Features

A reasonable religion

"A reasonable religion" Continued...

Issue: "Into the light," Dec. 3, 2005

WORLD You argue that the problems of the Spanish empire display, among others things, the disadvantages of having a state church. How?

STARK In two primary ways. First of all, a "kept" church is lazy. When clergy do not rely on the laity for their support, they tend to neglect their pastoral duties. In the case of the Spanish church, because everyone was by law a Roman Catholic, nothing needed to be done to convert them or even to attract them to Mass. In fact, the state collected the church tithes so the clergy had no need to bestir themselves even for money. And that's why until very recently most people in Latin America were only nominal Christians, if that.

The second great shortcoming of state churches is that they are captives of their political rulers. By treaty the King of Spain chose all bishops and cardinals, not only in Spain, but in the empire. Moreover, no church pronouncements, including papal bulls, could be published in any Spanish area without prior consent of the king. As a result a whole series of 15th- and 16th-century papal condemnations of slavery were unknown in Spain and Latin America and were ignored by historians until the past decade or so.

State interference in religious affairs was not unique to Spain. Whether ruled by despots or merely by politicians, where there is a state church the state can never keep itself from interfering in religious affairs. In Scandinavia, where Lutheran state churches prevail, parliaments revise doctrines and even concern themselves with details such as the contents of hymn books. Indeed, in Sweden pastors of the state church (and of other churches as well) are now prohibited from reading in public any portion of the Bible that is critical of homosexuality.

WORLD You've emphasized in your writing the advantages of church competition and religious entrepreneurship. Are those advantages also contributing to the recent growth of Christianity in Latin America, Africa, and China?

STARK In 1881-82 William F. Bainbridge, a prominent American Baptist, visited all American Protestant overseas missions (in those days they were still all coastal and easily reached). He found that in some places the denominations had cut up an area and granted each group an exclusive mission field, but in other places all the denominations competed for converts. He observed that the missionaries were far more successful where they competed. This remains the case. Consider that for centuries Roman Catholics had an exclusive right to missionize Latin America, at the end of which most of the continent was unchurched. Then Protestant missionaries were allowed to enter. The result has been not only the conversion of millions to active Protestantism, but also to so greatly revive Roman Catholicism that it now is growing, too. Meanwhile, the Christianization of Africa is being accomplished by hundreds of competing denominations, most of African origins.

WORLD What do you think the shape of Christianity will be in 2050?

STARK By then Christianity may well be the dominant religion in China. Latin Americans probably will be as churched as North Americans. Africa will be more than half Christian. As for Europe, it will be well along in a major revival of religion, one way or the other: Christian or Islamic.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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