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Christianity in the West Indies


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The earliest evangelization was carried out by RC missionaries who came with the Spanish colonists in the late 15th cent. The aboriginal population was, however, largely exterminated and replaced by slaves from West Africa. In the 17th cent. there was colonization by other nations. In the French islands, the Code Noir of 1685 prescribed that all slaves should be instructed and baptized into the Catholic religion, but the cruelty with which they were treated led to antagonism. In the islands ruled by the British, the C of E was established, but until the 19th cent. it did little to evangelize the slaves. Missionary work was, however, undertaken by the Moravians, Methodists, Baptists, and (from 1824) by the Presbyterians. In the Danish territories a royal ordinance of 1755 provided that God's Word should be preached to the slaves and their children baptized like other people's; Lutheran missions were subsequently established. In 1808 the Bp. of London recommended that Sunday Schools should be set up for the education of Black children; in 1824 the bishoprics of Jamaica and Barbados were established. Between 1868 and 1870 the C of E was disestablished everywhere except in Barbados, and in 1883 the Church in the West Indies was constituted an independent Province of the Anglican Communion.

In those areas which were originally Spanish or French the RC Church retained its predominance, and when Trinidad and Tobago were ceded to Britain in 1802 no change was made in the status of the RC Church. In 1820 a bishopric was created for the Port of Spain; this post, now an archbishopric, was filled by a West Indian for the first time in 1971. Other Churches have also gradually developed indigenous ministries. Since the mid-20th cent. Pentecostalism has flourished. The two largest groups of Pentecostals are the Church of God and the New Testament Church of God. Most of the Afro-Americans accepted some form of Christianity, but the Oriental immigrants have largely retained their own religions.

Subjects: Christianity.


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