Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Pew Forum -- Pentecostals, Charismatics, and others

From October, this is a comprehensive look at Christendom's most important development in recent years, the global explosion of Pentecostalism which has led to a historic wave of conversions to the faith.

Just last night I was with a group of friends talking about immigration, new churches and other current trends. Someone reported having talked with an employer planning to turn over his business to someone else as he reached retirement age. The Anglo subordinate he had picked as the most likely recipient wasn't interested because he was making a lot more dealing drugs. So he redirected his attention to one of his Latino workers instead. This is the interesting part: his experience was that when he employed immigrants he always looked for Pentecostals, in-your-face Christians whose faith was unmistakable. He said they were most likely to be dependable, honest, work hard, and remain faithful to the schedule. Faith, a reliable work ethic and close family values went hand in hand.

This is nothing new. I experienced much the same phenomenon in my own career. I often said that when Mexicans came to take over my dish room I thought I had died and gone to heaven. No more fussing, broken dishes, wasted time on the clock, etc. And I told my wife several years ago that immigrants from the South, whether documented or not, seem to be God's way of saving America from her diseased and deteriorating sense of family values. They have shortcomings to be sure -- substance abuse, violence, exploitation of women, infidelity, and anything else you want to name, all the human shortcomings. But as a population, immigrants represent a level of energy, commitment, religious faith and tight family values that seems to have gone missing among too many Americans whose families have been here for generations.

This report, 233 pages pdf format, looks to me like an indispensable resource for anyone wanting to be informed about this important trend. I'm not going to read it myself because I don't expect to find anything new to me. But I pass it on to anyone who may be interested. As far as I can tell the taxonomy is correct. There is no reason to suspect their data is presented with any hidden agenda.

By all accounts, pentecostalism and related charismatic movements represent one of the fastest-growing segments of global Christianity. According to the World Christian Database, at least a quarter of the world's 2 billion Christians are thought to be members of these lively, highly personal faiths, which emphasize such spiritually renewing "gifts of the Holy Spirit" as speaking in tongues, divine healing and prophesying. Even more than other Christians, pentecostals and other renewalists believe that God, acting through the Holy Spirit, continues to play a direct, active role in everyday life.

Despite the rapid growth of the renewalist movement in the last few decades, there are few quantitative studies on the religious, political and civic views of individuals involved in these groups. To address this shortcoming, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, with generous support from the Templeton Foundation, recently conducted surveys in 10 countries with sizeable renewalist populations: the United States; Brazil, Chile and Guatemala in Latin America; Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa in Africa; and India, the Philippines and South Korea in Asia. In each country, surveys were conducted among a random sample of the public at large, as well as among oversamples of pentecostals and charismatics.

In this report, the term pentecostal is used to describe individuals who belong to classical pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God or the Church of God in Christ, that were founded shortly after the famous Azusa Street Revival in the early 20th century, as well as those who belong to pentecostal denominations or churches that have formed more recently, such as the Brazil-based Universal Church of the Kingdom of God.

Charismatics, by contrast, are a much more loosely defined group. The term generally refers to Christians who have experienced the "in-filling" of the Holy Spirit but who are not members of pentecostal denominations. Indeed, most charismatics are members of mainstream Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox denominations. In the surveys, respondents were categorized as charismatic if they met one of three criteria: (1) they describe themselves as "charismatic Christians"; or (2) they describe themselves as "pentecostal Christians" but do not belong to pentecostal denominations; or (3) they say they speak in tongues at least several times a year but they do not belong to pentecostal denominations.

"Renewalist" is used as an umbrella term throughout the report to refer to pentecostals and charismatics as a group


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