Last week I noted how old Mainline Protestantism has become here in America. Back in 2011 I reflected on a group of pastors from one Mainline denomination that labeled their own tradition “deathly ill.” Today, I recognize that death has come not only for that denomination or Mainline Protestantism but also for the Protestantism I have known and lived that is broader yet: White Christian America.
Robert P. Jones’, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, new book “The End of White Christian America (2016),” is both the most important and most challenging book I have read so far this year. He opens the volume with these words:
After a long life spanning nearly two hundred and forty years, White Christian America – a prominent cultural force in the nation’s history – has died . . . The cause of the death was determined to be a combination of environmental and internal factors – complications stemming from major demographic changes in the country, along with religious disaffiliation as many of its younger members began to doubt WCA’s continued relevance . . . (p.1-2).
Jones concludes the obituary by noting that WCA is survived by Mainline Protestants and Evangelical Protestants.
Facing the Facts
While Protestantism as a whole declined from 63% of the US population in 1974 to 47% in 2014, it is essential to highlight that the loss is primarily due to white people leaving Protestantism. Less than 25 years ago (1993), the majority of Americans (51%) were white Protestants whereas only a third were by 2014 (32%). In contrast during that same time period the number of black Protestants remained relatively stable while Hispanic Protestants increased (p.49-51).
The decline that led to the death of the WCA has impacted both of its survivors in major ways. From 1988 to 2014 both groups experienced significant decline
- white Mainline Protestant dropped from 24% to 14%
- white Evangelical Protestant dropped from 22% to 18% (p.52-53).
White American Protestants are old and getting older. Younger generations are less and less likely to be affiliated with either the Evangelical or Mainline options. In 2014 the youngest two adult cohorts affiliated at rates below the overall white affiliation rates
- Ages 30-49: white Evangelical Protestant – 16% & white Mainline Protestant – 12%
- Ages 18-29: white Evangelical Protestant – 10% & white Mainline Protestant – 10% (p. 54).
Christianity is a religion that believes in life after death. Resurrection is possible. In this case, however, that new body will necessarily be something other than white.
- How was your own faith journey shaped (for good or for ill) by WCA?
- Share a few challenges created by the death of WCA and a few opportunities the passing of WCA has created.
The End of White Christian America by Robert P. Jones (Simon & Schuster, 2016).Tweet