Pew Conducts a 10-country Survey of Pentecostals

Mark D. Tooley | Weekly Standard | Monday, October 23, 2006

Pew Conducts a 10-country Survey of Pentecostals

NOW NUMBERING OVER 500 million, and probably the fastest growing religious movement in the world, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians are transforming the global religious demographic, especially in Latin America and Africa. They comprise nearly half of Brazil's population, and 25 percent of the United States is Pentecostal or Charismatic.

Are these religious, social conservatives replicating in the Global South political trends that are present among Republican-oriented evangelicals in the United States? A new study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life tries to answer just this question.

Pew estimated that Pentecostals and Charismatics account for about one fourth of the world's 2 billion Christians. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, published in 2001, there are about 66 million Pentecostals and 470 million Charismatics.

Both Pentecostals and Charismatics have effusive worship styles, emphasize divine healings and other gifts of the Holy Spirit, and believe that evangelism is imperative. Pentecostals belong to specifically Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, which date to the early 20th century. Charismatics are found across evangelical and Protestant churches, but also within Roman Catholicism. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are about 120 million Catholic Charismatics, or over one fifth of the Pentecostal/Charismatic total.

Pew measured opinion among Pentecostals/Charismatics where they are thought to be strongest: the United States, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, the Philippines, South Korea, and India. Though there are also millions in China, government restrictions on religion there likely would have made polling problematic.

Not surprisingly, Pew found that Pentecostals/Charismatics in every country are more socially conservative than the general population, disapproving of homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and divorce. In Africa and Asia, they were more strongly opposed to the practice of homosexuality than they were in Latin America and the United States. Africans and Asians, both the general population and Pentecostals/Charismatics, are also the most hostile to divorce and pre-marital sex. Brazilians and Chileans were the least disapproving.

About 60 percent of Pentecostals/Charismatics in the United States think abortion is always wrong, compared to 45 percent of the general population. But Latins, Africans, and Asians were all much more opposed to abortion. Americans were the most accepting of euthanasia. Only 50 percent of Pentecostals here insist it is never justified, though that is still higher than 37 percent of the general population.

Pentecostals/Charismatics everywhere attend worship services more frequently than other Christians, are more adamant about their doctrines, and have more literal understandings of the Bible. Politically, outside the United States, they are a little harder to measure beyond key social issues.

In most countries, Pentecostals/Charismatics are more pro-Israel than the general population. They also tend to support the free market, but not much more than the general population. This is a little surprising, as Pentecostals, especially in Latin America, are heavily influenced by U.S. parachurch groups and are commonly portrayed, especially by their critics, as extensions of American-style capitalism.

Pentecostals/Charismatics in the United States strongly support the war on terror, but in most of the other polled countries, they are ambivalent or negative. The exceptions are Nigeria, Kenya, India, and the Philippines, all of which have struggled against Islamic terrorism and, in the case of Nigeria, Islamist repression of Christian populations. Americans, religious and not, are the most likely to trust their own nation's military. Religious Filipinos and Kenyans also trust their national militaries. The other national populations do not trust theirs.

In all of the measured countries except for the United States, South Korea, and South Africa, Pentecostals/Charismatics comprise the majority of Protestant Christians, and in Latin America overwhelmingly so. But in Brazil and Guatemala, Charismatics also comprise a majority of Roman Catholics. Pentecostals/Charismatics are a majority of the total populations of Guatemala and Kenya. And they are nearly half of Brazil and the Philippines. One quarter of Americans are Pentecostal/Charismatic.

Although the West, excluding the United States, is getting more secular, the Global South is getting more religious, or at least switching from traditional religion to more charismatic Christianity. Nigeria is a prime example. Pew reports that over the last 50 years Nigeria has gone from 45 percent Muslim to 50 percent, and from 21 percent Christian to 48 percent, a majority of which is Pentecostal/Charismatic. Traditional religion has declined from one third of the population to just less than 2 percent.

Similarly, South Korea is becoming more Christian and more Buddhist, with a quarter of the population now belonging to each, up from 20 percent each 20 years ago, with no religious affiliation slipping from 58 percent to less than half of the population over the same period. South Africa has gone from 68 percent to 80 percent Christian over the last 50 years. The Latin American countries and the Philippines have growing evangelical Protestant minorities, with Guatemala now 30 percent evangelical. But this evangelical resurgence has been accompanied by a growing Charismatic Catholicism in all these countries. Evangelical resurgence seems to stimulate a corresponding resurgence of Catholic faith.

Somewhat disturbingly, the Gospel of Health and Wealth has thoroughly penetrated much of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement, especially in the Global South. Over 40 percent of Pentecostals/Charismatics in the United States believe that God grants good health to the faithful, compared to a quarter of the general population. But strong majorities of Pentecostals/Charismatics in Latin America and Africa believe in the promise of good health. Interestingly, the figures in Africa are not that different from the general population, among whom there seems to be a consensus that God will reward good living with good health.

Contrary to some stereotypes about the hyper nationalism of American evangelicals, an overwhelming majority of Pentecostals/Charismatics in this country said that their religion is more important than their nationality. This was true in every other country in Pew's study. Pentecostals/Charismatics did not differ very much from the general population on gender roles in most countries, although they were more inclined to support female clergy than were the general populations in Asian countries. There is a strong tradition of female lay preaching among Pentecostals, and some Pentecostal churches ordain women.

Americans, religious and not, were the most adamant about religious freedom among all the nations surveyed. But overwhelming majorities in each, religious and not, affirm the importance of multi-party democracy, free elections, freedom of speech, and independent courts. Pentecostals/Charismatics were only slightly more likely than others to affirm their importance.

Pentecostals cannot always be neatly lumped together with Charismatics. For example, 60 percent of American Pentecostals sympathize with Israel, compared to 7 percent with Palestinians. But only 37 percent of American Charismatics favor Israel, compared to 10 percent for the Palestinians. Pentecostals tend to have strong views about God's ongoing covenant with the Jewish people. Charismatics among mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics are less inclined to this view. This same difference was found elsewhere except in South Korea and Kenya.

In Latin America, Pentecostals/Charismatics were less inclined than the general population to support the American war on terrorism, but they were more supportive in Africa and Asia. When asked to place themselves on the ideological spectrum, Pentecostals/Charismatics everywhere overwhelmingly picked the middle, though they were slightly more tilted right everywhere except in Kenya and South Africa.

The World Christian Encyclopedia estimates that Pentecostals/Charismatics will number over 800 million in 20 years, comprising 10 percent of the world's population and nearly one third of all Christians. In 1970, they numbered fewer than 80 million, or two percent of the global population. They are now the majority in several nations, and likely will become the majority in many more within the next decade. Their growth has helped make evangelicals the largest religious group in the United States, with enormous political repercussions. Those repercussions have now become global.


Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.


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