A few years ago, on a Sunday morning, I landed at Logan Airport and took a train to Boston’s South End. I was finishing my research on what has become Facing the West: American Evangelicals in the Age of Global Christianity. Primarily on the activities of American missionaries abroad – and how they were shaped by these encounters – the book in its final chapter focused on how global encounters were increasingly occurring at home throughout the world. African, Asian and Latin American immigration.
I found myself that morning at the intersection of Shawmut Avenue and Lenox Street in a historic district where George Washington fought the Redcoats in 1775. Almost 250 years later it was a different world. In three of the four corners stood non-white churches, each pulsing with energy. The Shawmut Community Church of God, a historic African-American church, occupied the southern corner. Fuente de Vida, a Pentecostal church founded in 2006 by Puerto Ricans but also full of Dominican, Cuban and Guatemalan members, stood at the north corner. The Redeemed Christian Church of God Cornerstone Miracle Center, a five-year-old Nigerian congregation, stood at the east corner.
As I entered the sparsely decorated Cornerstone Miracle Center, sixty pairs of eyes turned to me. An elegant woman, in a white shift dress with colorful woven trims, greeted me. Obviously delighted with my arrival, she showed me a row near the front of the great room. An old man sitting in the row behind me wore a pale blue robe with a fez beanie on his head. Her daughter, posing as Mum Tolu, wore trendy horn-rimmed glasses and a crisp purple cloth garment. A man in the front row was wearing jeans and a loose polo shirt. As he worshiped with his hands high in the air, a Nigerian smartphone and keychain sat in his chair.
“We are a church of all nations,” Pastor Yinka Aina explained from the stage. “When you go, speak whatever you want,” he said, “but now we want to speak in one language. The English service that followed consisted of enthusiastic chanting and passionate prayer. At one point, the whole congregation, each member’s arms outstretched, surrounded me as the pastor prayed that the “Holy Spirit will grant the desires of his heart.” A lively sermon, also on the theme of the Holy Ghost, urged the congregation to feel and practice the power of God. “We are not in the morgue. We are in the sanctuary! he apologized. “Sing to the Lord a joyous song. Get ready to dance!
The intersection of Shawmut and Lenox represents a link of multicultural Christianity in Boston. Dozens of vibrant congregations radiate from the Cornerstone Miracle Center to the South End. One block to the south is CrossTown Church International, a Pentecostal “apostolic epicenter” with branches in Trinidad and Zimbabwe. Another block to the east is the Congregación León de Judá, a 1,500-member Latin American Baptist congregation founded in 1982. The north end of the South End is the site of Cornerstone Boston, a Korean congregation affiliated with the Church. Evangelical of the Alliance; Emmanuel Disciples Fellowship, an Ethiopian Baptist church; and the South End Neighborhood Church, a congregation made up of whites, African Americans and many other ethnicities. Of the thirty-three churches in the South End, only four are predominantly Anglo-Saxon. While most worship in English, others speak and sing in Spanish, Amharic, Haitian Creole, Greek, Korean, and Mandarin. A third of them were launched after 2000. They are located in hotels, community centers and dark storefronts. Most only maintain a rudimentary online presence. They may be hidden, but they defy conventional wisdom that Boston is relentlessly secular.
Evangelical Bostonians call this the “Silent Awakening”. The number of churches, as tracked by the Emmanuel Gospel Center, accelerator of this multicultural renewal, has doubled since 1969, from 300 to 600. This represents a remarkable growth given the stagnation of the population of Boston and of the flight from white churches to the suburbs. Since the 1990s, the pace has only accelerated. During the first decades of the 21st century, a lasting church was started every few weeks, almost all by immigrants.
The 2020 census results, released last month, confirm what I experienced on my trip to Boston. “Our analysis of the results shows that the American population is much more multiracial and more racially and ethnically diverse than what we have measured in the past,” said Nicholas Jones, director and senior advisor for research and outreach. on race and ethnicity in the United States. Census Bureau Population Division. The United States is on track to become a majority minority nation by 2045.
Here’s the data for Boston: The number of non-Hispanic whites increased from 47% in 2010 to 44.6% in 2020. The share of black residents also declined, from 22.4% in 2010 to 19.1%. At the same time, the share of Asian Americans fell from 8.4% to 11.2%, and the share of Hispanics fell from 17.5 to 18.7. The numbers are more dramatic in other parts of the United States.
The increase in the non-white population has stemmed an overall decline in numbers. As young people migrated to the suburbs and south and west for cheaper jobs and housing, Boston’s population has rebounded. According to the Census Bureau, it increased 12.1% between 2010 and 2020. That’s double the growth rate of Massachusetts.
The implications for urban religion are important. In a follow-up article, I will discuss what this might mean for evangelical politics, theology, and culture. But for now, I just want to point out that immigration saves American Christianity from demographic collapse. While the white West is secularizing, much of the global South remains very religious. At the turn of the twentieth century, less than 20% of Christians in the world were not white. At the turn of the 21st century, over 79% were not white. In 2015, according to the Gordon-Conwell Center for the Study of Global Christianity, 84% were not white. From 1970 to 2010, the evangelical population grew about six times faster in areas outside of North America.
It should come as no surprise then that many immigrants to the United States are Christians. In fact, according to academic Jehu Hanciles, himself an immigrant from Sierra Leone, nearly two-thirds of immigrants are Christians. During the 2010s, more than 600,000 Christian immigrants received green cards each year. Of course, non-Christian diversity has also increased in the decades since the 1965 Immigration Act, but the new immigration, sociologist Stephen Warner notes, does not bring so much new diversity among American religions. than diversity within the majority American religion. “The striking story is that as the United States becomes less Christian through the attrition of Americans of European descent, it becomes more Christian through non-white migration.” We are seeing the re-Christianization of America. ” “writes academic Gastón Espinosa. And nowhere has this demographic transformation been as dramatic as in Boston. Four hundred years after the Puritans, some evangelical observers once again see Boston as a” city on a hill. “
This flies in the face of much discussion of secularism in Boston and New England in general. In the 2000s, burgeoning Sunbelt Christians described the spiritual climate as “infinitely colder than the lowest winter lows in Boston.” The Southern Baptists, once deadly enemies of the New England abolitionists, launched a missionary offensive to save the region from liberalism and secularism. But they found it to be difficult. “About once an hour, I give up. It’s hard, man, ”Pastor Joe Souza told a CBS reporter. “It’s like you’ve found a cure for cancer and you want to give it away and no one wants it. New England, they say, is a graveyard for church planters.
But this is only true if you are looking for Anglos worshiping under white steeples. The 2020 census results and the history of immigration to Boston offer some hope for a religious tradition recently devastated by sex scandals, abuse of power and declining enrollment. Perhaps it will make even evangelicals question the wisdom of voting for a Nativist president determined to stop a source of their revitalization.