The White Christian experiment is almost over
March 17, 2015 12:11 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this month, a newly released report indicated that White Christians are no longer a majority in 19 states. Furthermore, according to the same report the United States is no longer a majority Protestant nation.

In 2009, Michael Spencer (aka Internet Monk) wrote a series of blog posts about The Coming Evangelical Collapse. In the first post, he made a prediction:
I believe that we are on the verge- within 10 years- of a major collapse of evangelical Christianity; a collapse that will follow the deterioration of the mainline Protestant world and that will fundamentally alter the religious and cultural environment in the West. I believe this evangelical collapse will happen with astonishing statistical speed; that within two generations of where we are now evangelicalism will be a house deserted of half its current occupants, leaving in its wake nothing that can revitalize evangelicals to their former “glory.”

The party is almost over for evangelicals; a party that’s been going strong since the beginning of the “Protestant” 20th century. We are soon going to be living in a very secular and religiously antagonistic 21st century in a culture that will be between 25-30% non-religious.

This collapse, will, I believe, herald the arrival of an anti-Christian chapter of the post-Christian west and will change the way tens of millions of people see the entire realm of religion. Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become particularly hostile towards evangelical Christianity, increasingly seeing it as the opponent of the good of individuals and society.
Within a couple months, an adaption of these posts was published as an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor and caused quite a stir.

In 2013, Calvin TerBeek noted the central role that demographics play in this shift:
A significant explanatory factor of why evangelicalism is in decline is demographics: nearly half of evangelicals are over the age of 50, and over 80 percent are white. In contrast only 17 percent of evangelicals are in the 18-29 age demographic. Meanwhile, those claiming no religious affiliation has risen to 20 percent -- much of the so-called "nones" are Millenials.
In 2014, Fred Clark discussed the accuracy of Spencer's predictions, noting that what had originally appeared to be "a pretty audacious claim" was increasingly supported by demographic trends.

Earlier this month, Mark Morford, discussing the new report, opined that:
the remaining white Christians in power are in a panic, working desperately to salvage some of the issues with which they once forcibly divided the nation.

...They’re not going down without a fight – or rather, not so much a fight (they’ve already lost), more like a long groan, lashing out anywhere they can, a dying animal determined to cause as much damage as possible before fading into irrelevance.

...here in America, it seems we’re finally wrestling free of a toxic, severely limiting view that’s poisoned us, very slowly, for decades. We are not, in fact, some meek and flailing nation, seeking salvation from a ruthless (male) God but being told – wow, what a horrible teaching – we can never attain it. We are, with any luck and grace, becoming a true rainbow coalition, a messily divine mix, merely needing to realize just how shockingly blessed we already are. No Bible, dogma, or eternally disappointed deity required.
posted by overglow (83 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
While I can't claim to expect an "anti-Christian chapter" in western society, having seen what the Evangelical movement has, as a whole, done to American society, I for one can't wait until (hopefully) the US finally hits first-world-nation levels of public overt religiosity.

oh man, who am I even kidding
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:33 AM on March 17, 2015 [24 favorites]


Changing demographics are/will be doing all kinds of things in the coming years. Unfortunately, ideological extremism comes packaged in many different ways, not just in religions. I sure won't be sad to see less of this variety, though.

Some good reading material here, thanks for this post.
posted by Klaxon Aoooogah at 12:37 AM on March 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


It's interesting to consider the ways in which this is not a new thing. Looking at the map, I see that White Christian Majority America has produced only one president in the last half century, and that was Bill Clinton.

Also, I'm guessing the 31 White Christian Majority states have fewer residents than the 19 White Christian Minority states.
posted by mississippi at 1:31 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Furthermore, according to the same report the United States is no longer a majority Protestant nation.

So this seems to come from the statement here:
For the first time ever, America is not a majority Protestant nation. Only 47 percent of America identified as Protestant in 2014. At 81 percent, Mississippi is the most Protestant state in the union and Massachusetts is the least at 26 percent.
But does anyone see which categories displayed on the interactive map application sum to 47%? I'm just curious which categories they're counting as Protestant and non-Protestant, since non-Christian religious responses seem to only add up to single digits and Catholic and Orthodox categories to somewhere in the twenties.
posted by XMLicious at 1:38 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I for one can't wait until (hopefully) the US finally hits first-world-nation levels of public overt religiosity.

What is this even supposed to mean? You want religious people to hide?
posted by corb at 2:06 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


XMLicious, I'm looking at this and if you add up the first five categories (which all have the word Protestant in them) you get 45%. Not sure where the other 2% comes in.
posted by overglow at 2:11 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I read the phrase "intolerance of Christianity" and my eyes rolled so hard I might have sprained something. Decades of systemic mistreatment of people that evangelical Christians dislike has rendered rendered Persecuted Christian trope absurd.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 2:37 AM on March 17, 2015 [42 favorites]


>I for one can't wait until (hopefully) the US finally hits first-world-nation levels of public overt religiosity.

What is this even supposed to mean? You want religious people to hide?


I assume that doctor fedora meant that it would be nice if, like in the rest of the developed world, religious devotion faded into a matter of private conscience rather than an expectation that public policy ought to be made in a manner consistent with a 'spiritual' set of beliefs.
posted by modernnomad at 2:40 AM on March 17, 2015 [94 favorites]


Ah, but they still love to tell themselves that; the narrative of the devout meeting secretly under cover of darkness is a powerful one! I know people who have gone on mission trips to Catholic countries claiming that "Christians" are persecuted there... (Ahh, yes, the Phillipines: a veritable bastion of the Inquisition!)
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:41 AM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


Please explain to me how Alabama and Mississippi, which are demographically about 70% Black still have White Christian majorities on this map. Christian majorities yes, but White?
posted by halfbuckaroo at 2:51 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


We are not, in fact, some meek and flailing nation, seeking salvation from a ruthless (male) God but being told – wow, what a horrible teaching – we can never attain it.

