By / Jun 21

What does the future of Christianity in America look like? Better yet, what will the global religious landscape be like in a couple of decades? As secularism broadens its appeal and more and more people are religiously unaffiliated, we may find ourselves struggling to answer these questions. Or, we may simply be fearful of the answers.

A recent report titled “The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050,” published by the Pew Research Center, outlines more than six years’ worth of data collection, coalescing their research into a document projecting the world’s religious makeup in 2050 and the trends that lead there. While the authors of this report are quick to admit how fickle some of these projections may be (due to potential factors like war, famine, disease, and others that cannot be accounted for), nevertheless, there is much in “The Future of World Religions” that should grab our attention. 

Here are three takeaways from the Pew Research Center’s report.

1. More religious, not less

If you are paying attention to Western religious trends, you may assume that the global religious trajectory is consistent with what we seem to be experiencing in the U.S., a wayward procession toward secularism. But you would be wrong. Even now, if we were to peer out beyond our own geographic context (and some would argue, even within our own), we would find that the world is not becoming irreligious but more religious. Pew researchers project that this will not only continue, but will surge in the coming decades.

“Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion (the report refers to this group as ‘the unaffiliated’) – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France,” the report states, “will make up a declining share of the world’s population.” Of course, because the global population is forecast to increase by 35% from 2010 to 2050, the raw number of religiously unaffiliated people is projected to increase, as we would expect among virtually every religious group. However, “their share of the global population is projected to decrease” from 16% in 2010 to 13% in 2050.

What this means, fundamentally, is that people, despite our technological advancements and “progress,” still possess a deep-level “ache” that goes unrelieved without some sort of transcendent remedy. There are questions that atheism and/or secularism (or any other false worldview, for that matter) simply cannot answer. Religion is not losing global influence. On the contrary, it is growing, and picking up steam. And while religious adherence grows among many faith traditions, Islam is projected to grow most rapidly. 

2. The continued growth of Islam

“By 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.” 

There is not a religious group that is projected to experience more rapid growth in the next several decades than the Muslim population, both worldwide and here within the United States. From Middle East-North Africa to the Asia-Pacific to Europe and North America, Islam is forecast to grow both numerically and in its share of each region’s total population. If Pew’s projections hold, Christians (31.4%) and Muslims (29.7%) will make up a nearly identical percentage of the world population, totaling an estimated 60% of all people on earth

While Christians will undoubtedly find this news distressing, we should view these predictions not as something to fear but as an opportunity. After all, these are projections, not certainties. Who’s to say that Christians can’t win to Christ those who are searching, those who are spiritually hungry, and those who are seeking a remedy for their “aches” rather than losing them to another religion like Islam or to the hopelessness of atheism? Despite all the evidence to the contrary, what if the church set out to upend these projections?

What would this take? Well, for one, we’d have to stop all the in-fighting and get serious about the Great Commission. And, certainly, we’d have to take the Great Commandments, the very words of Jesus, seriously — to love God with all that we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we can do that, Lord willing, the Pew Research Center might just have to make significant amendments to their report. 

3. Christianity’s net losses

By far, the most distressing projection included in Pew’s report as it relates to Christianity is what they call the “Projected Cumulative Change Due to Religious Switching, 2010-2050.” According to their projections, no religious group will lose more adherents to “switching,” or leaving one’s faith tradition for another belief system, than Christianity.

“Over the coming decades, Christians are expected to experience the largest net losses from switching. Globally, about 40 million people are projected to switch into Christianity, while 106 million are projected to leave, with most joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated” (emphasis added). If you do the math, that is a projected net loss of more than 66 million people, exponentially more than any other group represented in the report. 

While the report isn’t concerned with answering this question, it would be negligent of us not to ask “why?” Is it because those leaving will have found Jesus’ teaching “hard” (John 6:60) like we read in John’s account of the gospel? Is it because we will have practiced some sort of Pharisaical hypocrisy, driving them away from the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 23:13-15)? Or, will they have “gone out from us” because “they were not of us” (1 John 2:19)? Regardless, this projected seismic “switch” will be a tragedy if we do not resolve to prevent it. 

The thing about projections is that they don’t come true until they come true. May we work with all the strength God gives us to see to it that these 66 million who are expected to desert Jesus never actually do. 

Perseverance in the face of projections

Regardless of what any report might project, the church of Jesus Christ is assured of its perseverance. 

