The end of white Christian America. What will that mean?

America is a Christian nation: this much has always been a political axiom, especially for conservatives.

Even someone as godless and immoral as the 45th president feels the need to pay lip service to the idea.

On the Christian Broadcasting Network last year, he summarized his own theological position with the phrase: “God is the ultimate.”

And in the conservative mind, American Christianity has long been hitched to whiteness.

The political right learned, over the second half of the 20th century, to talk about this connection using abstractions like “Judeo-Christian values”, alongside coded racial talk, to let voters know which side they were on.

But change is afoot, and US demographics are morphing – with potentially far-reaching consequences.

Last week, in a report entitled America’s Changing Religious Identity, the nonpartisan research organisation called the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) concluded that white Christians were now a minority in the US population.

Soon, white people as a whole will be too.

The survey is no ordinary one. It was based on a huge sample of 101,000 Americans from all 50 states, and concluded that just 43% of the population were white Christians.

To put that in perspective, in 1976, eight in 10 Americans were identified as such, and a full 55% were white Protestants. Even as recently as 1996, white Christians were two-thirds of the population.

White Christianity was always rooted in the nation’s history, demographics and culture. Among North America’s earliest and most revered white settlers were Puritan Protestants.

As well as expecting the return of Christ, they sought to mould a pious community which embodied their goals of moral and ecclesiastical purity.

Successive waves of religious revival, beginning in the 18th century, shaped the nation’s politics and its sense of itself.

In the 1730s, the preacher Jonathan Edwards sought not only the personal conversion of his listeners, but to bring about Christ’s reign on Earth through an increased influence in the colonies.

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Sources

  • The Guardian article by Jason Wilson, an Australian-born writer living in Portland, Oregon.
  • Image: Quartz

News category: Features.

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