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….
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….
In the United States, about 43 million residents were born in another country, and immigrated here. Of these, about 74 percent adhere to the Christian faith, while 5 percent are Muslim, 4 percent Buddhist and 3 percent Hindu. Of those presently migrating into this country, that proportion remains high — about 60 percent. The religious impact of immigration on U.S. society is typically overlooked in the debates over immigration reform, and the presence of about 11 million immigrants without acceptable legal documentation.
Yet, the reality is that patterns of immigration since the 1965 Hart-Cellar Immigration and Naturalization Act, and continuing to this day, are having a decisive impact on the Christian community in the United States. A vast majority of Hispanics in the United States are Catholic, and immigrants are sustaining the demographic presence of U.S. Catholicism, accounting for 70 percent of Catholic growth since 1960. They also provide fresh spiritual enthusiasm. Demographers estimate that 54 percent of Hispanic Catholics practice charismatic forms of worship found in Pentecostal churches. Among Catholic millennials, over half are now Hispanic….
I am mystified, for example, by political conservatives who cry for the resurgence of religious values in this country, and then support the deportation of those actually growing the nation’s religious vitality. And I am disappointed with political liberals, who, like I, support comprehensive immigration reform, but can seem deaf and dumb to the religious life of immigrants themselves, who often combine their unapologetic faith with commitments to social solidarity, welfare and reform of the broken immigration system.
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.