There may be some wacko fringe Protestant group meeting in a cellar in Oklahoma who believes that, but as a general description of Protestant belief this is so far off that the author can only be an idiot, horrifically lazy, or purposely disingenuous. The clear, bright core of Protestant theology is that salvation is freely and fully attained by the boundless grace of God, one must only accept it.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:56 AM on March 17, 2015 [19 favorites]


You're arguing against Calvinism there.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:59 AM on March 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


Alright! Rubs hands with glee. Religious arguments!
posted by telstar at 3:02 AM on March 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


Please explain to me how Alabama and Mississippi, which are demographically about 70% Black still have White Christian majorities on this map. Christian majorities yes, but White?

The US Census doesn't seem to agree that Alabama or Mississippi are 70% black...
posted by lullaby at 3:04 AM on March 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


No, that's the other room. This is gloating over the coming collapse of evangelism.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:04 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


"White Christians"? That's a very weird framing. If there are White Christians who worship White Christ and think that black, Hispanic, and Asian Christians dilute the brand, well, maybe they're part of the problem.

Or maybe it's a pollster's attempt to make a couple ongoing trends (America is getting more non-white and more non-religious) intersect in a catchy way? Still icky. The health of Christianity, whether you root for it or against it, relates to all believers.

This chart from the General Social Survey is worth a long look. The overall story is the precipitous decline of mainline Protestantism. Black churches are holding steady, as are Catholics.

The striking bit about Evangelicalism is its surge from 18% to 32% of the population in the two decades after 1972. That went against what one would predict from the overall trends in the West (and because of it, I would suggest not counting Christianity as moribund just yet). Since 1992 Evangelicals have declined to about 24%, but they're still above their historical level.

The "None" category has made an impressive jump, but it's not numerically possible for them all to be lapsed Evangelicals; quite a few must be continuing defections from mainline Protestant churches.
posted by zompist at 3:06 AM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


public policy will become particularly hostile towards evangelical Christianity, increasingly seeing it as the opponent of the good of individuals and society.

It's not? It's basically the dogma of a fading white nationalist politics.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 3:26 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


The striking bit about Evangelicalism is its surge from 18% to 32% of the population in the two decades after 1972. That went against what one would predict from the overall trends in the West (and because of it, I would suggest not counting Christianity as moribund just yet). Since 1992 Evangelicals have declined to about 24%, but they're still above their historical level.

"The Demographic Imperative in Religious Change in the United States" [PDF] (2001):
Contemporary American Protestants are less likely to belong to "mainline" denominations and more likely to belong to "conservative" ones than they used to be. Evidence from the General Social Survey indicates that the factor that most of the literature on religious change has focused on-the rate at which persons raised in mainline denominations are converting to the conservative denominations -has played no role in the restructuring. It has not increased in recent years or among recent cohorts. Higher fertility and earlier childbearing among women from conservative denominations explains 76 percent of the observed trend for cohorts born between 1903 and 1973. Quite simply the conservative denominations have grown because an increasing share of Protestant children have been raised in the conservative tradition. Further analysis shows that mainline decline would have slowed in recent cohorts, but a dropoff in conversions from conservative to mainline denominations prolonged the decline. A recent rise in the tendency to give up organized religion (greater among persons raised in a mainline denomination) added a few percentage points to mainline decline.


The "None" category has made an impressive jump, but it's not numerically possible for them all to be lapsed Evangelicals; quite a few must be continuing defections from mainline Protestant churches.

"Explaining the Rise of Americans With No Religious Preference: Politics and Generations" [PDF] (2001):
We seek to explain why American adults became increasingly likely to say they had no religious preference as the 1990s unfolded. Briefly summarized, we find that the increase was not a statistical aberration, that it was not connected to a loss of religious piety, and, most dramatically, that it was connected to politics. The case is not airtight, but the preponderance of evidence implicates politics as the cause of changing religious identification. Throughout American history, many adults maintained an identification with the religion in which they were raised, in spite of infrequent attendance at religious service. In the 1990s many of the people who had this kind of weak attachment to religion and either moderate or liberal political views found themselves at odds with the conservative political agenda of the Christian Right and reacted by breaking their weak attachment to organized religion. People with religious commitments and people with conservative political views did not contribute to the trend.
posted by Celsius1414 at 3:46 AM on March 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


It's not? It's basically the dogma of a fading white nationalist politics.

There are a shit-ton of Third World evangelicals who might well disagree. And as has been mentioned (in the linked articles and in the thread), African-American churches don't seem to be declining and the Hispanic presence in evangelicalism is growing.

I guess maybe we're going to see the fading of a particular evangelicalism which was, as you put it, "white nationalist politics" - but that's the decline of a specific strand within the broader religious framework, something we've seen before; for example: liberal progressive Protestantism, ultramontane Catholicism, and Congregationalist establishmentarianism, all of which rose to prominence and then fell long before the latest iteration of religious revival that kicked off in the late '60s and early '70s.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I feel like I've read this story before: replace the death of evangelicalism with the death of God, the death of the Republican Party, the death of conservatism, the death of liberalism, the death of neoliberalism - people seem to desperately want to see society as a teleological arrow, rather than as patterns of change which are often mutually interacting and cyclical. The idea that evangelicalism is going to vanish/become a persecuted minority might appeal to some atheists or to the End Times-survivalist-fantasy crew, but I think we're just seeing it changing. Becoming less mono-ethnic, becoming less deeply tied to Goldwater-to-Reagan conservative principles, becoming less invested in certain social causes (gay marriage, in particular), staying steady in others (abortion), becoming more invested in yet others (climate change, economic justice).
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:47 AM on March 17, 2015 [17 favorites]


How many of the atheists are Protestant atheists?
posted by Segundus at 3:51 AM on March 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


White Christians have some notable behavioral quirks that make them a significant category of consideration.

