The End of White Christian America?

I am hoping to read Robert Jones‘s new book The End of White Christian America.  In this video he chats with Judy Woodruff of PBS:

This is very interesting, but something does not seem quite right. (Again, I need to the read the book).

I think it goes without saying that “white” Christian America is in decline.  The demographics bear this out.  But are the things that have long-defined “Christian America” (at least in the last half-century) fading away?  I don’t know.  It seems that in order to answer “yes” to this question we would need to make a case that non-white Christians do not care about core “Christian America” tenets such as the place of Christianity in public life, traditional marriage and families, opposition to abortion, a critique of the coarseness of popular culture, etc…  Since evangelicalism is booming in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere in the global South, can we really say immigrants arriving to America’s shores from these places are going to be any less “Christian” on these social issues?

This reminds me of a conversation I had recently with an immigration reporter for the Houston Chronicle who told me that many of the Latino immigrants she interviewed for a story were very conservative on social issues.  She was surprised how many of them were supporting Trump because they believed The Donald would deliver the Supreme Court.

In Case You Missed What Obama Said at the Islamic Center of Baltimore

Obama at mosque

He penned an op-ed for Religion News Service.  I think this may be one of those primary source documents that will soon be assigned in American religious history courses.  It also may be another reason why some of us will miss Obama.

By the way, when Obama says that the founders defended religious liberty, but also thought that religion would help “strengthen our nation,” he gets it right.

(RNS) This past week, I had the privilege of visiting the Islamic Society of Baltimore, a mosque that serves thousands of Muslim American families, as well as neighbors of different faiths. Like houses of worship across our country, it’s a place where families come together to pray, but also a school where students learn and a health clinic that serves those in need. My visit was a chance to celebrate the contributions that Muslim Americans make to our country every day and to reaffirm our commitment to freedom of religion.

Our Founders knew that religious liberty is essential not only to protect religion, but because religion helps strengthen our nation. From our Revolution to the abolition of slavery, from women’s rights to civil rights, men and women of faith have often helped move our nation closer to our founding ideals. This progress is part of what makes us a beacon to the world.

Likewise, generations of Muslim Americans have helped build our country. They’re the teachers who inspire our kids, and the nurses and doctors whom we trust with our health. They’re the champions we cheer for — from Muhammad Ali to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They’re the police and firefighters who keep us safe, and the men and women in uniform who have fought and bled and died for our freedom.

Since 9/11, however, and more recently since the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, some have blamed the horrific acts of a few on the broader Muslim community. Right now, many Muslim Americans are worried because threats and harassment against their community, are on the rise. We’ve seen Muslim Americans assaulted, children bullied and mosques vandalized, and we’ve heard shameful political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country.

When any part of our American family is made to feel isolated or targeted, it tears at the very fabric of our nation. So we have to tackle this problem together, head-on.

First, at a time when others are trying to divide us along religious lines, we have to reaffirm that most fundamental truth — that we are all God’s children, all born equal with inherent dignity. Mere tolerance of different religions is not enough. Our faiths summon us to actively embrace our common humanity. Muslim Americans can keep reaching out and sharing their faith to help more Americans understand Islam’s tradition of peace, charity and justice. Americans of all faiths can reach out to their Muslim American neighbors — perhaps even visit the nearest mosque — to help break down stereotypes and build understanding.

Second, as Americans, we have to stay true to our core values, and that includes freedom of religion for all faiths. An attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths, and when any religious group is targeted, we all have a responsibility to speak up. We cannot be bystanders to bigotry. We have to reject any politics that targets people because of religion. We have to make sure that hate crimes are punished, and that the civil rights of all Americans are upheld.

Third, as we protect our country from terrorism, we should not reinforce the ideas of terrorists themselves. Groups like ISIL are desperate to portray themselves as religious leaders and holy warriors who speak for Islam. We must never give them that legitimacy. They’re not defending Islam or Muslims — the vast majority of the people they kill are innocent Muslim men, women and children. America could never be at war with Islam, or any other faith, because the world’s religions are a part of our national character. So we should never play into terrorist propaganda or suggest that all Muslims, or Islam itself, is the problem. That betrays our values. It alienates Muslim Americans. It helps our enemies recruit. It makes us all less safe.

