Christianity is dying in the US

Future of religion : Christianity is facing a revolution

It will be colorful and happy, pious and political, critical and committed. At the end of May, the participants in the Evangelical Church Congress in Berlin and Wittenberg celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Almost everything has now been said about Martin Luther, and his downsides have also been thoroughly examined. With the Catholics, on the other hand, all potential for arousal was clarified in advance. So nothing stands in the way of the celebration. In addition, the interest in the mammoth event is certainly big enough to make one forget that the east of Germany is by far the most distant region in the world.

“I don't believe in God,” say more than fifty percent of the residents there. According to the International Social Survey Program (ISSP), which asks people around the world about the extent and intensity of their religion, this is a record value. But not only the East is becoming increasingly non-musical religiously. The number of church memberships has been falling across Germany for years. Knowledge of rites is decreasing, and the few Sunday worshipers seem increasingly exotic.

Germans have loved music since Luther

What remains? Luther's legacy can primarily be located in a specific mentality - in the Germans' love for singing and music, around 130 orchestras are financed nationwide from tax revenues; in the flourishing book market, which is the largest after the USA; in a sometimes somewhat rigid moralism, from the financial and political characteristics of which Europe's Catholic southerners suffer; in demonstrative simplicity and modesty, as perfectly represented by Angela Merkel.

Is the Christian religion about to dissolve into such cultural remnants? The diagnosis may apply to Europe, Germany and Berlin. But this region is developing atypically. Gradually but quickly, a dramatic change took place in the Christian world in the 20th century, which can be compared with an epochal event such as the Reformation. For the first time in its history, Christianity has become a universal, very rapidly growing religion. This Christianization spurt includes both the Protestant and the Catholic faith. The global south dominates, the western European core region is steadily losing influence and importance.

The bare numbers illustrate the trend: a hundred years ago more than 80 percent of all Christians lived in Europe and North America, today two thirds of 2.2 billion Christians live in Asia, Africa and Latin America. According to statistics from the “World Christian Encyclopedia”, Christianity in the global south will grow to 1.7 billion people in 2025, while it will stagnate at around 270 million in North America and shrink to 514 million in Europe. The strongest growth dynamic is due to the high birth rates in Africa. If the religious demographic trend continues, African Christianity could soon form the largest block within global Christianity.

Wars of religion are already being forecast

The standard work on this development was published in 2002 by the British historian and religious scholar Philip Jenkins, who taught at the University of Pennsylvania until 2011. It is called "The Next Christendom - The Coming of Global Christianity". Jenkins predicts a “new Christian revolution” and wars of religion like in the European Middle Ages, since the tectonic shift of the centers of Christianity also radically changes its character. It is becoming more conservative, charismatic and fundamentalist.

"The denominations that prevail in the south of the world - radical Protestant sects, evangelical or Pentecostal churches, or orthodox forms of Roman Catholicism - are strictly traditional or even reactionary," Jenkins writes. The Catholic faith, which is spreading rapidly in Africa and Asia, works like a religious tradition from the time before the Second Vatican Council: full of respect for the power of bishops and priests, arrested the old forms of worship.

The spearheads of the Counter-Reformation, however, are the Pentecostal Churches. Although this movement did not emerge until the beginning of the 20th century, it now has at least 400 million believers. By 2040 it could be up to a billion. Pentecostal members trust in the work of the Holy Spirit, miraculous healing and revival experiences. The Bible is interpreted literally. In Africa there is also a fear of witches and demons. In 2001, for example, more than a thousand alleged witches were killed in the Congo.

"Illness, exploitation, environmental toxins, alcohol and drug consumption, violence: each of these experiences seems to be an indication that one is in the grip of demonic forces and that only divine intervention can bring salvation," writes Jenkins. “Southern Christians read the New Testament and take it very seriously; they see in it the power of Jesus, which is presented to them in his conflicts with evil spirits, especially with those who cause illness and delusions. "

In fact, Jesus often combined gospel preaching with healing from illness. "The blind see and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead rise and the poor are preached to the gospel" (Matthew 11: 5).

The supremacy of the Europeans ends

Asian, African and Latin American churches are usually much more conservative than their northern counterparts when it comes to moral issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Anyone who, as a Catholic, dreams of a Third Vatican Council that pushes the liberal reforms forward should keep the changes in the College of Cardinals in mind - as a cold-water reality cure, so to speak. When he was elected in 1978, John Paul II became the first non-Italian Pope in more than 450 years. Today, just under 18 percent of the cardinals eligible to vote come from Italy, and less than fifty percent from Europe. With Francis, there has been the first Pope from Latin America since 2013. It is quite possible that his successor will come from Africa or Asia. Liberal reforms are hardly to be expected from the bishops and cardinals from the south. They could rather try to exercise their numerically growing power dogmatically. That means: the wheel would be turned back.

Will Christians in Europe and North America possibly soon be proselytized by evangelical and Pentecostal currents from the south? Such a process can indeed be observed. Many evangelical churches in Africa have made it a goal to have branches in Europe and the United States. One speaks of an "African revenge". They are supported in this by migration movements. Around half of all migrants, around 105 million out of 214 million worldwide, are Christians. The intensity of faith usually increases in a foreign country.

How should liberal Christians, trained in historical-critical exegesis, react to this development? Isolation? Dialog? World Christianity is coming “under the influence of anti-intellectual fundamentalism”, warns a commentator for the “Boston Globe”. In the “New York Times” in 2011 the columnist David Brooks (“Creed or Chaos”) dealt with the phenomenon. Many Americans advocated a belief "that is spiritual but not dogmatic, pluralistic and non-exclusive". The only problem is that the growing religions are "theologically rigorous, arduous in practice, and clearly distinguishing between true and false."

Yes, African Christianity is extremely doctrinal and extremely conservative, said Brooks. “But I was once in an AIDS-ridden city in South Africa. A vague humanism would not have led the people there to change their behavior. The harsh theological statements of the church women, on the other hand - right and wrong, redemption and damnation - seemed to have a greater effect.

Faith is vital in Africa

For five years, Canadian scholars have studied why conservative Christian congregations in their country are growing rather than shrinking. The result was published in the “Review of Religious Research” last year. The research team came to a similar result as the 1972 Methodist priest Dean M. Kelley in his book "Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in Sociology of Religion". Strong religious movements, Kelley said, made demands of their members in terms of belief and behavior. In addition, they see themselves as separate from the secular culture. This results in a pronounced sense of community, which is evidently sought after by spiritual seekers.

In the global south - especially in Africa - Christian vitality goes hand in hand with the declining importance of ideologies and nation statehood. Jenkins believes that religion will become a formative force for every kind of mass mobilization, and bishops and cardinals will become political and moral authorities. The result is religious battles between Christians and Muslims such as in Nigeria, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sudan.

Crusade against jihad: This is fatally reminiscent of Samuel Huntington's theory of the “clash of cultures”. At least one other thesis refutes the Christianization push - namely that with the modern age, with technology and urbanity, the intensity of the religious search for meaning diminishes and the tendency towards secularism solidifies.

Germany celebrates 500 years of the Reformation while the Christian world is in a revolutionary upheaval. Yesterday is today - and yet completely different.

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