Christianity may be wheezing in America, but the faith is expanding around the world. In countries of various economic levels and racial make-up, there is a resurgence of religion. Scholars for some time have been observing the shift of Christianity’s epicenter from the Western world to the “global South” (Africa, much of Asia, and Central and Latin America). Prominent examples include The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins and Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity by Miriam Adeney.
[For statistics and opinions, also see The Center for the Study of Global Christianity.]
Yet, few seem to be talking about the cultural and political implications of such a shift in countries around the world. A recent article in Foreign Affairs by Scott Thomas, however, probed the political effects of global Christianity on international politics.
“[Christianity] is now returning to its roots by becoming a post-Western religion dominated by the peoples, cultures, and countries of the global South,” Thomas writes. “For U.S. policymakers—many of whom currently consider Islam to be the most urgent religious challenge to Washington’s foreign policy—the politics of global Christianity may soon prove just as pivotal.”
Surveying Christianity’s growing effect on regions around the world, the piece gives numerous examples of the faith’s influence on global politics.
The second most populous country in the world is home to over 1.2 billion people and more than 80 percent of them are Hindu. One wouldn’t expect a minority religion to create much of a stir there, but Christianity is. This is because India is made up of numerous states, and several in the Eastern part of the country are predominately Christian. When these local governments vie for national policies based on different value systems, the tension rises.
Additionally, Christians have been very successful in evangelizing member of the lowest caste. “This has angered Hindu nationalists, leading to Hindu Christian tensions,” Thomas says. Look for future religio-political conflicts in this massive giant of a nation.
Long considered a fortress of Roman Catholicism, Christianity in its evangelical and Pentecostal forms has expanded rapidly in Latin America. Experts estimate that more than 15 percent of Latin Americans have converted to evangelical Christianity. And they aren’t a silent minority. They are vocal and politically active.
Christian political engagement in these regions is both good and bad. On the one hand, they lobby for democracy and religious freedom. On the other hand, they are often perceived as intolerant. “Either way,” Thomas says, “Pentecostals and evangelicals will be a major religious, social, and political force in the coming century.”
Tensions between Christians and Muslims should come as no surprise. Still, no list on such a subject would be complete without mentioning recent developments in these regions. Today, countries with large Muslim populations such as Nigeria and Indonesia also have significant Christian minorities. Thomas notes that “Muslim-Christian tensions have recently risen in those nations.” For an example, look no further than Nigeria’s burst of sectarian violence earlier this year, which left 500 dead.
It’s no secret that the Christian faith has been exploding in China, albeit often in underground communities. The Communist country has kept tight constraints on religious freedoms in the past, but is loosening its grip considerably. “Now primarily concerned with its economic development, China tacitly allows established religions…to operate freely,” writes Thomas.
But he adds that if the Christian population explodes, it could “fundamentally alter China’s political fabric.” As political scientist Walter Russell Mead has pointed out, Christians seem to favor policies supporting religious freedom and democracy. Such advocacy could create serious tension in a country staunchly resistant of such things.
As Christianity expands in non-Western countries, there will doubtlessly be tensions. But whether or not global Christians will repeat the mistakes of Western Christians in the political arena remains to be seen. Are these tensions being exacerbated by aggressive Christian communities or are they the natural growing pains of emerging multiculturalism? It’s hard to tell. Regardless, they are four faces of global Christianity that must not be ignored.
Are there other significant examples of global Christianity’s influence on international politics that aren’t mentioned here? Does the shift of Christianity’s center away from the Western world make you excited, nervous, afraid, etc.
Editor’s Note: Artwork quoted from PBS.org.