The Pickett’s Charge Theory Revisited


Check out Daniel Cox’s piece at Five Thirty Eight: “Are White Evangelicals Sacrificing The Future In Search of the Past.”  Here is a taste:

After dominating much of American politics for the past 40 years, white evangelical Protestants are now facing a sharp decline. Nearly one-third of white Americans raised in evangelical Christian households leave their childhood faith.2 About 60 percent of those who leave end up joining another faith tradition, while 40 percent give up on religion altogether. The rates of disaffiliation are even higher among young adults: 39 percent of those raised evangelical Christian no longer identify as such in adulthood. And while there is always a good deal of churn in the religious marketplace — people both entering and leaving faith traditions — recent findings suggest that membership losses among white evangelical Protestants are not being offset by gains.

As a result, the white evangelical Protestant population in the U.S. has fallen over the past decade, dropping from 23 percent in 2006 to 17 percent in 2016. But equally troubling for those concerned about the vitality of evangelical Christianity, white evangelical Protestants are aging. Today, 62 percent of white evangelical Protestants are at least 50 years old. In 1987, fewer than half (46 percent) were. The median age of white evangelical Protestants today is 55.

Back in July 2017 I offered-up my “Pickett’s Charge” theory of evangelical support for Donald Trump.  Here is a taste:

…the pro-Trump evangelical movement may represent a kind of last-ditch effort by the Moral Majority generation to reclaim the country in the way that they were trained to do by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and others back in the 1980s.

Military history teaches us that final assaults are often carried out on a grand scale. Think about Pickett’s Charge–the final engagement of the Battle of Gettysburg.    The Confederate Army attempted to make one last thrust into the Union line before it was turned back once and for all.  Many historians have argued that the loss at Gettysburg sent the Confederate army on a downward spiral that eventually led to its defeat at Appomattox in April 1865.

The Trump evangelicals have found a strongman to lead them.  With control of the White House they are poised, at least for the moment, to initiate a final forward movement  for the purpose of preserving their “way of life” against the social and cultural changes that they have been fighting against for a couple of generations.

It seems like Cox’s stats on generational shifts among American evangelicals, and American culture more broadly, might support my thesis.

One thought on “The Pickett’s Charge Theory Revisited

  1. I think Cox’s statistics back up other areas as well. The GOP is an aging party that supports one demographic which has traditionally dominated the nation since even before its birth. The nation is changing and that demographic is losing its dominance. The evangelicals are overwhelmingly dominated by that same demographic.

    The sad thing is that it is plainly obvious, yet the leaders (the demographic again) reject the facts and continue to dig in to hold their position. Young people are tired of hearing negative homilies and sermons from any pulpit. They’re tired of fear, gloom, and doom. They have a life ahead of them and they are looking forward while the evangelical leaders for the most part are looking back.

    We often hear about people complaining that going to church is a chore. Right now we are hearing how going to church is something they dread, not because it is a chore, but because they don’t enjoy being in the church with all the negativity. They don’t think that is what a church experience should be. They’re right. A Christian church is supposed to be a place where the positive message of Christ is alive and filling the hearts of people. When people don’t perceive that as the central function of the church, they are going to look for it somewhere else.

    This is not something new. It’s been done before. If the current evangelical leaders want to destroy their churches by not responding to the needs of the people that make up its future, then those people will go elsewhere and those churches will decline, and possibly even fade away as their membership ages and dies because there’s no younger members to fill the pews.


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