But a global tradition of left-leaning evangelicalism has the potential to reshape the U.S. political landscape. If we shift our gaze from the U.S. political right, we can see an alternative tradition of evangelicalism that embraces social, economic, environmental and racial justice. As Christianity continues to grow and flourish across Africa, Asia and Latin America, understanding the diversity of the faith provides a window into a potential future of American evangelicalism.
The 20th century witnessed a tectonic shift in Christianity’s demographic center: In 1900, nearly two-thirds of Christians lived in Europe; today less than a quarter do. Yet as Christians have become less white, white American evangelicals representing the most conservative segment of the religion played an increasingly outsize role around the world even as their slice of the demographic pie diminished. In 1974, the American Baptist preacher Billy Graham summoned leaders to accelerate the evangelization of the world. In response, he nearly witnessed an evangelical civil war.
That year, evangelical leaders huddled in Lausanne, Switzerland, in a highly influential and world-changing meeting. Nearly 2,500 Protestant evangelical leaders from over 150 countries and 135 denominations gathered, funded primarily by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Time magazine called it “a formidable forum, possibly the widest-ranging meeting of Christians ever held.”
Included in the diverse group were representatives of an emerging evangelical left, whose presence thrust the worldwide fellowship into conflict. As American leaders mapped strategies to spread their message on “mission fields” around the world, leaders from global south countries also demanded a seat at the table, bringing with them contexts of poverty, inequality and concern about widespread injustice.