Will Christianity always maintain its majority in global population numbers? I don’t know, maybe not. Will American culture continue to secularize? According to this report, it looks that way for the next 30 years or more. Does this put Christianity and Christ’s church in jeopardy of ceasing to exist? By no means!

The first-century church, under the threat of its Roman overlords, would not have been on the favorable end of any projections. I am certain that Christianity’s eventual extinction would have been the recurrent prediction in that day. But here we are, continuing to persevere, because we do not live by the words and projections of man, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). And the Word that has proceeded from the mouth of God has clearly stated that not even “the gates of hell will prevail” against his church (Matt. 16:18). 

We should take Pew’s projections seriously, but let’s not allow them to drive us to despair. Instead, let’s be driven to carry out our mission. Those hungering for some sort of transcendent answer to their aches, those flocking to Islam, and even those disillusioned by their experience of Christianity — whatever the source of that disillusionment —let’s echo the words of Philip in the gospel of John when he said to Nathaniel, “Come and see” (John 1:46). And let’s bring them to Jesus.

By / Aug 20

On Aug. 18, the Department of State, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released the second review of the implementation of the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance Policy (PLGHA). The purpose of PLGHA is to “prevent American taxpayers from subsidizing abortion through global health assistance provided for populations in need.” This policy ensures that any foreign aid funding to international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) agree to neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning overseas.

PLGHA expands the Mexico City Policy to “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies” to the extent allowable by law. The Mexico City policy only applied to voluntary family planning assistance funded by USAID and assistance for certain voluntary population planning furnished by the Department of State. 

In January 2017, the Administration reinstated and expanded PLGHA, and in February of 2018, the State Department released a six-month review of PLGHA. At that time, not all existing agreements had received new funding grants, and not all grantees had been required to agree to the terms of PLGHA. 

USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa stated that “this second review examined the PLGHA Policy’s benefits and execution. As such, this review of the PLGHA Policy provides detailed information on the small number of awards affected by organizations that declined to agree to the policy, including how the declinations affected awards and ongoing assistance, as well as USAID’s efforts to transition activities to new partners as quickly as possible to prevent or resolve any delays or gaps in care.”

Highlights of the report

Below are some of the key findings of the report:

The majority of grantees that receive U.S. global health assistance funding have chosen to comply with the terms of PLGHA, and that implementation of PLGHA has caused minimal disruption in healthcare delivery. The report noted, “When organizations declined the terms of PLGHA, the transitions to alternative health providers have been, for the most part, smooth.”

Out of 1,340 prime grantees, only eight declined to comply with the terms of PLGHA, in addition to a small number of sub-awardees.

Two of the prime grantees that declined the PLGHA terms were International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and Marie Stopes International (MSI), both of which, as the report notes, “are two of the largest and most-vocal organizations that have attempted to assert a global right to abortion on demand.” Both awards began in 2014. The total estimated award for IPPF was $71.8 million; the total estimated award for MSI was $74 million. When IPPF and MSI declined the terms of PLGHA, USAID redirected some funding to another prime grantee and began partnering with other organizations capable of taking over the nonabortion related health care work done by these two entities.

The report concludes by stating that “the vast majority of the U.S. Government’s implementing partners accepted the PLGHA standard provision when presented with it. When organizations declined the terms of PLGHA, the transitions to alternative health providers have been, for the most part, smooth. In some cases, other donors or the host government have stepped in to fill gaps that occurred because of a declination of PLGHA. Only in limited instances has the Agency struggled to identify new partners or sub-awardees with comparable skill sets, networks, or capacity for outreach as those who declined the terms of PLGHA.”

The ERLC is committed to protecting life, both domestically and abroad, and we’re encouraged by this implementation report and grateful for the effectiveness of PLGHA.

By / May 30
By / Oct 19

The limits of religious liberty are currently being tested around the world, including the U.S. Some are seeking to restrict this freedom and move religious discourse from the public square.

At the same time, as many of us get ready to go to church on a Sunday morning, we don’t have to be afraid that we might be stopped by the police and asked where we’re going. During a worship service, we have never been confronted with the fear that the service might be interrupted by the police and all the worshippers arrested. Most likely, no government official has ever asked us what we believe about God. And, we’ve never had to choose between renouncing our faith in Jesus Christ and watching the torture of our family continue.