Finally, just as all Americans have a responsibility to reject discrimination, Muslims around the world have a responsibility to continue to push back against extremist ideologies that are threatening some of their communities. This is not some clash of civilizations between the West and Islam; it’s a struggle within Islam, between the peace-loving majority and a radical minority. That’s why across the Islamic world, Muslim leaders are not only roundly and repeatedly condemning terrorism, they are also speaking out with an affirmative vision of their faith. America — and I, as president — will continue to help lift up and amplify these voices of peace and pluralism.

I want every Muslim American who may be wondering where they fit in to know that you’re right where you belong — because you’re part of America, too. You are not Muslim or American. You are Muslim and American. And I want all Americans to know that across our country and around the world, Muslim communities are standing up for peace and understanding as well.

We are one American family. And I’m confident that if we stay true to our values — including protecting the right of all people to practice their faith free from fear — we will stay strong and united. We are, and must always remain, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Symposium: Religion in Early America

This looks like a great.  Nice work Peter Manseau.  Wish I could attend:


Symposium: Religion in Early America

Friday, March 20, 2015
9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.
Warner Bros. Theater, first floor

Free and open to the public; also available via live webcast.
Please RSVP here.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will convene a one-day symposium on “Religion in Early America.”  Led by Stephen Prothero, renowned Professor of Religion at Boston University, the symposium will explore three major themes that characterize the role of religion in the formation and early development of the United States.  The first theme is the diversity of religious traditions in the American colonies, and how they needed to be considered as the nation came into being.  The second is the principle of religious freedom that was incorporated into the first amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that has been an enduring principle of the nation.  The third is the growth of many forms of religion in the new United States and how they shaped American society during the first half of the 19th century.
Other scholars participating in the symposium are:
A major goal of the symposium is to inform the planning of an exhibition on “Religion in Early America” that is scheduled to open on the second floor of the museum in 2016, along with companion exhibitions on “Democracy in America,” and “Many Voices, One Nation.”  The latter focuses on American immigration, migration, and diversity. The new religion exhibition, which has the same themes as the symposium, will put on display a stellar sample of objects, including The Bay Psalm Book, The Washington Inaugural Bible, The Jefferson Bible, a Shaker spinning wheel, Native American wampum, George Whitfield’s portable pulpit,  George Mason’s baptismal font, a first edition Book of Mormon, a piece of Charles Finney’s Camp Meeting tent, John Carroll’s Tabernacle, a Torah Scroll from the first New York Synagogue, a child’s Noah’s Ark set, and many more.
For further information email Jaya Kaveeshwar at kaveeshwarj@si.edu.

Back in Milwaukee

John Fea III and John Fea Sr.

A few years ago I led a Gilder-Lehrman Institute Junior Forum for the Milwaukee Public School District on the subject of children in colonial America.  I must have done something right during that visit because they invited me back–this time for a lecture on American immigration and religion. 

This morning a few hundred students–ranging from 5th grade to high school, came with their teachers to Marquette University’s Weasler Hall for the forum. 

I traced the history of both American religious freedom and American nativism, using the story of my 102-year-old grandfather, an Italian immigrant, as an illustration.  When I showed a picture of us together the students applauded. I even tried to play a clip from an oral history interview I did with him a few years ago, but, alas, the technology failed me.

I wanted the students to see how fears of new immigrants bringing new religions to American shores was nothing new.  (I talked a bit about the Milwaukee Daily American, the city’s 1850s Know Nothing newspaper).  I hope they got the message.

Thanks to Anthony Napoli and Steve Schwartz of Gilder-Lehrman for inviting me, and Michelle Wade and Jennie Eckstein of Milwaukee Public Schools for hosting me.  I am hoping I get to come back soon!