Philip Jenkins

When reporters have time for a big think: Where is world religion heading, anyway?

When reporters have time for a big think: Where is world religion heading, anyway?

Baylor University historian and Christian Century columnist Philip Jenkins set forth 21st Century prospects in his book “The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity” (Oxford University Press, 2002, updated 3rd edition 2011). His work underscores a theme that has become familiar to all religion specialists, the shift of Christianity’s center of population and power away from traditional Western Europe and North America toward the “Global South,” especially in Africa and Asia.

When time permits, journalists should consider updating that scenario — with accompanying graphics. If you need a local or regional news angle, check out the links to tensions inside the United Methodist Church.

Then, for a fresh global angle, focus on the implications if Christianity is supplanted by Islam as the world’s largest religion. That brings us to data recently posted by Pew Research Center’s Jeff Diamant (a former colleague covering the religion beat).

Pew estimates that as of 2015 there were 2,276,250,000 Christians globally, compared with 1,752,620,000 Muslims. Its projection for 2060 is that the totals will be nearly even, 3,054,460,000 versus 2,987,390,000. Flip that a couple percentage points and Islam would take the lead, and current trend lines suggest Islam could become number one at some point in our century. Birth rates play a key role in this drama.

Hold that thought.

Pew is one of two major players in world religion statistics. Another, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, projects for 2050 (not 2060) a slightly lower 2.7 billion for Muslims and significantly higher 3.4 billion for Christians. This even though CSGC figures that in this century’s first decade Islam was growing faster than Christianity, at 1.86 percent per year, as opposed to Christianity’s 1.31 percent (and a world population rate of 1.2 percent).

These two agencies of number-crunchers are friendly partners in some ventures but have some differences on method.

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The Economist: Stuck in a time warp, misses real news about Global South missionaries

The Economist: Stuck in a time warp, misses real news about Global South missionaries

The classically liberal British weekly, The Economist, is known for its authoritative, tightly written, analysis-infused news coverage. While I sometimes disagree with its editorial conclusions, I include myself among those who find The Economist a satisfying read.

But even the news outlets I favor the most are capable of sometimes publishing pieces that leave me wondering.

Such was the case with an Economist piece from earlier this month on the spread of Christian missionaries coming from the Global South (formerly known as the Third World) to North America and Europe — a 180-degree reversal from the historical pattern.

This reverse flow says a lot about the state of global Christianity. It speaks to the real possibility of the political and cultural West entering a truly post-Christian age. And it underscores how the Global South — Africa, Asia and Latin America — are likely to define Christianity’s future.

But why now? Why did The Economist  bother to publish, both online and in print, a story about a phenomenon that’s been picking up speed for several decades and play it as if they’d uncovered a breaking trend?

Why would a publication as exemplary as The Economist  publish a piece that reads as if its been sitting in the magazine’s ever-green file for years?

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Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Every now and then, a magazine like The Atlantic Monthly -- a must-read publication, no matter what one's cultural worldview -- publishes a cover story that transforms how thinking people think about an important issue. At least, that's true if lots of members of the thinking classes are open to thinking about information that may make them uncomfortable.

This was certainly the case in October, 2002, when historian Philip Jenkins published a massive Atlantic cover story that ran with this provocative headline: "The Next Christianity." For those with an even longer attention span, there was the book, "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity."

Now, before I hit you with a key passage from that important Atlantic piece, let me tell you where we are going in this Sunday think package.

Jenkins was writing about a wave of global change in pews and pulpits, as the face of Christianity moved -- statistically speaking -- from Europe and North America to the multicultural reality that is the Global South. Thus, if you are looking for a "typical" Christian in the world today, it is probably an African woman in an evangelical Anglican (or maybe Methodist) congregation. She is probably a charismatic believer, too.

Now, I thought about that Jenkins piece when reading an amazing new Bloomberg essay by Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter, addressing the media storm surrounding that bizarre New Yorker sermon about You Know What (click here for my most recent piece, and podcast, on this hot topic). Here is the dramatic double-decker headline on the Carter piece:

The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A's Christianity

The fast-food chain's "infiltration" of New York City ignores the truth about religion in America. It also reveals an ugly narrow-mindedness

What's the connection here, between Jenkins and Carter?

Hint: Demographics is destiny (and doctrine is important, too). Here is a famous (and long) summary paragraph from the 2002 Atlantic essay:

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress.

