For many in the United States, the perception of Christianity is white, English-speaking, and middle- or upper-class. However, according to history professor Jay Case of Malone University, that “face” of Christianity, both abroad and at home, is rapidly changing.
“In the last three decades Christianity’s center of gravity has shifted from North America/Europe to Africa, Asia and Latin America,” Prof. Case said. “American Christians are now very much a minority within their own faith and that means, whether we realize it or not, new cultural adjustments lay ahead.”
Prof. Case will examine the impact of this shift as part of the Wednesday Night Speaker Series at Stow Presbyterian Church, 4150 Fishcreek Road, on March 6 at 7:00 p.m. This event is free and open to the community.
According to Prof. Case, the transformation of Christianity into a more racially and culturally diverse world religion has significant implications that have been largely ignored by the media.
“There are now more Christians in Africa than there are people in the United States,” he explained. “The same can be said for the number of Christians in Asia and the numbers of Christians in Latin America.”
And the “face” of these churches tends to be of a different socio-economic class than in the United States.
“The growth of world Christianity has occurred largely in the margins: among the poorer and least powerful people in nonwestern nations and among nations that are poor and less powerful themselves,” Prof. Case said. This may place a greater burden on the American denominations that support evangelism in nonwestern nations to provide resources to sustain these efforts. It also may mean that western Christian ideologies may not survive as well in churches abroad.
“Forces of democratization, both globally and within American society, have always had a way of surprising those in the establishment,” Prof. Case said. “From a global perspective, those of us who are white Americans are in the establishment, whether we want to be or not.”
While the evangelical movement has largely focused on exporting Christianity to other nations, the import of more diverse Christians into the United States also has consequences for the future of American religious society, Prof. Case said.
“Most of the recent immigrants to the U.S. have been Christians, but Christians of a different cultural stripe than native-born Christians,” he explained. “Their presence in the U.S. has affected levels of religiosity in American culture, compelled political parties to rethink strategies, and pulled native-born Christians into new areas of the immigration debate.” Many U.S. denominations are still learning to adjust to an influx of nonwestern Christians and their particular priorities.
What does this global shift mean for the future?
“The church in America will have to come to terms with new theologies, new denominational issues, and questions about resources” as it addresses new racial, cultural and socio-economic trends within the worldwide faith, Prof. Case said. “And that is just what we can identify.”
Prof. Case recently published a book addressing some of the history of this topic, entitled, An Unpredictable Gospel: American Evangelicals and World Christianity, 1812-1920 (Oxford University Press, 2012).
“We are looking forward to Prof. Case’s presentation,” said Dr. David Weyrick, pastor of Stow Presbyterian Church. “This global perspective of Christianity will hopefully enlighten people to see how God is working in the world today and what we can do to support His Kingdom.”
The final speaker in the 2012-2013 series will be Lisa Ryan, co-founder of The Positive Thinkers Network, who will speak on the power of gratitude (Apr. 3). For more information on the Stow Presbyterian Church Wednesday Night Speaker Series, call 330-688-6935 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.