Just this year, we have seen the stories of persecution of Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities by the so-called Islamic State. But we may not know that members of religious minorities face similar persecution around the world, every day, without grabbing the headlines or catching our attention.

The U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report (IRF Report), released last week, provides us with an ocassion to stop, pray for those who face this persecution, and consider how we might help. It also provides us an occasion to be thankful for the freedoms we have in the U.S. We should never take these freedoms for granted, and we should be vigilant to fight to protect them.

As Ambassador David Saperstein, the first Jewish Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, said when releasing the report,

There is an absolute and unequivocal need to give voice to the religiously oppressed in every land afraid to speak of what they believe in; who face death and live in fear, who worship in underground churches, mosques or temples, who feel so desperate that they flee their homes to avoid killing and persecution simply because they love God in their own way or question the existence of God.

How is religious freedom defined internationally?

In the U.S., religious freedom is recognized by the First Amendment of the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

In international law, the foundational definition of religious freedom is found in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the newly formed United Nations in 1948. Article 18 states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

Robert P. George, Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, defined relgious freedom this way:

Religious freedom means the right of all human beings to think as they please, believe or not believe as their conscience leads, and live out their beliefs openly, peacefully, and without fear. When it comes to the peaceful exercise of religion or belief, no government, group, or individual has the right to compel others to act against their conscience or restrain them from answering its call.

What does the IRF Report tell us?

The IRF Report provides detailed country-by-country information about the status of religious freedom protections. The report tells stories, explains the legal frameworks in each country, and highlights what the U.S. government is doing to work for religious liberty.

The IRF Report also gives us a high-level picture of the status of religious liberty internationally. Here are the big-picture trends for religious liberty in 2014, according to the report:

  1. The rise of abuse by non-state actors. Governments themselves continue to oppress religious minorities across the world. But we have also seen an increase in the failure of governments to protect religious minorities from political parties, social organizations, and terrorist organizations.
  2. The rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. In 2014, anti-Semitism surged, as many protests against Israel “crossed the line into anti-Semitism.” Chillingly, the IRF Report notes that these protests have “left many pondering the viability of Jewish communities” in Europe, including France and Germany.
  3. Failure of governments to protect religious minorities from societal tensions and discrimination. In countries across the world, governments are failing at their first task: to protect the rights of their citizens. For instance in Nigeria, the government failed at all levels to investigate, prosecute and punish of violence and discrimination against religious minorities.

Why does the report matter?

The IRF Report gives us information and facts that we can count on and use for advocacy or policy. Christians can use this report as a guide to direct our prayers for the persecuted church.

But the IRF Report also has consequences. Under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the President must review the report and identify “countries of particular concern” and then take action against these countries of particular concern. This Presidential action could range from a public condemnation to a reduction in diplomatic relations to the reduction or elimiation of nonhumanitarian foriegn aid.

In July 2014, the President designated 9 countries of particular concern:

  • Burma
  • China
  • Eritrea
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Sudan
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukbekistan

Stop for a minute, and read back over the list. If you don’t know where some of these countries are, open up Google Maps and find them. Take a minute to pray for the people that live there and may have no other option for a place to call home.

What will happen next?

Under the International Religious Freedom Act, the President is required to designate countries of particular concern and take action, working to improve the lives of religious minorities living in those countries.

Unfortunately, the act does not set a deadline for the President to update the list of countries of particular concern or to take this action. In fact, in the last 16 years since the act was passed, the President has made new designations only 10 times.

So what happens next? We will give the President the opportunity to designate new countries of particular concern, and if necessary, the ERLC will call upon the Administration to act if it fails to do so.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an independent, nonpartisan commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act, has issued its 2015 report and recommended that eight new countries be added to the list of countries of particular concern: Central African Republic, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, Tajikistan, and Vietnam.

In the meantime, here are two practical ways that you can respond:

  1. Pray for the religious minorities of one new country every week. Read the country’s section in the report and use the information there to respond.
  2. Pay attention to whether the State Department designates new countries of particular concern, and join with ERLC in asking the State Department to act if they fail to do so.

Let those of us in the U.S. never take our freedoms for granted. At the same time, let us remember that much of the world’s population has never enjoyed these freedoms, and let us consider how we might stand with our brothers and sisters and fellow image-bearers.

