From time to time, we get questions from people regarding what we write in Three Worlds (or previously Chinatimesonline.com) or interesting comments, so if you have a question, feel free to send it in. Here's one from Malaysia:
I recently read a book suggesting that the religious fervor might be a result of the risks of becoming politically active.. it's socially acceptable to become religiously active, but not politically active... so religion serves as a very important and accepted social outlet.
Christian growth often coincides with the need for an outlet of community expression, but not always.
Christianity has the potential to grow anytime a church or Christians are really living out the principals of Christ. They are inspiring, and at the heart of Christianity is agape-love, which means not only loving your neighbor but seeking their highest good above your own. This is not a concept found in other religions and it is very inspiring. The linkage between loving the neighbor and a personal God that personally loves the individual is a radical move in the world of religions. This I think is Christianity's most potent factor. It insists on personal meaning as defined by a personal God, and it does not root itself in any particular culture or civilization (as the other religions do). Furthermore, it insists that scripture is sacred in any language (another radical move) and that all cultures have equal access to God (yet another radical move). Compare this to Islam, for instance.
But there are sociological reasons why Christianity grows.
An example of Christianity being a political voice for the voiceless would be the growth of Christianity in Korea. Christianity grew to 30% in South Korea because Christian communities were the ones that preserved Korean heritage and language during the Japanese occupation at the turn of the 20th Century. Unable to express themselves, Christianity served a purpose of political, cultural resistance.
Amongst the Yi People of Yunnan, China
This was not the case for the Yi of China who are now the most Christianized minority group in China. Upon hearing the story of Jesus from Western missionaries, they found parallels between Jesus the messiah and a messiah that they once knew in their heritage but forgot about it. Upon following the precepts of Christ, they found that their communities gave up gambling, infidelity, crime and other vices. The results of this new moral ethic transformed the society and made their dying, oppressed communities come to life. Christianity, instead of eroding culture, preserved it.
There are now 390 million Christians in Africa. The number one reason that Christianity grew was because of the translation of the Holy Scriptures into the vernacular. Once the Bible was put into local tongues and local customs were permitted into worship, African Christian movements. Today there are many African denominations that have churches scattered all over the world, including the USA.
The subject of my studies in graduate school was the growth of Christianity amongst Han Chinese in the People's Republic of China. As the socialist safety net disappeared in China, Christian communities were noticed for their care for the poor. They did not have decadent wealthy people that refused to share the wealth, neither did they have hopeless, destitute people among them. Furthermore, as Communist ideology began to collapse in 1978 with Deng's modernization projects, Christianity filled the void by providing a solid moral compass. The persecution of underground Christians then further fueled the growth making Christianity seem local (because they paid for it with their blood) instead of a foreign transplant (as foreign missionaries weren't permitted after 1950).
So all of these factors lead to a situation today where China has 130 million Christians, and Christians permeate every facet of Chinese life, including the Communist Party where it's now legal to be a member and be a Christian. Wenzhou is the most Christian city in China (the Jerusalem of the East) and Beijing has more than 20,000 Christian groups meeting each week. China has the 3rd largest population of evangelicals in the world.
In Brazil Christianity has grown because it empowers the poor and it empowers women. Particularly Pentecostalism which values women and youth. Poor areas are served by Christian churches, and in the church people have direct access to God and the Holy Spirit. This is very liberating in societies (like india, china, or Brazil) where women or minorities have been told they are of no value. But as with the Yi in China, the quality of people's lives improve so much with Christianity that this seems to be a key factor.
In Bolivia and Chile
Going back to my reader's point, both in Bolivia and Chile, Evangelical growth came as a form of political, religious, and ethnic resistance. In Boliva, the Catholic church had a terrible record with indigenous Bolivians. The Protestants benefited from this (I address this in my latest book Mosaic). In Chile, Evangelicals protested against the Pinochet junta and this political resistance did form strong religious communities---which have since waned since Chile stabilized.
So sometimes it is political resistance, but Christians in the non-Western world are often surprisingly unpolitical. If anything, the difficulty of there circumstances convinces them that politics is useless. One can say that perhaps they cling to faith as a way of surviving in countries that don't provide, but there are also many of instances of personal transformation (addictions broken, marriages saved, finances helped) that also play a part and are not simply a substitute for government or a resistance to government.
the Prosperity Gospel
Unfortunately, there's a darker side to this. There are quite a few new churches emerging that promise wealth to those that believe in Jesus. Jesus' skepticism toward money is pretty obvious, but from Malaysia to Nigeria to Texas, there are lots of churches now that preach get wealthy schemes and are growing rapidly. They are heretical and unfortunate. But they are often very successful.