Aaron Earls has posted on global Christianity trends in an article at the Facts and Trends blog. We Americans have a tendency to assume that the USA is the world, and so we think that what happens here determines how the rest of the world thinks and behaves. But the fact is that we are but one nation out of many, and most Christians live somewhere else.
5. Only half of Christians live in Christian-dominated nations.
Entering the 20th century, 95 percent of Christians lived in countries that were at least 80 percent Christian. By the 21st century, the portion of Christians living in predominantly Christian nations dropped to 59 percent.
The percentage will continue to fall, but at a much slower rate. In 2017, 53 percent of Christians will live in heavily Christian nations.
This is a huge demographic shift. Before the American Revolution, most nations had a simple system: either you worshiped the way the king worshiped, or you left, or you died. The idea of “freedom of religion” only goes back to Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration from 1669, which largely invented the notion of religious toleration — and it’s one of the great accomplishments of the Enlightenment and the so-called American Experiment. And until the US showed that it could be done, freedom of religion was not considered a human “right.”
And yet even in Islamic lands, going back to the time of Mohammad himself, the Muslim majority tolerated Christians within their midst — so long as they paid an extra tax and did not evangelize Muslims (obviously, a serious problem for many Christians). And yet the Muslims were often more tolerant than the European kings, who couldn’t imagine how to rule a people that disagreed over Catholicism, for example. Of course, when the Pope actually had a few legions of his own, you can see the problem.
I say all that to point out that the ability of large numbers of Christians to exist as minority populations in largely non-Christian nations is a new thing — often due to the influence of European and American values on other nations, either by example or outright political pressure. I mean, Americans will not want to trade with a nation that persecutes Christians.
There is a downside, of course. It’s been shown in many cases that the Christian minority often was perceived as disloyal to the local non-Christian authorities, especially when the non-Christian nation is at odds with a “Christian nation.” This often leads to brutal persecution of the Christian minority, even when the local Christians are very loyal to their local government.
Hence, US involvement in Iraq and Syria has led to deadly persecution of Iraqi and Syrian Christians, even though those nations have had significant Christian populations since apostolic times. Americans can be sadly oblivious to the harm they cause local Christian populations, especially when they speak of their conflict with Iraq or Syria in religious terms. I mean, if we express our displeasure with Syria in terms of being against Islam, well, the local Christians may be good, loyal Syrians, but they certainly aren’t good loyal Islamists — and so they’re assumed to sympathize with the Christian nation called America.
As more and more Christians live in nations where they are in the minority, Americans urgently need to learn how to deal with the majority governments in ways that speak of national interests and not as though we’re fighting a religious jihad on behalf of Jesus against Islam — which Jesus certainly wouldn’t approve but which seems to be our preferred way of speaking.
If we don’t, we’re going to get our Christian brothers and sisters killed or made into refugees — homeless and unwanted by the world. Why would we do that?