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Some thoughtful guidance for reporters interpreting era of the religious 'nones'

Some thoughtful guidance for reporters interpreting era of the religious 'nones'

How many barrels of printer’s ink (it's a metaphor these days) have been expended on the rise of the “nones,” Americans who tell pollsters they have no religious identification?

The following material may not be worth a story in itself, but provides perspective as reporters continue to interpret this important phenomenon. What are the patterns that suggest where this story came from and, thus, where it might be going next?

Pew Research surveys show “nones” have increased from 16 percent of American adults in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014, and are fully a third of young adults. (Young adults have always drifted away from religion, so the significant point is indications they’re not returning as they mature.)

Writing in the conversation.com, University of Southern California sociologist Richard Flory advises us that, first, “nones” are a mishmash of very different types and, second, most aren’t really anti-religion and often reflect certain religious traits. Those who call themselves flat-out atheists who reject gods and the supernatural, or devout agnostics, are very small segments.

From ongoing research by USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Flory sees such variants as the familiar “spiritual but not religious,” marginally interested non-attenders, occasional attenders, those generally open to the supernatural but uninvolved, and those vaguely spiritual but not devoted to any specific content.

We get much the same from Philip Jenkins of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, in a patheos.com blog written by historians.

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Your weekend think piece: Rumors that 'white' Christianity is dead may be off a bit

Your weekend think piece: Rumors that 'white' Christianity is dead may be off a bit

It's amazing how many different subjects people are arguing about in the wake of the shocking White House win by Citizen Donald Trump.

There is, of course, the whole CNN "whitelash" angle, which fits nicely with trends -- real ones, trends seen in the exit polls -- that make the Democratic Party establishment feel better about itself.

Then there is the more specific, and accurate, point that Hillary Rodham Clinton lost the White House because of a culture gap between her campaign (as opposed to those run by her husband) and the labor, working-class, heavily Catholic culture of the pivotal "Rust Belt" states -- such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

You put all of that together, while highlighting the valid religion-trends angles, and you get a headline like this from The American Conservative magazine (a journal of cultural conservatism, not Republican Party orthodoxy):

White Christian Apocalypse?
That’s not what it means for America to become majority-minority.

Now, the byline on this think piece belongs to a scholar whose work is familiar to any modern reader interested in global and national trends linked to Christian life and demographics -- that of historian Philip Jenkins, best known as the author of "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity" and numerous other important books. He currently holds a joint appointment as professor of the Humanities in history and religious studies at Penn State University and as distinguished professor of history at Baylor University.

This piece is must reading for anyone seeking to understand trends linked to the potential influence of the church -- minus ethnic adjectives -- in the coming decades. Most of all, Jenkins believes that journalists and other public thinkers need to adopt a broader definition of the word "white." Thus:

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Your weekend think piece: Doing the math (think demographics) in post-Christian Europe

Your weekend think piece: Doing the math (think demographics) in post-Christian Europe

Just when you thought it was impossible to find another new layer of meaning in the brutal murder of Father Jacques Hamel, who was slaughtered at the altar of a French church dedicated to the memory of the first New Testament martyr St. Stephen, columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times dug a bit deeper.

This Sunday piece ran under this headline: "The Meaning of a Martyrdom." In it, Douthat -- a pro-Catechism Catholic, to one of my own pushy labels -- reflects on the current debates about whether Hamel was or was not a martyr for the Catholic faith. This also happened to be the topic of my Universal syndicate column this past week. Click here to check that out.

But in the midst of that discussion, Douthat made this blunt observation, noting that Europe, and our world today in general:

... is not actually quite what 1960s-era Catholicism imagined. The come-of-age church is, in the West, literally a dying church: As the French philosopher Pierre Manent noted, the scene of Father Hamel’s murder -- “an almost empty church, two parishioners, three nuns, a very old priest” -- vividly illustrates the condition of the faith in Western Europe.
The broader liberal order is also showing signs of strain. The European Union, a great dream when Father Hamel was ordained a priest in 1958, is now a creaking and unpopular bureaucracy, threatened by nationalism from within and struggling to assimilate immigrants from cultures that never made the liberal leap.

This reminded me of a sobering Catholic News Agency piece that ran recently at Crux about a blast of statistics from Catholic pews, pulpits and altars in postmodern Germany. To be blunt about it, Catholicism in Germany is not producing new babies or new believers, according to findings released by the German bishops' conference.

Check this out:

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Think piece: Has anyone at an Orthodox parish near you heard of St. Moses the Black?

