Christianity in Mongolia

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Christianity in Mongolia is a minority religion. Accounts of the exact number of Christians vary as no nationwide statistics have even been released. As of 2005, the United States Department of State reports that approximately 24,000 Christians live in Mongolia's capital, Ulaanbaatar, which is around 2.5 percent of the entire registered population of the city.[1] With the end of Mongolia's communist regime in 1990, numbers of Christian followers have steadily increased again.

Foreign Christian missionary groups have returned to Mongolia, including Roman Catholics, Lutherans, Russian Orthodox, Presbyterians, Seventh-day Adventists, various evangelical Protestant groups, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and Jehovah's Witnesses. There are about 200 Evangelical Churches in Mongolia.[2] According to the Christian missionary group Barnabas Fund, the number of Christians grew from just four in 1989 to around 40,000 as of 2008.[3]

Statistics[edit]

Russian Orthodox Holy Trinity Church (Svyato-Troitsky Parish) in Ulaanbaatar
Year Christians Percent
1989 4 0.0%
1990 10 0.0%
1998 7,000[4] 0.3%
2008 60,000[5] 2.1%

The 2010 National Census counted 41,117 Christians (age of 15 and older) or 2.1% of total population.[6]

Nestorianism[edit]

Nestorianism was the first form of Christianity to be proselytized among the Mongols, in the 7th century,[7] and several Mongol tribes became primarily Christian. During the rise of the Mongol Empire in the 13th century, the Great Khans, though mostly Shamanists and Buddhist, were religiously tolerant towards the Nestorian Christians, Muslims, and Manichaeans.[8] Many of the khans had Nestorian Christian wives from the Kerait clan, who were extremely influential in the Mongol court. During the rule of Möngke Khan, Christianity was the primary religious influence. After the breakup of the Mongol Empire in the 14th century, Nestorian Christianity nearly disappeared from the region.[9]

There are only very few archeological traces of the prospering of Nestorianism among the Mongols.[10] In Inner Mongolia, several Nestorian gravestones have been recorded in the past, but none now remain in situ.[11]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

Western Catholicism was first introduced in medieval times, primarily through Franciscan and Dominican missionaries, sent to the Mongol court in Karakorum and also via Medieval Roman Catholic Missions in China. Missionaries to China were successful during the Mongol-created Yuan Dynasty in China in the late 13th/early 14th centuries. However, after the native Chinese Ming Dynasty overthrew the Yuan Dynasty in 1368, Christians were expelled from China. Many Mongols in the western part of the Empire converted to Islam, and with the collapse of the entire Mongol Empire in the 14th century, Christianity nearly disappeared from Central Asia, only reappearing after the Second Opium war in the mid-19th century. In time, a mission was founded for Outer Mongolia, giving Mongolia its first Roman Catholic jurisdiction, but all work ceased within a year when a communist regime came to power and freedom of thought and religion were no longer permitted.[12]

With the introduction of democracy in 1990, Roman Catholic missionaries returned and rebuilt the church from scratch. As of 2006, there is an Apostolic Prefecture, a bishop, three churches, and diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Mongolia since 1992. Pope John Paul II originally planned to visit Mongolia along with Kazan, but he eventually cancelled the trip, supposedly explaining to a Russian newspaper that "Our Lord does not want it".[13]

Orthodoxy[edit]

The Orthodox Churches and its monks became victims to the Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe in the early 13th century. However, Jarlig or charter of immunity, also contributed to the strengthening of the Church. With the reign of Möngke-Temür, a jarlig was issued to Metropolitan Kirill for the Orthodox Church in 1267. While the church had been under the de facto protection of the Mongols ten years earlier (from the 1257 census conducted under Khan Berke), this jarliq formally decreed protection for the Orthodox Church. More importantly, it officially exempted the church from any form of taxation by Mongol or Russian authorities and permitted that clergymen not be registered during censuses and that they were furthermore not liable for forced labor or military service. For the first time, the Orthodox church would become less dependent on princely powers than in any other period of Russian history.[14]

From 1771 to 1845 at least eight missions of the Russian Orthodox Church visited Mongolia. The first Orthodox church on Mongolian territory, Holy Trinity Church (Свято-Троицкая церковь), was established in Khalkha's capital city Urga in 1872,[15] and newly rebuilt there in 2007.[16]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints[edit]

Mormon missionaries arrived in Ulan Bator in 1992. Since that time over 8,000 people have been baptized in this church. The first LDS meetinghouse was dedicated in 1999. As of July 2009, 21 congregations exist in Mongolia. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has one of the highest conversion rates of any Christian religion in Mongolia.[17]

Protestantism[edit]

An LDS Church in a ger district in Ulaanbaatar

Protestant Christian teaching did not reach Mongolia until the mid-19th century, brought by missionaries such as James Gilmour. As with Roman Catholicism, the rise of a Communist government in Mongolia caused the number of Protestant followers to rapidly decrease.[18] As with Catholicism, Protestant missionaries, often based in South Korea or the United States, have begun evangelizing after the introduction of democracy.

Currently the Mongolian Evangelical Association estimates there are 35,000 Protestant Christians in Mongolia. The country also has a local Christian TV station, Eagle Television, and a pro-Christian radio station, Family Radio. Mongolian Protestant churches send many missionaries into Central Asia.

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Mongolia International: Religious Freedom Report 2005". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  2. ^ According to Journeyman Pictures
  3. ^ Religions in Mongolia
  4. ^ Adherents.com
  5. ^ Christianity growing fast in Mongolia - Missionaries convert thousands while Buddhists fear losing traditional culture
  6. ^ National Census 2010
  7. ^ "Mongolia profile". OMF International. Retrieved January 26, 2010. 
  8. ^ "A History of Religion in Mongolia". Mongolus.Net. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  9. ^ Gaby Bamana, ed., Christianity and Mongolia: Past and Present (Ulaanbaatar: Antoon Mostaert Center, 2006).
  10. ^ "Nestorianism in Central Asia during the First Millennium". jaas.org. Retrieved 2010-09-15. , p.45
  11. ^ Tjalling H. F. Halbertsma, Early Christian Remains of Inner Mongolia: Discovery, Reconstruction, and Appropriation (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
  12. ^ Jeroom Heyndrickx, "The Catholic Mongol Mission", in Bamana, ed., 89-104.
  13. ^ "Pope John Paul II cancels visits to Mongolia and Kazan". News from Russia. 2003-08-30. Retrieved 2006-10-31. 
  14. ^ Halperin, Charles J. "George Vernadsky, Eurasianism, the Mongols, and Russia", Slavic Review, Vol. 41, No. 3, Autumn, 1982: 477-493
  15. ^ L. Altanzayaa, "Regarding the Protection of Russian Orthodox Priests in Mongolia", in Bamana, ed., 79-88.
  16. ^ http://www.orthodox.cn/news/20060905mongolia_en.htm
  17. ^ http://www.unuudur.com/?p=10747
  18. ^ Bamana, ed., 54-78.