Also, I really should have included these links too! Here's an interesting article that critiques the idea that evangelicalism is collapsing, saying:
The evangelicalism-in-decline narrative also focuses too narrowly on white evangelicals who are not fundamentalists or Pentecostals. This suggests that evangelicalism is almost exclusively a white movement with uncontested theological content and religious practice, and that there are bright lines distinguishing evangelicalism, fundamentalism and Pentecostalism. First, there is much more overlap among these groups than that tidy distinction allows. And, second, these analyses overlook the increasing numbers of Latino and Asian evangelical congregations—ironically, many of them megachurches—that often tend toward fundamentalism or Pentecostalism. In practice these movements are much more alike than they are different, particularly with regard to bedrock theological issues and social mores as they relate to biblical teachings.

...Is this the end of evangelicalism? I think the answer to that question depends on what you mean by “evangelicalism.” If the term refers to the form of conservative American Protestant Christianity dominated by white men in large churches that has had a significant sociopolitical impact—particularly in the Republican Party—over the past 30 years, then probably yes. But, if “evangelical” includes smaller, more socially inclusive, more ethnically diverse groups that own little or no real estate, that have less interest in traditional political commitments, that tend to put their faith into action through social justice ministries and that simply desire to be a “Christian presence” in the larger culture, then probably no.
And this long but good one from The American Scholar that offers a different prediction (or at least one with a different emphasis) about the religious future of America:
In a few years, perhaps a decade or two, religious America will catch up to Orange County’s present. There will be a shrinking number of evangelical megachurches, gradually aging and waning in influence. There will be numerous small, eclectic, multiethnic evangelical congregations whose emphasis on spiritual commitment and social service is unlikely to attract a large, mainstream following. And there will be surging numbers of immigrant Catholics, Pentecostals, and Muslims. The political influence of evangelicalism will decline. America will not become like Europe, where ossified state churches proved unable to compete against the inherently secularizing forces of market capitalism—and where immigrants’ faith expressions are often met with hostility. America will remain exceptionally religious. But traditional evangelical Christianity will no longer be a dominant presence in that religiosity.
On preview: This echoes AdamCSnider's comment a bit.
posted by overglow at 3:55 AM on March 17, 2015 [11 favorites]


Looking at the map, I see that White Christian Majority America has produced only one president in the last half century, and that was Bill Clinton.

Jimmy Carter and LBJ (won election 50 years and 4 months ago) make 3.
posted by thelonius at 3:56 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think a contributing factor is that the idea that modernization = secularization really dies hard. Another is the way the European experience has twisted the Western perspective. We think of the decline of religion in Europe as the result of Europe's modernization, but in fact the two big leaps - during the 1700s and again after WWII - can be just as easily be seen as traumatic outgrowths of particular historical situations - the wars of religion which culminated in the Thirty Years' War and then the great nationalist conflagration of 1912-1945. The experience of the United States, which people often puzzle over as an "outlier" doesn't have to be seen as a uniquely weird occurrence - we didn't have the same historical experiences. Neither did, say, Korea, where various religious formulations (including evangelicalism) are flourishing, or China (where Christianity is apparently growing like gangbusters). But somehow we've gotten into this notion that Europe represents the model for all of humanity.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:56 AM on March 17, 2015 [9 favorites]


ah, I see - the red states are where "white Christians" used to be a majority, which excludes my two White Christian Presidents from the list
posted by thelonius at 4:04 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


So the claim that "White Christian Majority America has produced only one president in the last half century" is based on the current makeup of the state a President came from, not whether the guy is a white christian or not? This strikes me as a particularly useless distinction, and not supporting the claim anyway. Were both Bushes not white christians from Connecticut?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on March 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, Vermont? Really?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:17 AM on March 17, 2015


Black churches are holding steady, as are Catholics.

I would be less sure about that in the US context. If you looked at people who were religiously active -- say with some model that predicted people who go to church every week -- you would obviously see fewer people in every faith group. But I would expect to see particularly sharp drops in Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Judaism, and other faiths that are strongly connected to ethnic identities.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:25 AM on March 17, 2015


How many of the atheists are Protestant atheists?

You know, it's interesting to consider atheism in the light of Luther's idea that faith is between the individual and God, with no need for an intermediate apparatus of priests and The Church, and that the Bible should be translated into the vernacular so that people can encounter it in aid of what came to be known as their "personal relationship" with God. It's a big step on the way to the idea of the individual as an autonomous rational being who can consider and reject the claims of religion.
posted by thelonius at 4:47 AM on March 17, 2015 [12 favorites]


From the 70s to the 90s, the rise in Evangelicals was pretty much matched by the drop in mainline Protestants so my guess was that some of that was just churches " rebranding " to ride a trend. That both have been dropping in favor of None since the mid 90s would seem to indicate something, though I suspect it also tracks a similar political trend in non-affiliation, e.g., decline to state. It would be helpful if they actually tracked atheist/agnostic as well.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 4:54 AM on March 17, 2015


STATISTICS ARE MY ONLY GOD NOW. IT IS A PERFECT CRYSTAL BALL. KNEEL BEFORE YOUR NEW GODS, P, Q, AND R.

