American Christianity vibrant abroad, speaker says

Monday, April 14, 2008 | 10:53 p.m. CDT; updated 8:16 p.m. CDT, Thursday, October 9, 2008

COLUMBIA — American Christianity’s international influence is vibrant, Princeton professor and author Robert Wuthnow said Monday night.

Wuthnow cited the results of his three-year survey of U.S. Christian congregations that found the global role of American Christianity is expanding rather than weakening, as some prominent scholars have proposed.

“Evidence shows that the global outreach of churches in the United States is at an all-time high,” he said.

In his presentation at MU’s Memorial Union, Wuthnow said his survey refuted a main tenet of “The New Christendom” paradigm that states that the global influence of U.S. Christianity is waning.

He cited recent data that spending by U.S. churches on overseas missions has increased by $4 billion and that nearly all surveyed congregations said they contribute to international missions. His study also found that all Christian denominations are involved in transnational service activities and that most congregations theologically and organizationally emphasize missions.

Increased international communication and travel were some of the main sources of the globalization of American Christianity, Wuthnow said.

He also cited “mega-churches,” congregations with 2,000 or more members, as having a significant international presence because the amount of resources they amass allow them to bypass aid organizations and minister directly abroad.

He noted that while “much of altruism that links congregations to the community is local,” U.S. Christian groups are increasing mission work through partnerships with thriving congregations in other nations.

“For better or worse, the U.S. is connected to the world community and religion is a part of that connection,” Wuthnow said.

Wuthnow is the chair of the Department of Sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University.

The forum marked the beginning of an annual series of speakers on religion and public life at MU, sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies’ Rufus Monroe and Sofie Paine Endowment for Lectures in Religion, the Center on Religion and the Professions, the Center for Arts and Humanities, the MU Lectures Committee, and the Department of Sociology.

For more on faith, visit the Missourian’s Faith in Focus blog.

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