The growth of religious practice in the world is being experienced through patterns of immigration to the United States, patterns that should become a central feature of the debate over immigration reform…. The history of immigration to this country has been a story of unintended consequences which have tested our commitment to religious and cultural pluralism. The religious impact of immigration, largely unnoticed in hotly contested rhetoric around political reform, offers the potential, once again, to enrich our society in ways we have not yet imagined.
While Christianity may be on the decline in the United States, the world isbecoming more religious, not less. While rising numbers of “nones” — those who claim no religious affiliation when asked — claim the attention of religious pundits, the world tells a different story. Religious convictions are growing and shifting geographically in several dramatic ways.
The center of Christianity has shifted from Europe to the global South.
The religious landscape is particularly changing for the world’s Christians. A century ago, 80 percent lived in North America and Europe, compared with just 40 percent today.
In 1980, more Christians were found in the global South than the North for the first time in 1,000 years. Today, the Christian community in Latin America and Africa, alone, account for 1 billion people.
Over the past 100 years, Christians grew from less than 10 percent of Africa’s population to its nearly 500 million today. One out of four Christians in the world presently is an Africa, and the Pew Research Center estimates that will grow to 40 percent by 2030.
Asia is also experiencing growth as world Christianity’s center has moved not only South, but also East. In the last century, Christianity grew at twice the rate of population in that continent. Asia’s Christian population of 350 million is projected to grow to 460 million by 2025.
The global religious wildcard is China. Even today, demographers estimate that more Christian believers are found worshipping in China on any given Sunday than in the United States. Future trends, while difficult to predict because so much is below the religious radar, could dramatically drive down the world’s religious “nones.”
In Latin America, the massive Christian population is becoming more Pentecostal or Charismatic.
The growth of Pentecostalism in Latin America is estimated to be at three times the rate of Catholic growth. Non-Catholic believers now account for 2 percent of Latin America’s 550 million Christians.
Today, Brazil not only has more Catholics than any other country, but also more Pentecostals, reflecting Pentecostalism’s astonishing global growth. Tracing its roots to the Azusa Street revival in 1910, and comprising 5 percent of Christians in 1970, today one of four Christians is Pentecostal or Charismatic. Or think of it this way: one out of 12 people alive today has a Pentecostal form of Christian faith.
Global migration matters.
Such global trends are being experienced locally through migration. About 214 million people have moved from one country to another as migrants and refugees, or are in that process.
Those capturing today’s headlines are Africans clinging to precarious vessels trying to cross the Mediterranean, or the hundreds of thousands uprooted in Syria and the Middle East. But the striking religious factor is that overall, about 105 million who have migrated are Christians — a significantly higher percentage than their 33 percent of the world’s population.