America is not as exceptional as we think

July 2, 2011 in Featured Question of the Week, How do you explain 'America the Religious'?, Question of the Week by Rick Donlon

As we prepare to celebrate July 4, studies show that the wealthier a country is, the less important religion is to that country. The ONE EXCEPTION is the United States of America.

Our question to you this week:


Drawing on your life, your work and your time here in Memphis, how do you explain America the Religious?

The widely-held notion that America is exceptional in it’s ongoing religiosity reflects an unexamined Euro-centrism. There are multiple examples outside Western Europe of advancing cultures where religious faith is thriving despite modernization and wealth creation.

Brazil has the second largest economy in the western hemisphere and has been steadily expanding economically and culturally. It’s also a nation where Christianity is thriving; Brazil is the third largest missionary-sending country in the world. The Chinese have enjoyed decades of steady economic growth and a impressive rise in their standard of living. By many estimates, there are 100 million Christians there, with the number of new Christians outstripping the general population growth. South Korea is another Asian example: the remarkable growth of the high-tech Korean economy has occurred in parallel with an astounding expansion of Protestant Christianity. The African economies of Angola, Ethiopia, and Nigeria are all competing with China to be the fastest growing (percentage-wise) in the world. All three of those nations have vibrant and growing religious communities.

Make no mistake–Jesus warned that the desire for wealth would choke out the fruitfulness of his disciples (Matthew 13:22). The Apostle Paul famously pointed out that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Serious disciples should recognize the dangers of living in the wealthiest nation in the world. Nonetheless, there’s ample evidence around the world that growing wealth doesn’t necessarily extinguish faith.