Seriously. No one can make good predictions about how a population interacts with their culture. I look forward to their followup thesis: "How some group found religion and we totally eventually predicted it."
posted by clvrmnky at 5:08 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


whenever I think about "religion is on its way out!" it always brings to mind this image comparing Afganistan in the 1970s and today. The natural tide of religion might be in one direction or another, but I think the religion of those in power (Old! White!) matters more than that of the majority population.
posted by rebent at 5:18 AM on March 17, 2015 [10 favorites]


Looking at the map, I see that White Christian Majority America has produced only one president in the last half century, and that was Bill Clinton.

Jimmy Carter and LBJ (won election 50 years and 4 months ago) make 3.


Lol whut?

Bush father and son both professed Protestant faith, junior was a self-professed born again....
posted by spitbull at 5:23 AM on March 17, 2015


spitbull, you mean the Bushes? "lol whut?" may have failed to communicate what you meant it to....
posted by thelonius at 5:46 AM on March 17, 2015



For the first time ever, America is not a majority Protestant nation. Only 47 percent of America identified as Protestant in 2014.


There is a Romney/47 percent joke just waiting to be made somewhere in here.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:51 AM on March 17, 2015


Yeahhh...Y'know what? I'm going to put this little claim up on the shelf, right next to the "Republican party is doomed because demographics" meme, and see which one blossoms first. I won't be holding my breath for either.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:06 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, states and the Supremes are busy carving out additional religious exemptions to federal law, vaccination requirements, anti-discrimination statutes and more.

Not only is this War on Christmas not over, but we're not even winning many of the battles.
posted by delfin at 6:08 AM on March 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


Evangelicals might not have their act together, but you know who does?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 6:11 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


public policy will become particularly hostile towards evangelical Christianity, increasingly seeing it as the opponent of the good of individuals and society.

I would feel very comfortable saying that political evangelism has indeed been a terrible thing, very much the opponent of the the good of individuals and society. Religious belief never is, though, and it is a big mistake to conflate the two. The rise and fall in evangelical numbers is interesting but not of great importance, but the rise and fall of the political movements that have capitalized on that very much is.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:13 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also we all live lives of leisure because robots do everything for us, racism is over, and we swallow little nutrition pills instead of eating food.
posted by Foosnark at 6:20 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not a statistics expert, but I'm unclear on how comprising 47% of a population of several different demographic groups makes you a minority. Unless non-white, non-evangelicals are all one big block with the same major goals in direct opposition to yours, which I can't imagine is the case.

As a white person of (non-evangelical) faith, I'm a firm believer that the time for the cultural and political dominance of white Christians to recede is looooooooooong past due, but "we only comprise 45% of the population in this state" is not that. Even leaving out the part where the "minority" still has all of the money and high-ranking jobs.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:27 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not a statistics expert, but I'm unclear on how comprising 47% of a population of several different demographic groups makes you a minority.

The article says white Christians are no longer a majority. That's not the same thing as calling those folks a minority.

I think the point is supposed to be that they will no longer enjoy such numbers as to be able to keep shaping ongoing debates to their liking.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 6:38 AM on March 17, 2015


I'm hoping that if the 'conservative evangelical protestant' phase ends, there will be more room for the return of the liberal left wing branch of American Christianity, because it certainly seems like that's been heavily overshadowed for a long time.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:54 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is the report data available as a spreadsheet somewhere? Only being able to view 5 answers at once is annoying. I still don't quite see how this adds up to Protestants being a minority because I can't get all the other options to add up to more than 50%.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:55 AM on March 17, 2015


Also we're kind of in the middle of something where a significant chunk of America (who have elected a significant chunk of Congress and of state legislatures and governors) are whittling away women's access to health care and reproductive rights because Jesus, are furious that the President (who's a Double Secret Muslim, by the way) won't frame the war they want in the Middle East in the explicitly religious terms they demand, are making noises about the Supremacy Clause playing second fiddle to religious belief, and are fighting to retain the right to declare LGBT Americans second-class citizens because court decisions in favor of marriage equality present “a real danger to our liberty.”

The True Believers' < or >= 50% status concerns me less than their demonstrated ability to remain both really loud and really influential on American politics and law.
posted by delfin at 6:59 AM on March 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


I guess maybe we're going to see the fading of a particular evangelicalism which was, as you put it, "white nationalist politics"

Particularly if white people tend to like religions their parents don't belong to.
posted by weston at 7:06 AM on March 17, 2015


I gave up looking for a spreadsheet and did it with pencil and paper, I get it now. According to their data all Protestant denominations add up to ~48%. Only 45% if you don't count LDS or Jehovah's witnesses. All Catholicism adds to 23%, unaffiliated is 22%, and everything else adds up to 7%. UUs are so small I just rounded them down to 0.

This is interesting, though given it still puts Christianity as the religion of 71% of the US population (not even counting the possible soft bias of the "unaffiliated" 22%) I don't see it heralding any sweeping cultural or political change quite yet.
posted by Wretch729 at 7:13 AM on March 17, 2015


Ah, but let us remember that to some, Catholics are not Christians because they consume The Death Cookie.
posted by delfin at 7:18 AM on March 17, 2015


If Reddit has taught me anything, it's that the non-religious demographic shift doesn't mean all the prejudice and bigotry associated with white evangelicals vanishes with them.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 7:18 AM on March 17, 2015 [13 favorites]


Bush father and son both professed Protestant faith, junior was a self-professed born again....

