "natural" directions that history is going to take. The Roman church operates on a global scale and has done so for centuries. Long before the French and British governments had become aware of global politics—and well before their empires came into being—papal diplomats were thinking through their approaches to China, their policies in Peru, their views on African affairs, their stances on the issues facing Japan and Mexico.
To adapt a popular activist slogan, the Catholic Church not only thinks globally, it acts globally. That approach is going to have weighty consequences. On present evidence, a Southern-dominated Catholic Church is likely to react traditionally to the issues that most concern American and European reformers: matters of theology and devotion, sexual ethics and gender roles, and, most fundamentally, issues of authority within the Church.
Neatly illustrating the cultural gulf that separates Northern and Southern churches is an incident involving Moses Tay, the Anglican archbishop of Southeast Asia, whose see is based in Singapore. In the early s Tay traveled to Vancouver, where he encountered the totem poles that are a local tourist attraction. To him, they were idols possessed by evil spirits, and he concluded that they required handling by prayer and exorcism.
This horrified the local Anglican Church, which was committed to building good relationships with local Native American communities, and which regarded exorcism as absurd superstition. The Canadians, like other good liberal Christians throughout the North, were long past dismissing alien religions as diabolically inspired. It's difficult not to feel some sympathy with the archbishop, however.
He was quite correct to see the totems as authentic religious symbols, and considering the long history of Christian writing on exorcism and possession, he could also summon many precedents to support his position. On that occasion Tay personified the global Christian confrontation. The cultural gap between Christians of the North and the South will increase rather than diminish in the coming decades, for reasons that recall Luther's time.
During the early modern period Northern and Southern Europe were divided between the Protestantism of the word and the Catholicism of the senses—between a religious culture of preaching, hymns, and Bible reading, and one of statues, rituals, and processions. Today we might see as a parallel the impact of electronic technologies, which is being felt at very different rates in the Northern and Southern worlds. The new-media revolution is occurring in Europe, North America, and the Pacific Rim while other parts of the globe are focusing on—indeed, still catching up with—the traditional world of book learning.
Northern communities will move to ever more decentralized and privatized forms of faith as Southerners maintain older ideals of community and traditional authority. On moral issues, too, Southern churches are far out of step with liberal Northern churches. African and Latin American churches tend to be very conservative on issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Such disagreement can pose real political difficulties for churches that aspire to a global identity and that try to balance diverse opinions. At present this is scarcely an issue for the Roman Catholic Church, which at least officially preaches the same conservatism for all regions.
If, however, Church officials in North America or Europe proclaimed a moral stance more in keeping with progressive secular values, they would be divided from the growing Catholic churches of the South by a de facto schism, if not a formal breach. For thirty years Northern liberals have dreamed of a Third Vatican Council to complete the revolution launched by Pope John XXIII—one that would usher in a new age of ecclesiastical democracy and lay empowerment.
It would be a bitter irony for the liberals if the council were convened but turned out to be a conservative, Southern-dominated affair that imposed moral and theological litmus tests intolerable to North Americans and Europeans—if, in other words, it tried to implement not a new Reformation but a new Counter-Reformation. In that sense we would be witnessing not a new Wittenberg but, rather, a new Council of Trent—that is, a strongly traditional gathering that would restate the Church's older ideology and attempt to set it in stone for all future ages.
If a future Southern Pope struggled to impose a new vision of orthodoxy on America's Catholic bishops, universities, and seminaries, the result could well be an actual rather than a de facto schism. The experience of the world's Anglicans and Episcopalians may foretell the direction of conflicts within the Roman Catholic Church.
In the Anglican Communion, which is also torn by a global cultural conflict over issues of gender and sexuality, orthodox Southerners seek to re-evangelize a Euro-American world that they view as coming close to open heresy. This uncannily recalls the situation in sixteenth-century Europe, in which Counter-Reformation Catholics sent Jesuits and missionary priests to reconvert those regions that had fallen into Protestantism.
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Anglicans in the North tend to be very liberal on homosexuality and the ordination of women. In recent years, however, liberal clerics have been appalled to find themselves outnumbered and regularly outvoted. In these votes the bishops of Africa and Asia have emerged as a rock-solid conservative bloc. The most ferocious battle to date occurred at the Lambeth World Conference in , which adopted, over the objections of the liberal bishops, a forthright traditional statement proclaiming the impossibility of reconciling homosexual conduct with Christian ministry.