Think piece: Has anyone at an Orthodox parish near you heard of St. Moses the Black?

Every liturgical year, hours after the great feast of Pascha, Eastern Orthodox Christians gather for a unique service called the Agape Vespers -- during which passages from St. John's Gospel are read in as many languages as possible (based on the membership of the parish).

In this highly multi-ethnic Communion, it is common for churches to have readings in six or seven languages. At my family's parish in the Baltimore-D.C. area -- Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, MD. -- we used to hit 16 or more on a rather regular basis.

What's the point? Theologically speaking, The Big Idea is that the church must always remember to proclaim the Gospel to as many people and cultures as possible. In the Orthodox context here in America, it's a regular reminder that the borders of Orthodoxy are not defined by the language and culture of the Old Country (think Greece or Russia), or by the language and culture of the new (think converts here in North America).

Truth is (attention reporters and editors) many, many seeker-friendly Orthodox parishes are becoming quite diverse, when it comes to ethnicity and even languages.

This brings me to an interesting, and quite straightforward, "Have Faith" feature at The Daily Beast that ran the other day. Here was the info-driven, sprawling headline:

The Brotherhood of Moses the Black
It may come as a shock to some, but one surprising religion is making serious inroads into the African-American community.

And here is the feature's overture:

When Karl Berry walked into an Orthodox Church for the first time in 1983, he saw icons of black saints.

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See? Washington Post shows that handling complex Anglican timeline isn't that hard

See? Washington Post shows that handling complex Anglican timeline isn't that hard

Faithful GetReligion readers will know that I moved from the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., area this past summer, returning to the hills of East Tennessee. It was a wonderful move on so many levels, yet it has raised a few challenges.

One of them is that I no longer see The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post in dead-tree-pulp form, which, frankly, made it much easier to cruise through them looking for stories relevant to our work here at GetReligion. Well, the Sun rarely took long to scan, since it is a ghost of its former self, but the Post was worth spending time with each day.

All of this is to say that I need to wrote a second Anglican timeline disease post today, for the simple reason that -- since I no longer see the actual newspaper -- I didn't bump into the Post coverage of that issue online until after I had written my early-morning offering that focused on The New York Times. If you missed that earlier piece, then please click here for context.

We need a second piece in this case, because the Post story demonstrates that it is possible -- with a few specific words and phrases -- to let readers know that the Anglican wars have been going on for a long time and didn't start in 2003 with the election of a noncelibate gay bishop in a tiny New England diocese. There's even a hint right there in the lede.

The world’s third-largest Christian denomination appears to be in serious reflection about how -- and whether -- to stay unified amid divisions about human sexuality and other issues.

Note (a) there are "other issues" and (b) that the fights concern "human sexuality" in general, as opposed to debates about the moral status of homosexual acts, alone.

A few lines later, readers learn more:

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Christians and persecution: So the 4th Century meets the 21st Century?

Christians and persecution: So the 4th Century meets the 21st Century?

In interpreting 21st Century religious conflict, newswriters might gain perspective from the bitter Christian schism by the 4th Century “Donatists.” These hardliners refused to recognize the validity of bishops who compromised in order to escape execution during the last wave of vicious persecution by the Roman Empire. That scourge lasted from A.D. 303 until Constantine became emperor of the West (312) and ordered religious toleration in the Edict of Milan (313).    
Today, Christians are likewise debating what to do amid the killing, rape, kidnapping, torture and thievery aimed at them -- and others -- by a radical faction within world Islam. Muslim traditionalists insist this mayhem violates teachings of the Quran and of the Prophet Muhammad.

The Mideast dominates the sorrow and the news coverage, but Christianity Today correspondents Jayson Casper in Cairo and Tom Osanjo in Nairobi draw our attention to the African continent.

Case study: During  those repellent beachfront beheadings, a Muslim advised a Christian friend named Osama Mansour to escape Libya by growing a beard, carrying a prayer rug and covering a Coptic tattoo on his wrist with a fake cast. Azar Ajaj of Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary said pretending to be Muslim was an ethical tactic because Mansour did not lie outright or deny his faith in Christ.

East Africa’s  al-Shabaab gunmen have allowed people to escape death if they can prove they are Muslims by recitations  in Arabic or answering such questions as the name of Muhammad’s mother. Since the Westgate Mall massacre at Nairobi,  Kenya’s Christians have been boning up on Muslim trivia and sharing online tips about pretending to be Muslim in life-or-death emergencies.

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