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For the majority of you reading this column, America has always been called a Christian nation. Even someone as amoral as our current president feels the need to pay lip service to this concept.
Congruently with this perception of American Christianity is its attachment to its whiteness.
But change is moving swiftly forward and U.S. demographics are morphing into changes that will affect American society with far-reaching consequences. In a recent report entitled “America’s Changing Religious Identity,” the nonpartisan Public Religious Research Institute concluded that white Christians were now a minority in the U.S. population.
Research indicates two underlying reasons for the demise of white Christian America.
One is the “disaffiliation of young people in particular from Christian churches,” according to Robert P. Jones, author of “The End of White Christian America.” Among the young, there are proportionately fewer Christians.
The youngest faiths in America, those with the largest proportion of young adherents, are Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Politicized white Christian identity remains a strong force of right-wing politics. The Republican Party’s base has remained overwhelmingly white and Christian. Even Trump’s promise of a wall and the crackdown on immigration reflect the values of white evangelicals, who among all faith groups are the most hostile to the issue of immigration.
As the effects of white Christian America’s loss of its once dominant role in America’s political process materialize, the institutions and corporations that relied on its seeming homogeneity are already moving on.
In 2010, the YMCA changed its name to “The Y.” It did so in order to make it a more broadly accepting place to people from all walks of life and faiths.
The Boy Scouts, in 2013, allowed openly gay youth to participate and in 2015 lifted the ban on gay scout leaders.
Corporate America, which spends billions a year on market research, already understands that white Christian America’s heyday has passed. Honey Maid’s “This is Wholesome” ad in 2014 depicted gay fathers with tattoos and interracial families. General Mills has “The Cheerios Effect,” which features two gay dads and their adopted daughter, and Tylenol is showing “#HowWeFamily, with a lesbian couple smiling at the camera at the prom and an interracial couple kissing at their wedding.
The demise of the once strong impact of white Christian America’s mark on U.S. society and its political system is cause for panic in many quarters of our nation. For many it is cause for much grief, even denial. For others, it is cause for relief and even celebration.
For this writer, it is clear that many white evangelicals have joined in a grand bargain with one who calls himself the great dealmaker, Donald Trump, with the hope that in this bargain their President Trump will stem the tide of this cultural tidal change and turn back the clock to their glory days.
The most likely outcome will be only a temporary propping up, by pure exertions of political and legal power. But the short-term victories will come at an exorbitant price. As I see this history unfolding, I believe it will be seen as a time when white evangelicals traded away their integrity and influence in an effort to resurrect their past. This is much like the Old Testament character Esau, who sold his birthright for a pot of stew.
The major trends transforming American society will continue. Most likely, the white evangelicals’ decision to go to bed with Trump might very well speed up the very changes they were seeking to stop.
In the finality of this issue of the forward movement of change regarding cultural norms, the sheer weight and natural force of this issue, the descendants of white Christian America will be left with only one way to go: Change!
Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.