I just finished Robert P. Jones‘s book The End of White Christian America. Jones is the CEO of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). It provides survey data that confirms what a lot of us have thought for several years: the number of white evangelicals in the United States is declining.
The last chapter of The End of White Christian America deals with the Donald Trump campaign and presidency. Jones argues that Trump may be white evangelicals’ last great attempt to win the culture wars. When the age of Trump is over there will not be enough white evangelicals in America for the Christian Right to make political gains.
I wonder. Have evangelicals over the past fifty years been so busy fighting the culture wars and pursuing political power that they have failed to bring more white men and women into the fold through evangelization? Have they invested so much time in politics that they have not cultivated the spiritual and moral lives of young people in a way that keeps them in the church? Just a few thoughts. Feel free to run with them.
But one of the most important findings of our survey is that as the country has crossed the threshold from being a majority white Christian country to a minority white Christian country, white evangelical Protestants have themselves succumbed to the prevailing winds and in turn contributed to a second wave of white Christian decline in the country. Over the past decade, white evangelical Protestants have declined from 23% to 17% of Americans.
During this same period, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans has grown from 16% to 24%.
The engines of white evangelical decline are complex, but they are a combination of external factors, such as demographic change in the country as a whole, and internal factors, such as religious disaffiliation — particularly among younger adults who find themselves at odds with conservative Christian churches on issues like climate change and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. As a result, the median age of white evangelical Protestants is now 55, and the median age of religiously unaffiliated Americans is 37. While 26% of seniors (65 and older) are white evangelicals, only 8% of Americans younger than 30 claim this identity.
The evangelical alliance with Trump can be understood only in the context of these fading vital signs among white evangelicals. They are, in many ways, a community grieving its losses. After decades of equating growth with divine approval, white evangelicals are finding themselves on the losing side of demographic changes and LGBT rights, one of their founding and flagship issues.
In the 1980s, a term such as “the moral majority” had a certain plausibility. Today, such a sweeping claim would be met with a mountain of counter evidence from public opinion polls, progressive religious voices, changing laws and court decisions.
Read the entire piece here.
Read the very revealing PRRI report here.