- Roman Catholicism was founded in Gabon in the 1600s by members of the Capuchin Order from Italy and later promoted by Portuguese priests and other Catholic orders. Libreville, founded as a town for freed slaves, became the capital of a French colony in the 19th century.Missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions arrived in 1842. Their work was turned over to American Presbyterians in 1870 and then to the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society (of the Reformed Church of France). The mission became independent in 1960, when the country became independent, and is now called the Evangelical Church of Gabon. The Paris Mission, which operated primarily in the northern half of Gabon, encouraged the Christian and MissionaryAlliance to begin work in the south, beginning in 1934. The CMA mission became autonomous as the Evangelical Church of South Gabon. The South Gabon church is now the larger of the two; together they dominate Protestant efforts. The Evangelical Church of Gabon is a member of the World Council of Churches.The Church of the initiates (the Bwiti movement) mixes Christianity and the traditional religion of the Fang people and encourages the use of the mood-altering drug eboga. it has claimed more than 100,000 adherents.Since independence, the country has gone through several transitions regarding religious freedom, beginning with the conversion of the president to Islam in 1973. Several groups were officially banned in the 1980s, including the Salvation Army, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Church of the Cherubim and Seraphim (an African Initiated Church), and the Bethany Church. By 1991, governmental changes led to the lifting of all the bans.Further reading:■ Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk, Operation World, 21st Century Edition (Carlisle, Cumbria, U.K.: Paternoster, 2001)■ E. Kruger, "Le gabon," in R. Blanc, J. Blocher and E. Kruger, eds., Historie des missions protestantes françaises (Flavion, Belgium: Editions la Phare, 1970).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.