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Christianity Thrives In The Most Unlikely Of Places, Study Finds

Christianity Thrives In The Most Unlikely Of Places, Study Finds
Christians worshiping Jesus Christ the Lord (Photo : Matt Botsford / Unsplash)

May 13, 2021

A recent study revealed that government support on Christianity affects its growth. It showed that as the support increases, the number of Christians declines.

Titled "Paradoxes of Pluralism, Privilege, and Persecution: Explaining Christian Growth and Decline Worldwide," the study "examines the effect of church-state relations on rates of Christian population growth or decline worldwide."

The study was published in the website of Sociology of Religion last month by co-authors, Nilay Saiya and Stuti Manchanda. The research was also released on Christianity Today by Saiya.

The findings noted three paradoxes that affect growth rates of Christians, including pluralism, privilege and persecution.

The Paradox Of Pluralism

The study found that "as a country's commitment to pluralism rises," the number of Christians also increases. Pluralism forces Christians "to present the best arguments possible" for their faith, competing with other beliefs.

The paradox is observed in Asia and Africa where Christianity grows the fastest.

For countries in Asia, the state does not give preferential treatment to Christianity but this has benefited the faith, resulting to the rise of Christian growth rates. South Korea exemplifies this. Not a Christian country in the 19th century, it persisted through hardships and persecution in defending Christianity but has become today's second-largest missionary-sending nation in the world.

Africa has also seen "breathtaking growth" in the Christian faith, having 700 million Christians. The growth in the continent was attributed to competition with other faiths.

Christianity flourished in both continents because it was not supported by the state.

The Paradox Of Privilege

The research showed that in 90% of the countries where the number of Christians declines, the state provides "moderate to high levels of official support for Christianity." The state's "favoritism" over Christianity suppresses its growth.

The threat of religious minorities may cause Christians to seek help from the state to advance in the competition, but data showed that "the state's privileging of Christianity" does not help the church. This practice will only distract believers from their mission as they focus "in the things of Caesar rather than in the things of God to maintain their privileged stations."

The secularization of Europe was found to be the result of the state's "widespread support" for Christianity. Christian decline also happened in the Protestant Scandinavian countries, as well as Catholic nations of Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Italy where the governments offered strong support for the Catholic faith and discriminated other beliefs.

The lack of competitions in the churches in Europe has caused them to become "lethargic," relying on state support.

Christianity in Europe declined because of the state's support on it, the study found.

The Paradox of Persecution

History showed that discrimination and persecution have actually helped Christianity to thrive. In the face of oppression, Christians turn to their faith for strength and their devotion attracts non-believers.

This paradox is observed in Muslim countries, such as Iran and Afghanistan, where Christians experience a high level of persecution.

Despite Iran's fierce persecution of Christians, the country is believed to be home to some 1 million believers. Similarly in Afghanistan, Christianity also continues to grow and the faith has even spread in the country's elites and parliament members, such as the nation's first lady, Rula Ghani, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon.

In China, the number of Christians has also exponentially grown in spite of severe persecution. Going underground, 5% of its 1.5 billion population are Christians. Fenggang Yang, a sociologist of religion, predicted that by 2050, half of the country could be Christians.

Political privilege appeared to be an obstacle in the growth of Christianity.

The research suggested that in order for Christian communities to be effective in spreading the Gospel, they must stop from seeking political privilege. As such, they will be able to prove that "no force will be able to prevail against [the] church" and believers will be required to rely solely on the Word of God and the power of the Holy Spirit to share the truths of God.


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