The Eclipse of White Christian America

Jul 19, 2016

By Robert P. Jones

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 conversations and shaped American ideals. But today, many white Christian Americans feel profoundly anxious as their numbers and influence are waning. The two primary branches of their family tree, white mainline and white evangelical Protestants, offer competing narratives about their decline. White mainline Protestants blame evangelical Protestants for turning off the younger generation with their anti-gay rhetoric and tendency to conflate Christianity with conservative, nationalist politics. White evangelical Protestants, on the other hand, blame mainline Protestants for undermining Christianity because of their willingness to sell out traditional beliefs to accommodate contemporary culture.

The key question is not why one white Protestant subgroup is faring worse than another, but why white Protestantism as a whole—arguably the most powerful cultural force in the history of the United States—has faded. The answer is, in part, a matter of powerful demographic changes.

In 2004, the same year that Americans reelected George W. Bush as president, the U.S. Census Bureau made waves by predicting that by 2050 the United States would no longer be a majority-white nation. Four years later, when Americans elected Barack Obama as their first African American head of state, the Census Bureau lowered that threshold year to 2042. When Obama was reelected in 2012, population experts forecasted that by 2060 whites will see their numbers decline for the first time in American history, while the number of people who identify as multiracial will nearly triple and the number of Hispanics and Asians will more than double. Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, summed up the magnitude of these shifts for The New York Times: “No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change.”

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14 comments on “The Eclipse of White Christian America

  • As far as I understand the science, there is one human race, homo sapiens ? Am I wrong ? White, black, yellow, brown, green or whatever skin colour are all homo sapiens ? If so, stop trying to apply social classifications to scientific ones. Yes, I live in London and regularly come into contact with other members of homo sapiens, and yes some have different skin colours. So bloody what ? It seems even in the reactionary USA, that Christianity is losing its stranglehold on people’s mind. To me at least, a cause for celebration.

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  • With respect Mr DArcy this is not a scientific article. It is a social science one. In the social sciences ethnic groups are worth discussing because people perceive such things and modify their behaviour accordingly. Sure, it would be nice if they didn’t but this is looking at how people behave now not in some idealised future.

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  • Having grown up, been educated and worked in an historically multicultural environment, I have no problem with continuing to do so. Part of this experience is acknowledging the differences in looks, behavior, priorities, and preferences in all things by many people. This does not mean abandoning or apologizing for one’s own ethnic identity There is no doubt in my mind that the source of these differences is partly genetic due to pressures of selection on our ancestors over 100,000 years or so of migration, climate, diet, disease, and all manner of natural and social pressures. Biology is not politically correct. These differences cannot be denied just for political expediency or power plays by politicians. Those who chose to become part of this crazy city, for hundreds of years, came to reinvent themselves, to claim a new life. The current impending election is not so much a battle of old white christians versus a variety with equal rights, as the founding fathers attempted to establish, but of keeping our potential options open, versus the crushing cancer of islamification, as is happening in Europe – which is the game plan of the open borders, global approach of the current Democratic party. Many people must now rethink their choices.

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  • To Janice #3:

    Biology is not politically correct.

    You are very correct on the one! The US is overpopulated when one considers the population/resources ratio. So objecting to a limit on immigration, whether it be in Europe or the US, is NOT racist or xenophobic. Those mental disorders may be the case for some people, but not for most population biologists. I would also have the government utilize tax incentives for those couples having 2 or less children. That is not bringing on a punishment for families having more than 2 children. I would say that the population of the US should be closer to 100 million, not 350 million.

    In addition, although I cannot stand the idea of Trump being our president, I do favor building that wall. The entire approach by Trump to solve world problems is all wrong. He would make economic slaves of most of us if he could. However, the notion of the Pope for us to “build bridges, not walls” is silly and typical for the RCC with respect to ecological reality. I again suggest that an atheist run for president in 2020. The ensuing discussion and debate, although furious, would be a heathy one for the US to have (if the atheist candidate could avoid an assassination in our gun crazed “Christian” nation).

