Researcher predicts end of 'white Christian America'

by Gregory Tomlin, |
REUTERS/Nick Oxford

NEW YORK (Christian Examiner) – White Christians are in panic mode and likely fearing their loss of influence in politics, the leader of the Public Religion Research Institute claims in new editorial in The Atlantic.

Robert P. Jones, whose book, The End of White Christian America, hits bookstore shelves this weekend, writes that the "cultural and political edifice" of the United States was built primarily by white, Protestant Christians. Today, he says, "many white Christian Americans feel profoundly anxious as their numbers and influences are waning."

That decline in influence – whether in Mainline or Evangelical Protestantism – is largely the result of demographic changes in America, a nation turning decidedly more brown and black.

White Christians now make up less than half of the religious populace in America, at only 47 percent. Together, non-white Christians, the religiously unaffiliated and those who follow other religions make up the remainder of Americans. White Christians are now the minority, Jones writes.

Still, racial changes alone, however "dramatic" they are, don't explain the decline of influence by themselves. According to Jones, young people in traditionally white Protestant denominations are walking away from their parents' faith.

Only 29 percent of young people age 18-29 are "white Christians." Thirty-four percent, of various races, classify themselves as "unaffiliated," PRRI said in a recent survey.

"Like an archaeological excavation, the chart sorts Americans by religious affiliation and race, stratified by age—demonstrating at a glance the decline of white Christians among each successive generation. This snapshot uncovers a striking finding: Today, young adults, ages 18 to 29, are less than half as likely to be white Christians as seniors. Nearly seven in 10 American seniors are white Christians, compared to fewer than three in 10 young adults. Although the declining proportion of white Christians is due in part to large-scale demographic shifts, this chart also highlights the other major force of change in the religious landscape: young adults' rejection of organized religion," Jones writes.

It stands to reason then, that as older, predominately white Protestants die off, there is little chance their numbers will be replaced by younger churchgoers.

Even among the nation's largest evangelical Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, the decline is precipitous. Growth rates have fallen from 4.15 percent annually in 1950 to -1.5 percent today according to the denomination's own figures.

According to Jones, white Christian voters made up 74 percent of the voting public in 1994. By 2014, the number had fallen to 58 percent.

"A linear forecast line based on these trends demonstrates that what might be called a 'white Christian strategy'—relying on supermajorities of white Christian votes to offset demographic changes—will yield diminishing returns in each successive national election cycle. White Christians will likely make up 55 percent of voters in 2016 and drop to 52 percent of voters by the following presidential campaign in 2020. If current trends hold steady, 2024 will be a watershed year—the first American election in which white Christians do not constitute a majority of voters," Jones writes.

Jones says these changes are driving "strong, sometimes apocalyptic reactions" on the part of whites because the decline in religion and the majority causes white Christians to question the "national mythos." That is to say, the changes supposedly threaten the demographic's understanding of America's purpose, mission, and identity.

To read the full article in The Atlantic, click here. To weigh in, comment below.