I think the claim was that those prsidents came from the states still listed as majority whistian, not that they were the only white presidents claiming Christianity.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 7:21 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


overglow: White Christians have some notable behavioral quirks that make them a significant category of consideration.

Let's not mince words - "White evangelical Protestants have long been a key part of the GOP coalition" (from the linked article, a Pew Forum post).

The stability or rise of religion in other groups could balance this shift if those groups were so vocal as blending their views of church with their ideals for the state.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:33 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


AdamCSnider: "Maybe I'm just getting old, but I feel like I've read this story before: replace the death of evangelicalism with the death of God, the death of the Republican Party, the death of conservatism, the death of liberalism, the death of neoliberalism - people seem to desperately want to see society as a teleological arrow, rather than as patterns of change which are often mutually interacting and cyclical."

The Emerging [whatever] Majority.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:43 AM on March 17, 2015


I think we saw this to some extent in the 2008 election. The waning demographic influence of evangelical and mainline white Protestants goes a long way towards explaining has the Republicans ended up nominating Mormon Mitt Romney after seriously considering the Catholic Rick Santorum. That's a pretty significant betrayal of the historical attitudes towards Catholics and Mormons (and were I Romney or Santorum, I wouldn't trust my fellow travelers not to eat me alive when the opportunity presented itself).

The coalition-builders of the social-conservative right are also why the Republicans are so incoherent on immigration. They would dearly love, I think, to build bridges to conservative Catholic Latinos, but the rabid xenophobes they're chained to make that nigh-impossible.

If the religious right survives the forces fracturing it right now, I expect them to be extending a hand in friendship some time in the next 15 years to Islamic extremists to shore up their numbers. And that will be simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
posted by jackbishop at 8:06 AM on March 17, 2015 [5 favorites]


"...a dying animal determined to cause as much damage as possible before fading into irrelevance."

I pretty much have thought this about religion since I was a child. Nicely put. Political evangelism here, the desperate insanity of Islamic militancy, the pathetic scrabbling fight against the terrifying realization that slowly, inexorably, the people of the world will eventually come to their senses and turn off all the oppressive bullshit machines. I believed that more as a kid, sadly.
posted by umberto at 8:57 AM on March 17, 2015


If Reddit has taught me anything, it's that the non-religious demographic shift doesn't mean all the prejudice and bigotry associated with white evangelicals vanishes with them.

I at least have some idea how to call out evangelicals on their prejudice and bigotry in terms of the values they claim to hold. I've got no idea how to reach those people.
posted by straight at 8:58 AM on March 17, 2015


religious devotion faded into a matter of private conscience rather than an expectation that public policy ought to be made in a manner consistent with a 'spiritual' set of beliefs.

Except there's a middle ground, where people can be public about their beliefs and culture without having to feel they have to hide in a closet, while also not making policy for other people based on their religious beliefs. And honestly that is not something the "first world nations" have got right - look at places like France which forbid the wearing of the hijab. Making all religious symbolism and identity into 'private conscience' means disregarding the extent to which these are ethnic identities that are being driven underground to make this brave new unreligious world of yours.
posted by corb at 9:13 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sociologically knowing things about Protestants tells us very little about Catholics, and vice versa, in the US (and historically in European sociological research too, although I don't know about these days). They're distinct sociological groups with quite distinct voting patterns and social behaviors. Which is why, for example, there are more people who self-identify as non-practicing Catholics (about 20 million) than there are members of the largest Protestant denomination (Southern Baptists, around 16 million).

One of the things that's quite distinct is that Catholic identity is considerably more "sticky" (arguably due to differing attitudes about schism/authority) than Protestant identity. That's why you have 60 million Catholics in the US (20 million of whom call themselves Catholic though they don't go to church or, you know, do anything Catholic) but their voting patterns are not very distinct from their socioeconomic peers -- Catholicism "sticks" as an identity even though their other identities affect their lives and beliefs more. Protestants are far more mobile among congregations and denominations as they look for one that suits their beliefs, and those congregations and denominations are much (much!) smaller and hence typically have a "smaller tent" of political beliefs within them.

One reason Protestants are often studied as "Protestants" or as "mainline Protestants" and "evangelical Protestants" and so on (instead more finely-grained as "Methodists" and "Presbyterians") is that they have far higher mobility among denominational groups than Catholics and there's far greater comfort in Protestant circles (for reasons social, historical, and theological) with switching churches when you move (for example); Catholics, OTOH, continue to identify as Catholics 20 years after they quit going to church.

So whatever's going on in white evangelical churches IS sociologically distinct and interesting for that reason, but it doesn't necessarily tell us a lot about Christianity in the US as a whole, or religion in the US as a whole, or even evangelical Christianity in the US as a whole (as churches remain among the most racially segregated institutions in America, so black evangelicals and white evangelicals, f'ex, often have little in common sociologically). But it IS a group that's wielded an outsized amount of political power and media presence, compared to its size, over the past 30 years or so, so if that sociological group is collapsing, it's definitely interesting to ask why, ask where those people are going, and ask what might be different in public discourse in the US.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:19 AM on March 17, 2015 [11 favorites]


I've wanted to comment on this all morning, but Michael Spencer was a friend of mine, and died so quickly and terribly that my brain just doesn't operate well when I see his name.

