Bryan Fischer
Protestantism the greatest force for good in modern history
By Bryan Fischer
January 24, 2014

Follow me on Twitter: @BryanJFischer, on Facebook at "Focal Point"

The United States was founded by Protestants. At the time of the founding, 98.4% of the population of the original 13 states were Christians who followed, whether loosely or devoutly, one branch or another of the Protestant faith. Of the 55 signers of the Constitution, 52 were Protestants.

One can say without fear of contradiction that America was built by Protestants. It was the Protestant faith with its emphasis on the priesthood of all believers that gave America its rugged individualism. It was the Protestant work ethic which soon made the United States the economic powerhouse of the world. It was the Protestant commitment to the Great Commission ("Go therefore and make disciples of all nations") that made America the greatest sending nation in the history of the world.

The First Great Awakening, largely a Protestant affair, united the colonies under the banner of the cross, and created the political climate in which our Founders crafted both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

But not only has Protestantism been the single greatest force for good in America, it also, it turns out, has been the greatest force for the spread of democracy in the the history of civilization.

In a must-read piece in Christianity Today, Andrea Dilley writes of the research of sociologist Robert Woodberry, of the University of Texas. Struck by a comment in a lecture from a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill professor that there was a link, a statistically significant link, between democracy and Protestantism, he devoted himself to years of intense research to examine whether that linkage did indeed exist.

Some nations in modern history developed democratic institutions and traditions (freedom of speech, assembly and the right to vote) while their next door neighbors – sharing similar geography, cultural traditions and natural resources – never escaped the clutches of authoritarian rule.

What Woodberry discovered is that the difference was Protestantism. Where "conversionary" Protestant missionaries went, democracy flourished. Where they didn't go, totalitarianism did.

Beginning with a 1925 atlas of every missionary station in the world, Woodberry began accumulating reams of data on schools, teachers, printing presses, hospitals, doctors and political developments. He consulted historians in Asia and Africa and traveled to the field himself to interview local scholars.

Woodberry developed a statistical model to test the connection between Protestant missionary endeavor and the health of nations. He spent two years, along with research assistants, coding the data he had accumulated.

Writes Dilley,

"One morning, in a windowless, dusty computer lab lit by florescent bulbs, Woodberry ran the first big test. After he finished prepping the statistical program on his computer, he clicked "Enter" and then leaned forward to read the results.

"'I was shocked,' says Woodberry. 'It was like an atomic bomb. The impact of missions on global democracy was huge. I kept adding variables to the model – factors that people had been studying and writing about for the past 40 years – and they all got wiped out. It was amazing. I knew, then, I was on to something really important.'"

Missionaries, he discovered, were not just a part of the journey of nations toward democracy, they were central to it. Their effect, he says, was "large" and "powerful."

Woodberry offers one particularly vivid example. In 2001, he traveled to West Africa. He first went to Lome, the capital of Togo, and visited its campus library. The shelves held less than half the number of books he had in his own personal library. The most recent encyclopedia in the library had been published in 1977. The campus bookstore sold paper and pens rather than books.

He asked a student, "Where do you buy your books?" The answer: "Oh, we don't buy books. The professors read the texts out loud to us, and we transcribe."

However, in the neighboring country of Ghana, the main university had a bookstore chock full of shelves filled with books from floor to ceiling, including texts by local scholars. Why the difference?

The reason was simple. In the colonial era, British missionaries had built an entire system of schools and printing presses in Ghana, but Togo, under the colonial rule of France, took interest only in educating a tiny elite.

Woodberry discovered that the missionaries who had the greatest impact were not just Protestants but "conversionary" missionaries. Protestants sent by state churches did not have the same impact. Since their paychecks came from the colonial powers who often oppressed the native peoples, they were loath the criticize colonial excess. Conversionary missionaries showed no such restraint and became a voice for civil rights and independence movements.

For example, in both French and Belgian Congo, colonists forced natives to extract rubber from the jungle and would burn down villages and castrate men if the locals did not comply. Such atrocities passed without international notice in French Congo, where no Protestant missionaries were allowed.

But Protestant missionaries in the Belgian Congo took pictures, toured the West and awakened an international outcry against the abuses.

Woodberry's conclusion:

"Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in nongovernmental associations."

Protestants, hold your heads high. In the modern era, with God's help, the Protestant stream of Christianity has been responsible for more good, more spiritual enlightenment, more education, more literacy, more freedom and more political autonomy than any other movement in the world.

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

© Bryan Fischer


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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