July-August 2021 Church & State Magazine | People & Events

A new study of 166 nations spanning 10 years asserts that Christianity prospers when it has no official connection to the government and operates in an atmosphere of pluralism.

The study, “Paradoxes of Pluralism, Privilege, and Persecution: Explaining Christian Growth and Decline Worldwide” by scholars Nilay Saiya and Stuti Manchanda, was published in the journal Sociology of Religion. As Jeff Brumley of Baptist News Global put it, the study’s results “overturn common assumptions about secularism and persecution, showing they can instead be conducive to the growth and vibrance of religion. On the other hand, achieving political power usually has the opposite effect.”

In their abstract, Saiya and Manchanda write, “Our findings provide support for our theory that Christianity suffers in contexts of privilege but not in environments of pluralism or persecution.”

Saiya told Baptist News Global that politicized Christianity is turning people away from the faith.

“The politicization of Christianity is repelling potential converts to Christianity who see the Christian faith as nothing more than a political movement,” he said. “It is also driving away Christians themselves who no longer can tolerate their faith being equated with a particular party or the ideology of Christian nationalism.”

Saiya added, “In settings of privilege, Christians do not have to worry as much about religious competition because they have the favor of the state,” he said. “Christians do not have to win the battle for hearts through the strength of their arguments. This naturally weakens Christianity theologically and numerically.”

On its “Wall of Separation” blog, Americans United pointed out that many Western European and Scandinavian nations are historically and, in some cases, legally Christian but are de facto secular today.

In Sweden in 2007, the official state church agreed to separate itself from the state after 500 years, hoping for a shot in the arm. But it hasn’t helped.

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