- Several different African peoples occupied the land of present-day Benin in centuries past. The Fon people had established Ouidah as a major West African seaport that in the 18th century was a frequent calling point for slave ships.Benin remained in African hands until the 1890s, when the French turned it into a colony known as Dahomey. in the process, they destroyed the economic base of the land, palm oil and agriculture. Having run the colony into bankruptcy, in 1960 they abandoned it, and the present nation of Benin emerged.Benin became a religious battleground with islam expanding from the north and west, while Catholics and Protestants launched missions in the 19th century. African Methodist convert and missionary Thomas Birch Freeman (1809-90) began the Protestant work. It has persisted steadily for a century and a half, and the Methodist Protestant Church of Benin remains the largest non-Catholic Christian body.There has been no Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregational, or even Baptist work of note. instead, Benin has become a haven for many of the African Initiated Churches (AIC), most of which have spread there from neighboring countries. only a very few, the Celestial Church of Christ being the most prominent example, originated in Benin (as the Heavenly Christianity Church). The united Native African Church, a split from the Anglican Church, was apparently the first AiC to establish itself in Dahomey, in 1895.The African initiated Churches have had a resonance with American Pentecostalism, which appears to have been introduced in the 1930s. The Assemblies of God, with a reported 50,000 members, is by far the largest, and work is also proceeding under the auspices of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, the Church of God of Prophecy, and the United Pentecostal CHuRCH.Ecumenical work has not progressed in Benin as in other countries. The Methodist Protestant Church of Benin is the only group that belongs to the World Council of Churches. Most recently, some of the more conservative bodies have formed the Féderation des Eglises et Missions Evangéliques du Benin, which is affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance. Benin is now approximately 20 percent Muslim, 20 percent Catholic, and 10 percent Protestant-Free Church. About 50 percent of the population continue to follow one of several traditional religions.See also Africa, sub-Saharan.Further reading:■ Samuel Decalo, Historical Dictionary of Benin (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1995)■ M. C. Merlo, "Les sectes du Dahomey" in Devant les sectes nonchrétiennes (Louvain, Belgium: Desclée de Brouwer, 1961)■ World Methodist Council, Handbook of Information (Lake Junaluska, N.C.: World Methodist Council, 2003).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.