What can we take away from our brief overview of The End of White Christian America?
A Changing America.
For me, the biggest take-away is this: we live in a changing country. Here, from the book’s dust cover, let’s read again the change author Robert P. Jones writes about.
“For most of the country’s history, White Christian America—the cultural and political edifice built primarily by white Protestant Christians—set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals. But in recent decades new immigration patterns, changing birth rates, and religious disaffiliation have transformed the United States. The year 1993 was the last in which white Protestants constituted a majority of the population. Today, even when Catholics are included, white Christians make up less than half of the country.”
White Protestant Christians have pretty much from the beginning “set the tone for our national policy and shaped American ideals.” Now the U.S. has been transformed by immigration, lowered white birth rates and the exodus of young adults from the church. For the last thirteen years white Christians have been less than half of our population. Projections promise more of the same tomorrow.
” . . . Jones shows how today’s most heated controversies—the strident rise of a white politics of nostalgia following the election of the nation’s first black president; the apocalyptic tone of arguments over same-sex marriage and religious liberty; the stark disagreements between white and black Americans over the fairness of the justice system—can be fully understood only in the context of the anxieties that white Christians feel as the racial, religious, and cultural landscape has changed around them.”
Jones implies that we “white Christians” are huddling together, trembling as we watch our familiar world crumble around us, leaving ever-shrinking, safe ground on which to stand. We may not understand these changes. We may wish for the Sheriff Andy in Mayberry days. We may be unsure of our next step. But we’re not biting our nails afraid of apocalyptic disasters. Though we are anxious about America’s future . . .
“Today, although they still retain considerable power in the South and within the Republican Party, white Christians lack their former political and social clout . . . ”
Hear the sigh of relief from many of us after Trump’s election victory? Maybe God gave us a reprieve! Perhaps Ozzie and Harriet live for a little while yet! The fact that many don’t know who Ozzie and Harriet were shows how far we’ve come. A reprieve–maybe. But “white Christians lack their former political and social clout.” And, if projections are correct (polls couldn’t be wrong, right?), there’s no going back. The tide of transformation is relentless.
Misplaced Reliance on Government.
Majority or minority, we’re right to use our religious freedom for life and against abortion, for the sanctity of man-woman marriage and against same-sex marriage, for Christians to practice the faith in the market place and against the progressive view that sexual “freedom” trumps religious freedom. But we can’t rely on the government to be salt and light.
Who knows what a Trump presidency will bring? We can hope for conservative constitutionalist nominations to the Supreme Court. For an improved economy that will lift people out of poverty and even quench fiery race relations. For a world somewhat safer from terrorism. But faith in human government (even headed by not-a-politician) will be misplaced and futile.
Rather than breathing that relief-sigh, expecting that a new political administration will “make America great again”, The End of White Christian America should not only inform us of being a country in flux. It should also move us (however many of us there are!) to live radically as devoted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Colony of Heaven.
Stanley Hauerwas, is a United Methodist theologian and ethicist, currently the Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. In The End of White Christian America, author Jones cites Hauerwas’ call for the church to be “‘a colony of heaven’ comprised of Christians who are ‘resident aliens’ in a strange land.” Hauerwas (in his book, Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony) “emphasized Christianity’s function as an institution separate from politics and worldly affair, not an insider in the halls of power.
In Hauerwas’ vision, the demise of the ‘Christian century’ aspiration was actually an opportunity for a new, truer Christian faithfulness: ‘The gradual decline of the notion that the church needs some sort of surrounding “Christian” culture to prop it up and molds its young is not a death to lament. It is an opportunity to celebrate” (p. 213, 214).
Here are several additional quotes from Hauerwas’ book. They form a fitting way for our “take-aways” from The End of White Christian America—a launching pad to thrust us into the new era of this country as the church of Jesus Christ.
“The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.”
“We believe that many Christians do not fully appreciate the odd way in which the church, when it is most faithful, goes about its business. We want to claim the church’s “oddness” as essential to its faithfulness . . .
“The church is not to be judged by how useful we are as a ‘supportive institution’ and our clergy as members of a ‘helping profession’. The church has its own reason for being, hid within its own mandate and not found in the world. We are not chartered by the Emperor.”
“The cross is not a sign of the church’s quiet, suffering submission to the powers-that-be, but rather the church’s revolutionary participation in the victory of Christ over those powers. The cross is not a symbol for general human suffering and oppression. Rather, the cross is a sign of what happens when one takes God’s account of reality more seriously than Caesar’s. The cross stands as God’s (and our) eternal no to the powers of death, as well as God’s eternal yes to humanity, God’s remarkable determination not to leave us to our own devices.”
“We would like a church that again asserts that God, not nations, rules the world, that the boundaries of God’s kingdom transcend those of Caesar, and that the main political task of the church is the formation of people who see clearly the cost of discipleship and are willing to pay the price.”