A new survey out today reflects a potentially massive, important chasm growing within evangelical Protestantism – between those in the Northern (and largely more developed) parts of the world and those in the South (largely less developed, but rapidly changing).
Evangelical leaders from the “Global North” (Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand) in many ways see a different world than their counterparts in the “Global South” (sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, Latin America, much of Asia). And the Global South is where the populations, and Christianity, is really booming.
The Northern leaders see evangelicalism’s influence dramatically waning, while the South sees it rising. The majority of them oppose the Bible being the law of the land, while the majority of those in the South support it. They disagree sharply – and in surprising ways - - about Islam, as well as about the role of women in marriage.
The findings of the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life come from its polling of nearly 3,000 evangelical leaders from around the world in late 2010.
The survey raises challenging questions for religious pluralism.
Ninety-five percent of evangelical leaders say it’s not possible to be a good evangelical and believe that there is any other path to salvation than Jesus Christ. 58 percent of Southern leaders believe the Bible should be the law of their lands; 28 percent of those in the North believe the same. Solid majorities hold unfavorable views of other global faiths: Buddhism (65 percent unfavorable), Hindus (65 percent), Muslims (67 percent) and atheists (70 percent).
In a globalized world, such massive gaps will no longer be relegated to academia and missionaries. We live in an era in which countries like India and Nigeria send missionaries to the United States and the fastest-growing parts of Christian denominations like Methodism and Mormonism are in Africa and Asia. Power dynamics have changed. Culture clashes are not avoidable.
The survey hints at the complexity of these issues.
While 98 percent of the leaders agree the Bible is the word of God, they’re split virtually down the middle on whether scripture should be taken literally. Despite their views against atheism, they are split down the middle again on whether you can be a moral person who doesn’t believe in God.
Ninety percent of evangelical leaders who live in Muslim-majority countries say the influence of Islam is a major threat (compared with 41 percent of those who live elsewhere), but leaders who live in Muslim-majority countries expressed more positive views of Muslims than did those elsewhere