As the Internet Monk, he was mostly talking to a particular audience and using particular terms (like "evangelicals") in a particular way, but it does seem like time is proving him right. I wish he had lived to see it.
posted by pwinn at 9:32 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Evangelicals might not have their act together, but you know who does?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:11 AM on March 17


Not too sure about that. So far the LDS has seemed to retain a high retention rate of born-in members, but the last time I looked their recruitment rate in the US wasn't anything to be impressed by. And given the LDS's active and vocal support for anti-gay legislation, plus their recent official revisionism on certain topics (like finally admitting Joseph Smith used "seer stones" to, ahem, "translate" the Book of Mormon; essentially admitting that their 100+ year-old "no blacks in the priesthood" stance was racist after all; etc.) all thanks to the CES Letter....I just can't see them stepping in to fill the void.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:40 AM on March 17, 2015


Religious belief never is, [harmful to the public good] though,

Really? You can't think of any religious belief that could be harmful through pathways besides the political.

To treat "religious belief" as contentless fluff doesn't actually seem very respectful, but I'm an atheist so what do I know.
posted by PMdixon at 9:45 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


The clear, bright core of Protestant theology is that salvation is freely and fully attained by the boundless grace of God, one must only accept it.

Given the centrality of arguments about predestination to the Protestant reformation and the many, many Protestants who continue to believe in Unconditional Election, this is an unusually ahistorical and misleading claim for you to make, Pater Aletheias.
posted by yoink at 9:58 AM on March 17, 2015


I read him as talking about the resistability of grace as a tenet, which I believe only the Methodists are kinda iffy on...
posted by PMdixon at 10:08 AM on March 17, 2015


White Christians are no longer a majority in 19 states

Many people here these stats and go "meh, whats new?", or they say "well that would mean that white christians are still a majority in 31 states."

AND THEN...

there are the people who get worried and start talking about the rapture and race wars and all sorts of kooky stuff.

For those people, I wish that statistic could be read as Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" played in the background.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:09 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


10. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11. and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13. but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 14. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

-- Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:11-14)
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 10:13 AM on March 17, 2015


Matthew 6:5-6.
posted by PMdixon at 10:14 AM on March 17, 2015


overeducated_alligator: "Evangelicals might not have their act together, but you know who does? "

Historically in the US, the power of evangelical Protestant movements in influencing politics and national culture (particularly during the various Great Awakenings, and this recent evangelical resurgence -- but also, I would argue, during the Civil Rights Era among black evangelical churches) has been linked to their diffuse, independent, idiosyncratic style of individual preachers and local churches and independent institutions, without governing bodies. Individuals of immense personal charisma and great talent are able to rise quickly, without dealing with bureaucracy or hierarchy; when an individual or a church is disgraced, it doesn't much impact the movement as a whole (much to the frustration of opponents who have watched televangelist after televangelist disgraced but they just! keep! coming!). For opponents it's like whack-a-mole, as there's no central person, organization, or position to attack, but a loosely-organized set of groups and people who share similar but not identical ideas. But this individualism also prevents institution building, and inhibits the kind of reform or oversight that wealthier institutions eventually require (to prevent them from becoming personal fiefdoms or fraud machines), so they tend to burn out after 40 years or so. Organizations building for the long term tend to get slowly mainstreamed over time.

Anyway, it's hard to see an established, organized, hierarchical church having this kind of influence in American politics, and Mormons are -- as you say -- definitely well-organized! (In some ways they are like evangelical movements in that they give a LOT of power to local lay leaders, who can rise to prominence without formal training -- but definitely different in that they centralize authority and have definite rules and standards you must adhere to to be "Mormon" that come from that central authority.) It's much easier for political opponents to push back against an institutional church like the Catholics or the Mormons or the ELCA -- who can and do resist and shield their members, but typically aren't willing to go Full Nut Job (or allow individual leaders to go Full Nut Job) because any repercussions can affect all of their millions of members, or significant church property holdings, or church contracts to provide foster care or hospital services or whatever, and those community services matter to those institutional churches. Evangelical leaders who aren't beholden to a hierarchical structure or a large congregation have much more freedom to go Full Nut Job without their being anyone to stop them, tell them they can't, kick them out of their church, or suffer repercussions for their actions. So you have a lot more people willing and able to say things at the extreme outside of the political conversation, and a much more clear path for them to gain power and influence.

While in its current incarnation this is mostly people on the right-hand end of the spectrum, these decentralized churches have also been particularly influential in lefty movements (peace churches leap to mind as a recent one, and also everything Quaker ever), for many of the same reasons -- crazy hippies can end up in charge of entire churches with nobody telling them to sit down and shut up.

Anyway, world's longest answer to say "probably not Mormons" for a successor group. (In fact I think we get a half-century break before there's a successor group, going by prior Great Awakenings, but past performance is no guarantee of future results, as they say.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:16 AM on March 17, 2015 [6 favorites]


spitbull, you mean the Bushes? "lol whut?" may have failed to communicate what you meant it to....
posted by thelonius


Umm yeah that's why my second paragraph described the Bushes. Lol whut?
posted by spitbull at 10:36 AM on March 17, 2015


And while Texas may be in red on this map, it was certainly majority white and Christian in 2000 and 1982.

In terms of effective concentration of power, Texas remains white and Christian.
posted by spitbull at 10:39 AM on March 17, 2015


Thanks for that analysis, Eyebrows.

I suppose part of my consideration is the ongoing friendly relationship between Mormons and the FBI, CIA and NSA. It doesn't seem coincidental that the NSA's massive new data center is in Utah. I'm guessing that the agencies recruit so heavily at BYU because young Mormon men are more of a "known quantity" -- in theory, clean living, hardworking, and willing to submit to a chain of command. Obviously I'm not intending to profile LDS members in terms of individual personality, because I know there are plenty of doubters, skeptics and even apostates. But it still makes me wonder whether the U.S. government and the LDS won't continue to draw closer to each other in the future.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:04 AM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


"White Christians"? That's a very weird framing. If there are White Christians who worship White Christ and think that black, Hispanic, and Asian Christians dilute the brand, well, maybe they're part of the problem.

