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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.
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.
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.
discovered is that the difference was Protestantism. Where “conversionary”
Protestant missionaries went, democracy flourished. Where they didn’t go,
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.
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.
“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.’”
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.”
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
Protestant missionaries in the Belgian Congo took pictures, toured the West and
awakened an international outcry against the abuses.
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
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.)