Monday, August 15, 2016

PRRI Study: White Christian America is Dying

Robert P. Jones, the founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), has a new book out entitled “The End of White Christian America.” For Christofascists, the findings will likely fuel their rebellion against sanity and modernity.  For others, the findings on white Christianity will be welcomed.  As regular readers know full well, I am no fan of religion in general and conservative Christianity in particular.  Sadly, religion has  brought more death and misery to the world over the centuries than nearly anything else save wars, disease and natural disasters - and many wars were ultimately based on religion  One need look no farther than ISIS and the horrors it has unleashed because of religious dogma.  Closer to home, the ugliness that has engulfed the Republican Party is in many ways based on the hate, racism and general misogyny that are, in my view, synonymous with conservative Christianity.  One delicious irony is that it is the conservative Christians' anti-gay attitudes that are most fueling defections from Christianity as a whole.  Here are some highlights from a Washington Post e-mail interview with Robert P. Jones:
Today, young adults ages 18 to 29 are less than half as likely to be white Christians as seniors age 65 and older. Nearly 7 in 10 American seniors (67 percent) are white Christians, compared to fewer than 3 in 10 (29 percent) young adults.
Although the declining proportion of white Christians is due in part to large-scale demographic shifts — including immigration patterns and differential birth rates — this chart also highlights the other major cause: young adults’ rejection of organized religion. Young adults are three times as likely as seniors to claim no religious affiliation (34 percent versus 11 percent, respectively).
The American religious landscape is being remade, most notably by the decline of the white Protestant majority and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. These religious transformations have been swift and dramatic, occurring largely within the last four decades. Many white Americans have sensed these changes, and there has been some media coverage of the demographic piece of the puzzle. But while the country’s shifting racial dynamics are certainly a source of apprehension for many white Americans, it is the disappearance of White Christian America that is driving their strong, sometimes apocalyptic reactions. Falling numbers and the marginalization of a once-dominant racial and religious identity — one that has been central not just to white Christians themselves but to the national mythos — threatens white Christians’ understanding of America itself.
[O]ver the last decade, we have seen marked decline among white evangelical Protestants, the more conservative part of the white Protestant family. White evangelical Protestants comprised 22 percent of the population in 1988 and still commanded 21 percent of the population in 2008, but their share of the religious market had slipped to 18 percent at the time the book went to press, and our latest 2015 numbers show an additional one-percentage-point slip to 17 percent.
These indicators of white evangelical decline at the national level are corroborated, for example, by internal membership reports during the same period from the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest evangelical Protestant denomination in the country. It has now posted nine straight years of declining growth rates.
As a result, both white mainline Protestants and white evangelical Protestants are graying. In 1972, white Protestants’ median age was 46 years old, only slightly higher than the median age of the American population (44 years old). Today, white Protestants’ median age is 53, compared to 46 among Americans as a whole. Notably, by 2014, there was no difference between the median ages of white evangelical and mainline Protestants.
Catholics simply do not fit neatly into the story of White Christian America. In the book, I use White Christian America as a metaphor for the dominant cultural and institutional world built primarily by white Protestants, which until recently set the terms and tone for national debates and served as a kind of “civil glue” for the country, to borrow a term from E.J. Dionne.
While anti-Catholic sentiment has generally cooled today, it remained strong up through the 1960s, as President John F. Kennedy’s campaign demonstrated. In the 19th and early 20th century, many Catholics were seen as neither “white” nor “Christian.”
The rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans over the last few decades is one of the most important and dramatic shifts in American religious history. As recently as the 1990s, less than 1 in 10 Americans claimed no religious affiliation. By 2014, the religiously unaffiliated rivaled Catholics’ share of the religious marketplace, with each group making up 22 percent of the American population.
Looking ahead, there’s no sign that this pattern will fade anytime soon. By 2051, if current trends continue, religiously unaffiliated Americans could comprise as large a percentage of the population as all Protestants combined — a thought that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago.
The reasons for the growth of religiously unaffiliated Americans are complex. First, it should be noted that the growth of this group has come almost entirely at the expense of white Christian denominations, . . . .
When PRRI surveys have asked religiously unaffiliated Americans who were raised religious why they left their childhood religion, respondents have given a variety of reasons — stopped believing in teachings, conflicts with science, lack of time, etc. — but one issue stands out, particularly for younger Americans. About 70 percent of millennials (ages 18-33) believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. And 31 percent of millennials who were raised religious but now claim no religious affiliation report that negative teaching about or treatment of gay and lesbian people by religious organizations was a somewhat or very important factor in their leaving.
I’m certainly critical of the way that white evangelical Protestants have historically intertwined racial segregation and Christianity. That’s a normative perspective, but I don’t take it to be a controversial one.
White evangelicals have themselves started disentangling Christianity and racism, albeit slowly and recently. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention did not get around to apologizing for the role slavery played in the denomination’s founding and for its consistent failure to support civil rights until 1995. And only this year, 2016, did the SBC vote to officially disavow the display of the Confederate battle flag.
The issue of LGBT equality is more complicated and more divisive. But even here, attitudes are shifting. . . . . For example, 45 percent of young evangelicals (ages 18-29) and 43 percent of young Mormons favor same-sex marriage, compared to only 19 percent of white evangelical seniors and 18 percent of Mormon seniors. Most notably, the data show that young Republicans have passed the tipping point: 53 percent of young Republicans now support same-sex marriage. . . . I think younger evangelicals and younger Republicans are increasingly challenging the assumption that equality before the law is a progressive value.
Trump’s appeal to evangelicals was not that he was one of them but that he would “restore power to the Christian churches” if he were elected president. This explicit promise, along with his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, signaled to white evangelical voters that when he crowed about “Making America Great Again,” he meant turning back the clock to a time when conservative white Christians held more influence in the culture. Trump has essentially converted these self-described “values voters” into “nostalgia voters.”
[T]he patterns in the electorate are clear. Every four years, there is a shrinking pool of white Christian voters; if current trends continue, 2024 will be the first year white Christians will not make up a majority of voters nationwide.
I begin the book with an obituary for White Christian America, and I conclude the book with a eulogy. This construction is consistent with the book’s stark title. My argument in the book is that we have already experienced the passing of White Christian America. While this claim is grounded in demographic changes, it is also supported by the fading power of major institutions, such as the National Council of Churches or the Christian Coalition of America. There are no indicators that the country will see the likes of White Christian America as a dominant cultural force again.

Personally, I view the decline - and hoped fro demise - white conservative Christianity as a positive good.  So much of the hate and racism that plagues the nation today ultimate traces back to lily white "Christian" family values organizations which, upon inspection, do little other than fan the flames of hatred and disseminate lies about anyone and everyone who isn't a white conservative Christian.   The work to be done is to continue to expose the truth about these people while dispelling the lies they disseminate - often to gain power or self-enrichment. 

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