White Christianity might be a problematic framing from a theological point of view, but in Realpolitik terms, it is a very salient political category. In many ways, the categories "white" and "Christian" intersect, because the Republican Party is akin to an identity politics movement for white Christians. Think of how the demographics break down.

White AND Christian: Mostly Republican
White AND NOT Christian (e.g., Jews, "Nones"): Mostly Democratic
Non-White AND Christian (e.g., Black Protestants, Latino Catholics): Mostly Democratic
Non-White AND NOT Christian (e.g., Muslims, many Asian-Americans): Mostly Democratic

Ironically, before 9/11, the group that most prominently did not fit this pattern were Muslims. George W. Bush got a majority of the Muslim vote in Florida in 2000, which was enough to give him the margin of victory he needed to get in the White House.
posted by jonp72 at 11:06 AM on March 17, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of the things that's quite distinct is that Catholic identity is considerably more "sticky" (arguably due to differing attitudes about schism/authority) than Protestant identity.

I've figured this was mostly due to how religion is bound up with ethnic identification. To become a Methodist, or to actually think of yourself as being irreligious or atheist instead of Catholic but nonpracticing, might feel like you're becoming less Irish or Italian or Polish or whatever, which is a harder pill to swallow than "only" switching or losing religion.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:29 AM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


Most (self-identified) Catholics I've known don't go to church. And use birth control. And believe in a woman's right to choose. And don't believe the Pope is the sole conduit to god. And consider themselves feminists (fair enough, actually).

Everyone I know raised Catholic (but is now non-Catholic, generally atheist) refers to themselves as 'a recovering Catholic'.

So yeah, that Catholic identity is pretty 'sticky'.
posted by el io at 11:37 AM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: "I've figured this was mostly due to how religion is bound up with ethnic identification. "

Historically that's true, but we've got 2-3 generations of very well-assimilated post-WWII English-speaking white Catholics in the US now, whose religious identity remains surprisingly "sticky" even as their ethnic identities have faded. Probably take a couple more generations of data to see a) if that continues to hold up or if it's just a longer fading effect than we'd have expected and b) how "sticky" the Catholic identity of Catholic Latino immigrants is over the next couple generations. Then we could probably say either "Catholicism is unusually sticky" or "Catholicism is unusually sticky, but only for English-speaking white Catholics whose ancestors emigrated from Europe in the 19th century" or "Catholicism seemed unusually sticky, but that was actually a historical hiccup related to Vatican II and it isn't in general" or something like that.

Another aspect of "stickiness" -- and this is one of the things that is really interesting to me about Mormons and ties into this comment: overeducated_alligator: "But it still makes me wonder whether the U.S. government and the LDS won't continue to draw closer to each other in the future." -- is that institution-building religious identities are PROBABLY stickier than non-institution-building identities (once we break out lots of other factors). It seems likely that if you're a lapsed Catholic and you live in an area with Catholic softball leagues and Catholic hospitals and Catholic foster services and you have friends who are Jewish who work for the Catholic college and so on, you're more likely to continue identifying as Catholic for longer because it's a sort of positive background radiation in your life where it's a part of the community that many people (Catholic and non-Catholic) interact with. Or if you're "sorta Lutheran" but there's a large historic Lutheran presence in your area manifest in a Lutheran hospital and a Lutheran college and a Lutheran-sponsored chamber chorale, you might think of yourself as "Lutheran" for longer than if you lived somewhere with no institutional Lutheran presence.

So one of the things that's interests me about this sort of thing is, Mormons remind me a lot of the "triumphal Catholicism" of the 1950s in the US where Catholics had built a whole parallel architecture of social services (hospitals, schools, colleges, orphanages) -- which they typically did because "secular" social services were institutionally anti-Catholic in many places, but it's provided a durable background fabric for "being Catholic" in the US where even a non-practicing Catholic can have dozens of contact points with the Church that don't involve, you know, going to church. Mormons are doing a lot of the same thing, building institutions; evangelicals, by and large, do not, because they aren't organized in large enough groups to organize really big social service institutions like colleges or hospitals.

When I think of colleges, I think, "In 40 years, BYU will definitely still be there, and will definitely still be a good school." But in 40 years, do you think Liberty University will still be there? I'm not sure. It's already halfway to an online for-profit model as it is (claiming 100,000 paying online students compared to around 14,000 on campus), and while it's a school that's really focused on maximizing its political impact in Washington, it hasn't focused at all on providing significant service to the wider non-evangelical community, such as through medical research or poetry fellowships or whatever. (Indeed, they teach young-earth creationism, so they really CAN'T contribute to research.) How long does Liberty last now that Falwell is gone, and evangelical influence in Washington is apparently fading? Does go to a completely secular (in all but slogans on the website) for-profit diploma mill? Does it limp along under another two or three sort-of charismatic leaders who do not as good a job as Falwell until it collapses in a scandal or bankruptcy?

It's a little unfair, BYU's been around since 1875 (thanks google!), but Mormons have clearly been building and investing for the future as an institution; evangelicals don't really DO that because individual relationships with God are typically much more important than membership in a particular church. Despite the historical importance of evangelical forms of Christianity in the US, it's really hard to think of any evangelical colleges -- there are some Nazarene schools? Liberty, Regent, Wheaton, Bob Jones ... and then basically you've got your mainline Protestants with evangelical wings (Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists) who have evangelical seminaries or evangelical-friendly seminary programs at their mainline universities. Wheaton's the only one that predates this current wave of evangelical fervor that I can think of (it was an evangelical abolitionist institution from just prior to the Civil War); others either collapsed when the wave of fervor died down, or mainlined and don't really have an evangelical identity any longer.

