Interestingly, the world today is more religious than ever. Where does Christianity fit into it all?
Asia has always been the world’s most diverse continent when we talk about religion, and the trends show our religious diversity is going to keep increasing. In contrast to sub-Saharan Africa, where many are leaving traditional African belief systems for Islam or Christianity, Asia continues to become more religiously diverse than ever.
As we look ahead, what are the trends indicating? Will Christianity or other religions feature as prominently in Asia as they do today? Interestingly, research shows that by 2050, a significant 66% of the world’s population will fall into two main religions1. Which ones, you ask? Read on to find out!
Southward: the shift of global Christianity
First, let’s take a look at the undeniable shift that’s been happening over the decades. In the global north (above the equator), where Christianity historically had a strong foothold, the faith is in decline. Below the equator, however, the opposite is happening.
According to Zurlo et al, an estimated two-thirds of all Christians in 2020 were in the global south and by 2050, the number is expected to rise to 77%2. And so, the rise of Christianity in the global south — Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania — is tilting the scales in defining the expression of the faith, and how Christianity will look like in years to come.
Religious diversity is increasing, but religious liberties are on the decline
Research has also shown other interesting trends. Religious diversity is increasing in certain geographical regions such as Asia, for one. Our neighbouring country Singapore topped the list for most religiously diverse country in the world in 2020, with more than 1% of its population identifying with at least one of seven religions: agnosticism, Buddhism, Chinese folk religion, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and New Religions.
Other regions, such as sub-Saharan Africa, however, are seing less diversity as time passes, with Islam and Christianity being embraced in lieu of traditional religions. In fact, by 2050 trends suggest that 66% of the world’s population will identify as Muslims or Christians1.
While religious diversity is increasing, it has also been noted that governments and societies alike are increasingly placing restrictions on the practice of certain religions such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Baha’i faith. Pew Research Center conducted a 2019 evaluation of 198 countries around the world, and found that 41 (or about a fifth) countries have banned religion-related groups3.
Christ will always be relevant. How can the Church remain so as well?
Against a unique, unfamiliar landscape of religion in today’s world, how can the Church remain relevant? Emerging Christian leaders in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania will begin to play bigger roles in shaping the interpretation and practice of the Christian faith even as Christianity continues its southward shift.
From worship to Biblical interpretation in daily life and society, including but not limited to issues surrounding the role of women, the LGBTQ+ community as well as poverty and inequality, Christian leaders in the south will find themselves thrust to the forefront.
In his book Slingshots: Nuggets of Life for the Soul, Ps. Dr Philip Lyn of Skyline SIB Church cautioned Christians to interpret Biblical texts in the light of the whole Bible. In advocating for women leadership in churches, he added that Biblical interpretation has to “square up with both Old and New Testament instances of women in ministry.”
When we come to the Scriptures, we must ask which teachings forbidding women leadership are culture-based, and which are normative and timeless. If the church is ‘male-led’ only it will miss out on mobilising at least half of her task force… Woman leadership has impacted nations. They also impacted Israel’s history. Did we miss something in our reading of the Scriptures?Ps. DR. PHILIp lyn, skyline sib church malaysia
In Singapore, a dialogue session was held on 15 January this year to discuss the hurt and trauma members of the LGBTQ+ community have faced within Christian circles. Organised by an NGO, the Whitehatters, the dialogue entitled, “Can I be a queer Christian?” saw around 80 attendees from diverse backgrounds.
The problem lies when we tell someone there is a part of them they need to deny. (It causes) a sense of shame, a sense of unworthiness… This leads to people leaving the church and being afraid of stepping into the church. They have been traumatised so much and hurt so deeply that they will not step into that space5.Ps. Miak siew, Free community church Singapore
For many, organised religion as it largely is today has failed them. It’s been too square in a world so diverse, fluid and intertwined. For them, there’s really no divide between the sacred and the secular; creating such a cavity amounts to hypocrisy.
To stay relevant in today’s generation and the ones after, the Church will need God’s wisdom to stay humble, learn and unlearn, demonstrate true godly love, tear down walls and find a way to connect with a world that’s seeking faith and looking for answers.
- The Changing Global Religious Landscape, 2017, Pew Research Center.
- Zurlo GA et al, World Christianity and Mission: Ongoing Shift to the Global South, 2020, International Bulletin of Mission Research.
- Majumdar S, 2021, 41 countries ban religion-related groups; Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baha’is among the most commonly targeted, Pew Researchh Center.
- Huckabee T, 2021, How Gen Z will shape the church, Relevant Magazine.
- Awang N, 2022, Church leaders discuss hurt, trauma faced by LGBTQ people in dialogue session, Today.
- Cover Image: Sarawak Night Market, Deva Darshan on Unsplash