Here are some interesting facts about war-ravaged Ukraine you might not have heard:
* The nation was 97% Christian in 1900, slumped to 60% when atheistic Soviet Communists held power, and has rebounded to 86%. But in one survey only 20% of Ukrainians said religion is “very important” for them.
* The Orthodox Church historically under the Moscow Patriarchate has 13.5 million members. But even before the current Russian invasion, the young rival Orthodox Church of the independent Kyiv Patriarchate had gained a bigger following of 16 million.
* Evangelical, Pentecostal and Charismatic Protestants, though a small minority, have so thrived since national independence in 1991 that Ukraine is known as Eastern Europe’s “Bible Belt.” Pentecostal believers who once survived in the underground church are now a force in civic affairs.
* Despite electing the first Jewish president, anti-Semitic incidents still occur.
* Regarding morals, “domestic violence is a massive problem,” especially in COVID-19 times, with complaints up 40% in the first half of 2020 compared with 2019.
Why mention these newsworthy pieces of information?
That’s a sampling of the sort of data about each of 233 countries you’ll find in the brand-new “Global Christianity: A Guide to the World’s Largest Religion from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe” (Zondervan Academic, $29.99 paperback). This valuable and inexpensive resource updates key information from the 2019 edition of the invaluable “World Christian Encyclopedia” (Edinburgh University Press, list price $270 with discounts online).
The new book’s editor is Gina Zurlo — https://ginazurlo.com; gzurlo@gordonconwell.edu) — co-editor of the “Encyclopedia” and co-director of the independent agency that produces it, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at evangelical Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Media inquiries: 978-468-2750 or info@globalchristianity.org). Zurlo is also a demography researcher at Boston University’s Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs and an editor of the online “World Christian Database” and “World Religion Database” (both from Brill, the Dutch academic publisher).
Some may question the center’s widely cited population estimates but they’re the best that we have, and especially important because its sizable global network of informants covers lands facing persecution and obscure spots like Tokelau (population 1,400, majority Congregationalist).
Especially challenging, and important, is assessment of the situation in an aggressive China, which has the world’s biggest population and where atheistic Communism still imposes widespread persecution not just upon Christianity but Buddhism, Islam, and the Fulan Gong movement.
Though Christianity has been present for 14 centuries, China “consistently ranks as one of the most difficult places to be a Christian” due to both government policy and social hostility. Christian education of children under 18 is illegal. And yet the 106 million Christians are the world’s fifth largest national population. There’s been “explosive growth” among Protestants and Independents who spurn mandatory registration with the regime and attend variegated underground house churches and cells. “Bible women” are key in domestic evangelism, and Christians manage to send out 15,000 missionaries to other nations.
Here’s a sampling of other details.
* Afghanistan: Most of the estimated 7,500 Christians remain Muslim publicly to protect personal safety. Female converts to Christianity in particular risk ”sexual violence, domestic control and forced marriage.” Blasphemy is punishable by beheading for men, and life in prison for women.
* Saudi Arabia: Muslim Sharia law lacks “protection of religious freedom” and “conversion from Islam is legally punishable by death,” so Christianity must be practiced in secret. The 6% Christian population consists mostly of migrant workers and other expatriates.
* Tonga: This collection of 169 southern Pacific islands (36 of them inhabited) is likely the only country where the majority (55%) belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Three pioneer British Protestant missionaries were killed in 1799, yet by 1853 the population was 100% Christian. Sunday commerce is outlawed except for tourist hotels.
* United Kingdom: The Church of England, now nominally headed by King Charles III, dominates on paper, but “most baptized Anglicans do not regularly practice.” An estimated 40% of England’s active churchgoers are now Black or Asian. U.K. Protestant missionaries took the faith worldwide during the days when the British Empire covered a quarter of the world’s land area.
* United States: Thanks to immigration, as in 1900 it claims the world’s largest Christian population, now followed by Brazil, Mexico, Russia and China.
Here is a potential news story: This is the nation that receives the largest number of missionaries from overseas lands, currently 38,000. And, by the way, American Christianity “is deeply divided along racial, ethnic and political lines.”
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