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Charismatic Polling

Pew conducts a 10-country survey of Pentecostals.

12:00 AM, Oct 16, 2006 • By MARK TOOLEY
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NOW NUMBERING OVER 500 million, and probably the fastest growing religious movement in the world, Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians are transforming the global religious demographic, especially in Latin America and Africa. They comprise nearly half of Brazil's population, and 25 percent of the United States is Pentecostal or Charismatic.

Are these religious, social conservatives replicating in the Global South political trends that are present among Republican-oriented evangelicals in the United States? A new study from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life tries to answer just this question.

Pew estimated that Pentecostals and Charismatics account for about one fourth of the world's 2 billion Christians. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, published in 2001, there are about 66 million Pentecostals and 470 million Charismatics.

Both Pentecostals and Charismatics have effusive worship styles, emphasize divine healings and other gifts of the Holy Spirit, and believe that evangelism is imperative. Pentecostals belong to specifically Pentecostal denominations, such as the Assemblies of God, which date to the early 20th century. Charismatics are found across evangelical and Protestant churches, but also within Roman Catholicism. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are about 120 million Catholic Charismatics, or over one fifth of the Pentecostal/Charismatic total.

Pew measured opinion among Pentecostals/Charismatics where they are thought to be strongest: the United States, Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, the Philippines, South Korea, and India. Though there are also millions in China, government restrictions on religion there likely would have made polling problematic.

Not surprisingly, Pew found that Pentecostals/Charismatics in every country are more socially conservative than the general population, disapproving of homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, suicide, and divorce. In Africa and Asia, they were more strongly opposed to the practice of homosexuality than they were in Latin America and the United States. Africans and Asians, both the general population and Pentecostals/Charismatics, are also the most hostile to divorce and pre-marital sex. Brazilians and Chileans were the least disapproving.

About 60 percent of Pentecostals/Charismatics in the United States think abortion is always wrong, compared to 45 percent of the general population. But Latins, Africans, and Asians were all much more opposed to abortion. Americans were the most accepting of euthanasia. Only 50 percent of Pentecostals here insist it is never justified, though that is still higher than 37 percent of the general population.

Pentecostals/Charismatics everywhere attend worship services more frequently than other Christians, are more adamant about their doctrines, and have more literal understandings of the Bible. Politically, outside the United States, they are a little harder to measure beyond key social issues.

In most countries, Pentecostals/Charismatics are more pro-Israel than the general population. They also tend to support the free market, but not much more than the general population. This is a little surprising, as Pentecostals, especially in Latin America, are heavily influenced by U.S. parachurch groups and are commonly portrayed, especially by their critics, as extensions of American-style capitalism.

Pentecostals/Charismatics in the United States strongly support the war on terror, but in most of the other polled countries, they are ambivalent or negative. The exceptions are Nigeria, Kenya, India, and the Philippines, all of which have struggled against Islamic terrorism and, in the case of Nigeria, Islamist repression of Christian populations. Americans, religious and not, are the most likely to trust their own nation's military. Religious Filipinos and Kenyans also trust their national militaries. The other national populations do not trust theirs.

In all of the measured countries except for the United States, South Korea, and South Africa, Pentecostals/Charismatics comprise the majority of Protestant Christians, and in Latin America overwhelmingly so. But in Brazil and Guatemala, Charismatics also comprise a majority of Roman Catholics. Pentecostals/Charismatics are a majority of the total populations of Guatemala and Kenya. And they are nearly half of Brazil and the Philippines. One quarter of Americans are Pentecostal/Charismatic.