Heav­ily-sec­u­lar French em­brac­ing evan­gel­i­cal churches in droves

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By El­iz­a­beth Bryant

IVRY-SUR-SEINE, France — Decked out in Sun­day fin­ery, the chat­ter­ing­linestretch­esout­the­door and up a gritty block of ware­houses and homes in this work­ing-class Paris sub­urb. Inside, the con­gre­ga­tion­atIm­pactChris­tianCen­ter­sways and­chantsto­gospel­mu­si­cas­the­first morn­ingser­viceroll­son,way­be­hind sched­ule.

It is hard to be­lieve that this out­burst of re­li­gious joy is tak­ing place in France, the most staunchly sec­u­lar na­tion of an in­creas­ingly sec­u­lar Europe.

Yet even as Chris­tians are flee­ing main­stream churches across the re­gion, evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian­ity is boom­ing thanks most re­cently to flour­ish­ing mi­grant churches like Im­pact Chris­tian.

France alone has wit­nessed an eight­fold in­crease in evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tiansover­thep­asthalf-cen­tury, from 50,000 to 400,000 to­day.

Those num­bers are small in ab­so­lute terms. In­deed, evan­gel­i­cals rep­re­sent less than 2 per­cent of the Euro­pean pop­u­la­tion. But their in­flu­ence is grow­ing. Per­haps most sig­nif­i­cantly, the evan­gel­i­cals at­test that spir­i­tu­al­ity is not dy­ing out in Europe.

“Non­be­lief, doubt and sec­u­lar­iza­tion con­tinue to progress, but in­creas­ingly we’re wit­ness­ing a spir­i­tual turn­ing in re­cent years,” said Christo­pher Sin­clair, a pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Stras­bourg who spe­cial­izes in evan­gel­i­cal move­ments. “What’s strik­ing about the evan­gel­i­cal move­ment is that it’s grow­ing.You­canseethisthrough­out Europe. It’s an­swer­ing a spir­i­tual need,” Mr. Sin­clair said.

As it grows, Europe’s evan­gel­i­cal move­ment is de­vel­op­ing a sharply dif­fer­ent face than its Amer­i­can coun­ter­part.

In France and else­where in Europe,evan­gel­i­cal­shave­largelystayed on the side­lines of po­lit­i­cal bat­tles — partly be­cause many be­lieve in the sep­a­ra­tionofchur­chand­state,partly be­cause they re­main di­vided on a num­ber of key is­sues.

“We evan­gel­i­cals in France are a mi­nor­ity among a Protes­tant mi­nor­ity,” said Eti­enne Lher­me­nault, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Fed­er­a­tion of Evan­gel­i­cal Bap­tist Churches of France. “So we have a mi­nor­ity men­tal­ity. Our Amer­i­can evan­gel­i­cal friends have a ma­jor­ity men­tal­ity, even if they’re not ex­actly the ma­jor­ity.”

Euro­pean churches are em­brac­ing Asian, Caribbean and African preach­erssuchasFrench-Con­golese twin brothers, Yvan and Yves Cas­tanou,who­runanor­ga­ni­za­tion­called Im­pact.

“The church is here to solve all prob­lems — fam­ily is­sues, fi­nan­cial is­sues, all dif­fer­ent kinds of is­sues, not just spir­i­tual is­sues. And that’s what re­ally makes a dif­fer­ence,” said 35-year-old Yves Cas­tanou, as he paused from greet­ing a stream of wor­ship­pers one re­cent Sun­day inside Im­pact’s thread­bare com­mu­nity cen­ter.

French skep­ti­cism of evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians, if not down­right hos­til­ity, is fu­eled by myr­iad fac­tors, from sus­pi­cions that churches are tainted by Amer­i­can in­flu­ence to fears they pro­vide plat­forms for bo­gus pas­tors. Even evan­gel­i­cal lead­ers warn that African-style pros­per­ity churches, which em­pha­size fi­nan­cial suc­cess, are flour­ish­ing around Paris.

“There’s a huge in­crease in th­ese large churches in the poor­est ar­eas,” saidMa­ja­gi­raBu­lan­galire,pres­i­dent of the Com­mu­nity of Churches of AfricanEx­pres­sion­inFrance,anet­work partly cre­ated to fight against scam churches.

“They’re the big­gest swindlers. They can cause a lot of harm to the poor pop­u­la­tion that flocks to them.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.