|Friday, January 03, 2003|
LOS ANGELES — It's a popular
notion that Islam is the world's fastest-growing religion, and
Christianity is on the decline.
it's not true, according to information that
suggests both faiths are expanding worldwide, with
Christianity on the rise in places like South America, Asia
and especially Africa.
"It's not a dying religion. Christianity is
a vital religion," according to the Rev. Cecil Murray, of the
First AME Church of Los Angeles.
Christianity's supporters say news reports
on the scandals in the Catholic Church, which recently led to
the resignation of Boston's Bernard Cardinal Law, have painted
an incomplete picture of the religion. They argue that in many
developing countries, the Bible's word is actually
The media has focused too much on problems
within the religion, say some.
"They're much more interested in what's
wrong with Christianity and not in where it's flourishing, and
where it is vital," said Father Thomas Rausch, of Loyola
Marymount University. "The third world, the Southern
Hemisphere is mostly poor, and it's in these countries where
Christianity is mushrooming."
The numbers cited
by certain experts seem to support that argument.
Christianity was rare at the turn of the century in Africa,
but some say almost half of the continent -- as many as 360
million people -- now worships Jesus.
Rev. Murray sees those gains as the
successful result of decades of missionary work across the
continent. "I think it is strong in Africa because Christians
went to Africa in the last 75 to 80 years," he said.
Specific figures on the number of religious
adherents vary widely. There are, of course, sharp divisions
among sects and denominations within both Islam and
Christianity that make it much tougher to determine overall
A huge majority of the world's Muslims are
Sunni, the dominant branch of the religion across most of the
Arab world and in many non-Arab Muslim nations like Pakistan,
Turkey and Indonesia. Shiites, the majority in Iran and an
important minority in countries like Iraq, are much smaller in
number but tend to be viewed as more fundamentalist and
extremist by many Sunnis.
Christianity, meanwhile, is split along
Catholic-Protestant lines. And while the Catholic Church is a
tightly organized hierarchy, there are a wide variety of
Protestant denominations that compete with both the Vatican
and each other for adherents to their specific brand of
But whatever the case, most experts agree
Christianity does have the most believers. And recent reports
estimate that by 2025, that gap will widen even further,
making Christianity by far the world's largest