In a 2014 Super Bowl ad “the camera panned over Americans clad in everything from cowboy hats to yarmulkes to hijabs—including an interracial gay couple at a roller rink with their daughter—over a soundtrack of ‘America the Beautiful’ sung in seven different languages” (The End of White Christian America, p.46). Not your familiar Coke commercial. Nor are these statistics familiar.
The proportion of white Christians has fallen to 47%. Americans not affiliated with any religious group has grown to 22%. ” . . . young adults (ages 18-29) are less than half as likely to be white Christians as seniors (age 65 and older).” Demographic changes, such as immigration and birth rates, are contributing to the declining proportion of white Christians. But “the other major force [is} young adults’ (ages 18-29) rejection of organized religion.”
Author of this book, Robert P. Jones, founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute, comments: “Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once dominant racial and religious identity . . . threatens white Christians’ understanding of America itself.”
I’m writing, not because this shift threatens us, but because it’s important that we understand the America in which we follow and bear witness of Jesus. When I was a kid . . . Well, I’m no longer a kid and the country’s not like it was then, and probably never will be.
Another statistic. In 1972 white Protestants’ median age was 46. Now it’s 53. (Median age of all Americans is 46.) Mainline and evangelical Protestants are aging and, says Jones, “quickly losing ground as a proportion of the population” (p. 56).
When I was a kid . . . Let’s try that again. I assumed that my Protestant faith was virtually universal (except for Catholics and Jews). Now, Jones observes, “the incursion of the Internet and national cable news has made it impossible for White Christian America’s contemporary descendants (this generation) to assume that [Protestant faith is universal] . . . ” In other words, our children see their faith as one among many faiths in the world, and even among many in the country. They know, just by absorbing America as it is today, that their belief-system isn’t prevailing and may be the minority.
It’s becoming obvious to adults, as Jones concludes, that White Christian Americans “no longer have the numbers or the cultural authority to dominate American public life” (p. 77).
Jones refers to Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2008 as “the most visible symbolic challenge to White Christian America’s hold on the country” (p. 80). He goes so far as to claim that “Obama’s election had challenged many whites cultural assumption—that the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) was the only authentic model of citizenship” (p. 82).
I object to that vague (“many whites cultural assumption”) racist charge! As far as I can tell, many whites did not assume WASP was “the only authentic model of citizenship”! And I think the more we make that claim, the more we fuel the racism that divides us. This, too, marks us as a changing country: opportunities for African-Americans have never been greater, but racism remains—and some who rightly condemn it so vociferously inadvertently further it.
White Christian America would seem (at least in Jones’ view) to have lost its political clout. And yet, Johnnie Moore, a spokesman for “My Faith Votes”, said, “The sweeping support evangelicals gave Donald Trump on Election Day was stoked by their fear that Christianity is being killed off” (http://www.newsmax.com/Newsmax-Tv/johnnie-moore-evangelical-panic-christianity/2016/11/11/id/758477/?ns_mail_uid=95913738&ns_mail_job=1695851_1112201 In other words, our clout is being killed, but ain’t dead yet.
If White Christian America is losing political clout (I doubt we fear Christianity is being killed off!), that’s bad news for the Republican party. (More evangelicals vote Republican because that party’s conservative principles harmonize more with a biblical worldview.) So Jones, as many others, urges Republicans to respond by “rebranding their conservatism to appeal to women, ethnic minorities, and young people.”
The same advice, by the way, has been urged upon the church. If we’re to reach young adults we have to rethink the role of women in the church, welcome the LGBT community, perform same-sex marriages, change our church-building rest rooms, etc. In other words, we have to give “progressive” people what they want regardless of the Bible’s moral authority. So goes the argument.
If the changes I’ve noted here seem a bit disorienting, that’s because they are. America’s no longer the country it once was. If it was “White Christian”, it is no longer. Gone are the days when society at least mildly reinforces basic tenets of the faith. Increasingly now it barely tolerates them. And when it comes to favored progressive positions (abortion, LGBT demands, for example), it loudly and “legally” opposes them.
Counter: A Better Country.
But note this: the Lord hasn’t lost. Nor has his church. However, it is time for us to stop feeling shocked at how immorality (by biblical standards) is winning approval in the name of “rights”. It’s also time for us to stop assuming the “right” people in political office will make everything okay again.
Rather it’s time for us Jesus followers to get on a war footing. Not to brandish this world’s weapons, but the weapons of righteousness our Lord gives us. And thereby show a declining country there’s a better one . . .