    It is clearly wrong to single out Muslims as enemies, it should be ALL religions.

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  • 7
    Mencken_Fan says:

    Homo Sapiens is not a race, it’s a species; one consisting of multiple races each with their own particular genetic traits.

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  • I believe the importance of these changes lies not in the whiteness, but in the Protestant ethic and the changes in that ethic.

    Richard Rodriguez, in an NPR commentary I will never forget, pointed out over 20 years ago that it was the tolerance of the protestants that had made “America” possible.

    He wondered about whether the Catholicism of his fore-bearers would have been so tolerant.

    In the last 20+ years we’ve seen the rise of an intolerant Protestant ethic, along with a perceived rise in immigration by groups that do not assimilate as much into American society as previous generations did (I hesitantly share this concern).

    As a white baby boomer raised by traditional Lutheran parents, I mourn the loss of that tolerant, pluralistic culture, while at the same time I contribute to the change with a multi-ethnic son.

    I hope he will be as tolerant, and as good a contributor to a healthy society, as his white Protestant ancestors, even though he is neither.

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    Hillary Clinton has chosen Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine to be her running mate, turning to a steady and seasoned hand in government to fill out the Democratic ticket, she announced Friday.

    Kaine’s midwestern roots also run strong: Born in Minnesota, Kaine is the son of a welder who was raised in Kansas and graduated from the University of Missouri. He went to Harvard law school, but before graduating served a year as a missionary in Honduras.

    It was an experience that cemented his Catholic faith and strengthened his fluency in Spanish. Kaine was the first member to give an entire speech on the Senate floor in Spanish. It was during a debate in support of the bipartisan “Gang of 8” immigration reform package.

    Quite a contrast to Trump, and a Catholic rather than a Protestant evangelist!

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  • Interestingly despite being a Catholic he seems to be able to make practical beneficial decisions, although this will need watching if he is in a position of power. .

    Kaine is not as liberal as some Democrats would prefer on a range of issues, most prominently trade and abortion rights.

    Groups that favor abortion rights also chose not to criticize Kaine, with the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws noting his legislative record.
    “While Senator Kaine has been open about his personal reservations abut abortion, he’s maintained a 100% pro-choice voting record in the US Senate,” the group said in a statement. “When he was governor, Tim Kaine took positions we disagreed with and actively campaigned against. We’re pleased that since then, his votes and public statements have been consistently in favor of trusting women to make our own decisions.”
    Planned Parenthood also noted his 100% rating on their scorecard, calling him a “thoughtful running mate with integrity.”

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  • although this will need watching if he is in a position of power. .

    I can understand some reticence, but he’s clearly pro choice and I think that’s all that matters for practical purposes. No one is “for” abortion, just for a woman’s ability to choose what to do with her body. Kaine makes it very clear that he is on board with this regardless of the dogma of his faith.

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  • Steven007 #11
    Jul 23, 2016 at 2:38 pm

    I can understand some reticence, but he’s clearly pro choice and I think that’s all that matters for practical purposes.

    He appears to be taking the position taken by many Catholics on abortion and contraception – He pays lip-service to dogma in public, but pragmatically gets on with practical issues when it comes to real-world decisions.

    I do however consider his comments on banking as suspect!

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  • Agreed. He’s not perfect by any means, but he’s a reasonable politician with a relatively clean record and a proven ability to work both sides of the aisle. He’s had some offshore drilling concerns and his early support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which he has now stepped back to align better with HRC) was troubling. But he’s clearly for reasonable gun control, is pro choice and is not a science denier. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s fluent in a foreign language (Spanish). It’s a solid choice.

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  • 14
    bonnie2 says:

    Citizen Kaine, attended a Jesuit high school located in a big city, but directly across conservative Kanas state line.

    Explains (to me anyway) his boy-next-door look, politically correct stances.

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