By / Oct 16

On Wednesday the State Department released its International Religious Freedom Report for 2014. A wide range of U.S. government agencies and offices use the reports for such efforts as shaping policy and conducting diplomacy. The Secretary of State also uses the reports to help determine which countries have engaged in or tolerated “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom in order to designate “countries of particular concern.” A major concern addressed in this year’s report is the violent opposition to religious freedom by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). David Saperstein, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom (IRF) is quoted in the report’s introduction saying,

There is an absolute and unequivocal need to give voice to the religiously oppressed in every land afraid to speak of what they believe in; who face death and live in fear, who worship in underground churches, mosques or temples, who feel so desperate that they flee their homes to avoid killing and persecution simply because they love God in their own way or question the existence of God.

The report highlights numerous examples of state-sponsored persecution of Christians, including those in Iran and China: Read More

By / Jul 15

Global Hunger Relief is a cooperative initiative supported by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and six other SBC partners. Donations to GHR go 100% toward meeting hunger needs in North America and around the world. Churches across the country will designate Oct. 11, 2015 as Global Hunger Sunday to bring attention to the global hunger crisis. Resources and more information are available at globalhungerrelief.com

By / Jun 1

Dr. Russell Moore provides and update on the efforts of Southern Baptists in Nepal following the devastating earthquakes earlier this year. Give now to support relief efforts at globalhungerrelief.com/giving

By / Mar 11

The Pew Research Center recently released a new study on the social hostilities and government restrictions related to religion. Here are five sets of facts you should know from that report:

1. Incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47 percent of countries in 2012, up from 38 percent in 2011 and 24 percent in the baseline year of the study. The study finds that the share of countries where violence, or the threat of violence, was used to compel people to adhere to religious norms also increased in 2012. Such actions occurred in 39 percent of countries, up from 33 percent in 2011 and 18 percent as of mid-2007. Members of the world’s two largest religious groups – Christians and Muslims, who together comprise more than half of the global population – were harassed in the largest number of countries, 151 and 135, respectively.

2. Religion-related terrorist violence occurred in about a fifth of countries in 2012 (20 percent), roughly the same share as in 2011 (19 percent) but up markedly from 2007 (9 percent). The share of countries experiencing sectarian violence, however, rose last year. Sectarian violence was reported in nearly one-fifth of the world’s countries in 2012 (18 percent), up from 15 percent in 2011 and 8 percent as of mid-2007.

3. The overall level of government restrictions worldwide stayed roughly the same, though there were some increases on a few measures. The study finds that the share of countries where some level of government interfered with worship or other religious practices increased to 74 percent in 2012, up from 69 percent in 2011 and 57 percent in the baseline year.

4. The number of countries with very high religious hostilities rose from 14 to 20, an increase of more than 40 percent. Six countries had very high social hostilities in 2012 but not in 2011: Syria, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Burma (Myanmar). Every country that had very high social hostilities in 2011 continued to have very high hostilities in 2012.

5. The number of countries with very high government restrictions rose from 20 in 2011 to 24 in 2012, an increase of 20 percent. Five countries had very high government restrictions in 2012 but not in 2011: Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Morocco, Iraq and Kazakhstan. Just one country that had very high government restrictions in 2011 – Yemen – did not have very high restrictions in 2012.

By / Feb 26

Each year the International Bulletin of Missionary Research lays out in summary form an annual update of significant religious statistics. Here are five sets of facts you should know from their latest report:

1. Global population by religion: 

Christians – 2.38 billion
Muslims – 1.7 billion
Hindu – 1 billion
atheists – 136 million
Jews – 14 million
(Unevangelized population – 2.1 billion; Unevangelized as % of world: 29.2 percent.)

2. Membership by 6 ecclesiastical megablocs:

Catholics – 1.2 billion
Protestants – 441 million
Independents – 407 million
Orthodox – 280 million
Anglicans – 92 million
Unaffiliated Christians – 110 million

3. Number of Christians by 6 continents, 21 UN regions: 

Africa (5 regions) – 520 million
Asia (4 regions) – 368 million
Europe (including Russia; 4 regions) – 561 million
Latin America (3 regions) – 562 million
Northern America (1 region) – 229 million
Oceania (4 regions) – 25 million

4. Christian organizations:  

Denominations – 45,000
Congregations – 4.7 million
Service agencies – 30,000
Foreign-mission sending agencies – 5,000

5. Scripture distribution (all sources, per year): 

Bibles – 80 million
Scriptures including gospels, selections – 5 billion
Bible density (copies in place) – 1.8 billion