Fathoming French Faith

I am sitting at the airport about to leave Paris after a hot and tiring three day visit. Late last night got me thinking, what is the state of the bride of Christ in this most secular and atheistic of nations? My search surprised me. So I thought I’d pass on some of what I found.

First up a little history. It is estimated that 3 million people died from violence, disease and starvation in the 16th Century French War of Religion between the dominant Catholics and the emerging Protestant Reformation. The violence was eventually ended via the 1598 Edict of Nantes. In 1685 this peace provided to French Protestants was revoked by the deeply Catholic King Louis the 14th. As a result of his actions to try to purify Catholic France, over half a million Protestant Huguenots had to flee the country immediately, taking with them many highly skilled families. It was a religious purging on a massive scale.

The king’s grandson, Louis the 16th would pay for this mistake with his head, as France had just snuffed out its final possibility of desperately needed peaceful social reform. The Huguenot refugees, however, proved to be a boon for the European and American settlements that took them in.

It was the French War of Religion and this expulsion of the Protestant Huguenots that motivated much of Voltaire’s negative writings on religion. He and other Enlightenment philosophers such as Immanuel Kant, Voltaire and David Hume saw the awful damage religious intolerance was causing France and Europe, and instead of sorting truth from error, they decided to throw all religion out the window. Europe was now on a slow march to evolutionary Atheism and its hideous 20th Century genocidal consequences.

Fast forward now to the 1950’s and there were fewer than 50,000 evangelicals remaining in this fiercely secular country that was once 15% Protestant. Today this number has unexpectedly climbed steadily to over 600,000. Protestants now number 3% of the population of which over a quarter are evangelical. Why such a jump?

The genesis of these changes came from three vastly different, but converging social causes. Firstly the presence of American Christian soldiers and missionaries during and after the World War Two gave existing evangelical Christians an encouraging jolt. Then, from the 1960’s there was a spiritual awakening among the Gypsy peoples of France, starting with a single healing and now numbering a quarter of Frances 600,000 “travellers”. The presence of a strong Christian presence has been truly transformative for this often despised subculture. Finally and most recently there has been the dramatic effect of unchecked immigration from Africa which has brought hundreds of thousands of vibrant, vocal and evangelical believers to staid conservative secular France.

Except that France isn’t really that secular.

Sadly, there are a staggering 30,000 registered clairvoyants, astrologers and “faith healers” in the country, far more than there are Catholic priests and Protestant pastors! They make more money than doctors, and their combined revenue from the 10 million or so French who visit them is massive. About half the country believes in “faith healing”, while a quarter say they have great faith in clairvoyants and astrologers. This is a spiritually dark country that has perhaps never been a truly New Testament Christian nation. It is obviously ready for the truth, but under a cloud of demonic influence.

Where to from here? It looks like there is a slow burning growth across the Anglo-Saxon segment of the evangelicals. Rapid growth is occurring among the gypsy travellers but it will be hard for this growth to jump to the mainstream culture. While there is sometimes a high level of insularity among the new arrivals, fortunately we are now witnessing aggressive evangelism from some of them. One immigrant church of 3,000 in a predominantly Muslim area of Paris is known for its bold street evangelism.

So France is now 1% born again Christian, but most of these are black African or travellers. It will be a long time before the average white Frenchman starts to notice what is happening in his home village or suburb.

Let’s hope there is not another War of Religion lurking somewhere out in the future.

Kevin Davis

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