- Protestantism entered the Caribbean as part of the Dutch and English attempt to challenge Spanish hegemony. The elimination of most of the native inhabitants (Caribs, Arawaks) in the 16th century and their replacement by African slaves, and later Hindu Asians, forms the backdrop for the religious history of the region.Spanish colonists established Roman Catholicism wherever they settled, at first on Jamaica and Cuba. The Dutch challenge began with the takeover of Curaçao in 1634 and Bonaire in 1648. The Dutch brought the Reformed Church of the Netherlands in the 1650s, though it largely served only the European settlers. The Lutheran Church of the Netherlands arrived a short time later.British attention to the Caribbean increased after the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588. British privateers roamed the area, harassing Spanish ships. The Bahamas became an early haven for the privateers. Real settlement began in the 17th century, starting with previously uninhabited Bermuda in 1609. The real push came after the Restoration of the monarchy in the 1660s; the loss of North American colonies in the American Revolution provided a renewed incentive a century later. The need for slaves to work the plantations in Jamaica (taken from Spain in 1655) and the Bahamas was an important factor involving the British in the slave trade.The Danish placed settlements in the western Virgin Islands in the 17th century, and later joined in developing the slave culture. Although Denmark never played a major political role in the Caribbean, its settlement of the Virgin Islands was a key factor in the emergence of the Protestant missionary movement. With its New World outlook, Denmark funded the first Protestant foreign mission at the start of the 18th century - the Danish-Halle Mission in India. In 1731, in Copenhagen, Nicolas von Zinzendorf, the leader of the Moravian Church, had a chance meeting with Anthony, a slave who had become a Christian. Anthony's call for someone to bring the Gospel to his fellow slaves received an enthusiastic response. In 1732, the Moravians commissioned Leonhard Dober (1706-66) and David Nitchmann (1696-1772) as missionaries to the island of st. Thomas, as a first step in the Moravian missionary drive that took them in the next few decades to India, North America, and Africa, and brought about the chance encounter between missionary Peter Böhler (1712-75) and John Wesley that so influenced the founding of Methodism.The work on st. Thomas soon spilled over to st. Croix and st. John, and grew in spite of the opposition of most of the plantation owners and the other ministers, one of whom eventually had the Moravian missionaries arrested. Nevertheless, the mission thrived and moved on to Jamaica (1754), Barbados (1765), Antigua (1771), St. Kitts (1777), and Tobago (1790). The church did well in the next century among freed slaves, who remembered it to be one of the few groups who identified with them during the slave era. The other church Africans looked to favorably was the Methodist.In the meantime, with the spread of British hegemony over an increasing number of the Islands, the Church of England was becoming a powerful force at least among British settlers.Methodist international expansion had been focused on the British North American colonies. Following the independence of the United States, Bishop Thomas Coke helped develop a new missionary vision for the church with his 1784 "Plan of the Society for the Establishment of Works among the Heathen," and his subsequent trip to the Caribbean two years later. Methodism had an earlier start on Antigua at the plantation of Nathaniel Gilbert, who had worked to convert his slaves. Coke would make several visits to the Caribbean, and the movement spread through the islands in the 1790s. The early efforts of the Anglicans, Moravians, and Methodists were eventually consolidated in several denominational churches: the Church of the Province of the West Indies; the Moravian Church, East Indian Province; the Moravian Church of Jamaica; and the Methodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas.The Baptists came to the Caribbean as a result of the American Revolution. George Lisle (c. 1750-1828), who had helped organize African-American Baptists in South Carolina, left his home when the British pulled out of South Carolina and made his way to Jamaica. There, in 1783, he founded the first Baptist congregation. In the 1890s, British Baptists were inspired by William Carey's An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792). While the Baptist Missionary Society was drawn to India initially, in 1814 it sentJohn Rowe (in spite of the law against preaching to the slaves, passed in 1806). The work of Lisle and Rowe continues in the Jamaica Baptist Union. The spread of the Baptist church through the Caribbean was greatly assisted by the formation of the Jamaica Baptist Missionary Society in 1843. It, in turn, would send missionaries to Africa and Central America.The Anglicans, Moravians, Methodists, and Baptists dominated the religious life of those Caribbean islands included in the British Empire, with both Reformed and Lutheran churches active in the islands under Dutch and Danish authority. Roman Catholicism dominated in those islands that continued under Spanish or French control. Protestantism came to the French islands along with French citizens who moved to the islands, and the Reformed Church they founded was usually confined to the French population. Protestants entered Haiti after the Haitian government gained control of the whole of the island of His-panola (1822) and encouraged blacks from the United States to migrate there. The coming of Protestants to Cuba occurred in the wake of the Spanish-American War (1898).That war focused the attention of American churches not just on Cuba, but on the Caribbean as a whole. In its wake, the number of groups targeting Caribbean islands, including several large African-American denominations, rose sharply. The nearness of the islands allowed some of the newer and smaller groups to support missionary work there while building strength for Africa and Asia. Early in the 20th century, several Holiness groups - the Church of God (Anderson,Indi-ana), the Church of the Nazarene, the Pilgrim Holiness Church (now part of the Wesleyan Church), the Salvation Army - began their spread through the Caribbean.By the middle of the century, the Holiness churches began to be overshadowed by Pentecostal churches. The Assemblies of God, the Church of God (Cleveland,Tennessee), and the Church of God of Prophecy took the lead, but others soon followed. Paralleling the growth ofPentecostalism, a variety of independent indigenous churches and movements emerged.Among notable efforts by independent Evangelical missions is the Evangelical Church of the West Indies begun in Cuba in 1928. The group's work spread to Haiti in 1936 and then to the Dominican Republic (1939), Jamaica (1945), and Guadaloupe (1947). In 1949, it began a concerted effort to reach the islands of the eastern Caribbean. The original mission effort has evolved into World-Team, with a focus far beyond the West indies, while the work in the West indies evolved into the Evangelical Church of the West indies.As the 21st century begins, the older Protestant churches in the Caribbean have associated together in the Caribbean Conference of Churches, itself associated with the World Council of Churches. Some of the newer Evangelical groups now cooperate with the World Evangelical Alliance and its affiliate, the Evangelical Association of the Caribbean (which has chapters on many of the islands). Recent estimates suggest that about 80 percent of the residents of the Caribbean islands are Christians, with about three-fourths of them belonging to the Roman Catholic Church.Through the 20th century, the progress of Christianity has been affected by the relative poverty of the region, as well as by the difficulties in travel imposed by the island environment. one response to the poverty has been the formation of a variety of new competing religions such as the Rastafarians and the Spiritual Baptists, which draw heavily on Protestantism. The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have also developed a presence throughout the Caribbean.See also Anguilla; Antigua; Bahamas; Bermuda; Cuba; Grenada; Guadaloupe; Guyana; Haiti; Jamaica; Puerto Rico.Further reading:■ David Barrett, The Encyclopedia of World Christianity, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World, 21st Century Edition (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster, 2001)■ J. Herbert Kane, A Global View of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1971)■ J. Gordon Melton and Martin Baumann, eds., Religions of the World: A Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Beliefs and Practices (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002)■ A. Scott Moreau, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 2000).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.