I suspect that falling evangelical fervor and the passing on of charismatic evangelical leaders (through death or disgrace, either one) will tend to make these institutions fall apart; I would predict that very few of them survive until 2050 and of those few that do, most will no longer be significantly identifiable as evangelical. But BYU? That'll still be around, and still Mormon, and I suspect the Mormons' religious "tent" will continue to enlarge and more attitudes more in line with secular culture will be considered acceptable, because it's very difficult to remain a radical religious group critiquing secular society as you grow larger and more institutional ... but it's very difficult to survive as a religious group at all if you don't. (Whether that accommodation is a theologically good thing is a totally different question!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:25 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've figured this was mostly due to how religion is bound up with ethnic identification.

Not necessarily. My mother for instance would probably, if asked, respond to a census question about religion with "Catholic". She hasn't attended church regularly, as far as I know, in something like 50 years. And most of my Catholic ancestors were English emigrants to Maryland in the 1600's. This Colonial British ethnic background is probably also very common for the 10% of Kentucky's population who identify as Catholic, and for quite a lot of other Catholics in the South and parts of the Midwest; the "stickiness" of Catholic identification may be part of a sort of tribal identification, but not necessarily an ethnic one--and that identity may be as important for some as a marker of difference and self-identification as being Irish-American, or Polish-American, or Italian-American, or whatever.
posted by Pseudonymous Cognomen at 12:41 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


bolshoi spasibo, y'all
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:45 PM on March 17, 2015


is that institution-building religious identities are PROBABLY stickier than non-institution-building identities

I think it's this, but also - so, I'm a Catholic. I identify as a Catholic, even though I have attended church infrequently at best for the last 20 years or so. But the thing is, because I'm a baptized Catholic, I always know that the Church is there for me when I want to come home to it. So I have done Catholic confession (and battlefield confession) when I was in desperate need of it, and when I needed to hear the songs and be a part of something it was there. I mean, yes, when I wanted to put my kid into a good school without paying the earth it was also there, but I think for me and a lot of others, being a Catholic is more about having a home that you can never be fully forbidden from, a home that will always welcome you back, no matter what you've done, if you truly repent of your error. The Church, itself, is a little like God is supposed to be in that way. And so of course it's sticky - of course you want to be married in it and buried in it and have your children baptized in it. Because it's not just some church, it's your family.
posted by corb at 1:17 PM on March 17, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also on the original post -- reading the Internet Monk articles was really interesting, because I agreed with a lot of his points, would highlight many of the same trends he is highlighting, agree with many of his predictions about the fallout from these trends, but I would draw radically different lessons from those things! Largely because I'm Catholic, I suppose, so what I see as desirable and undesirable for the church universal is pretty different than what a small-church evangelical Christian finds desirable.

Really interesting reading because we come from a similar theological framework, and I think he made a lot of incredibly sharp points about how churches function in American society and what's happening to evangelicals, but we have an incredible divergence on ecclesiology!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:34 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


I didn't get a clear picture of how many flavors of Christians actually exist--seems like oodles--but I'm pretty sure I can tell a Republican from a Demograph.
posted by mule98J at 3:00 PM on March 17, 2015


Could this current political climate be the last spasm of a dying White Christian Majority?

I certainly fucking hope so.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:47 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of the things that's quite distinct is that Catholic identity is considerably more "sticky" (arguably due to differing attitudes about schism/authority) than Protestant identity.

Could this be because the Catholic Church itself defines Catholic identity in a broader way than a lot of Protestant denominations would define their identity?

To be Catholic, you must be baptized Catholic, something which is (for many people) a result of their parents' actions. Anyone baptized by the Catholic Church is still counted by the Catholic Church as a Catholic (eg in their official stats) regardless of her personal beliefs or actions.

Whereas I grew up in a semi-evangelical Methodist congregation, and was always told that to be "Christian" required conscious action on my part: belief in Christ, acceptance of salvation. Without belief, I was not considered Christian; if I didn't attend Church, I would not be thought of as much of a Christian.

Judaism has a similar definition of religion as Catholicism, though theirs involves birth or formal conversion. Maybe atheists who were born Jewish still feel Jewish because the whole of the Jewish community still views them as Jewish?
posted by jb at 6:49 PM on March 17, 2015 [1 favorite]


An I-thought-interesting minor aside about definition of Jewish identity: I'd heard from time to time that Jewishness was considered to be passed on matrilineally, which kind of surprised me a bit, because patrilineal EVERYTHING is pretty much the norm for, well, basically everything in the western world.

So one day, this came up in a conversation with an Israeli acquaintance, and I mentioned that I thought that was kind of an interesting thing, since it's such an uncommon way of doing things, especially for a middle eastern religion. "Well, of course! It's because you always know who the mother is."

Ah. Right.
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:14 PM on March 17, 2015 [3 favorites]


Eyebrows, just to start, here's a Wikipedia list of Evangelical colleges. And it's incompete (just from personal experience I'm aware of at least one omission).
posted by zompist at 9:37 PM on March 17, 2015


zompist: "Eyebrows, just to start, here's a Wikipedia list of Evangelical colleges. And it's incompete (just from personal experience I'm aware of at least one omission)."

Mostly those are not colleges/universities; they're seminaries and bible colleges. And, under the US section: "Many of the seminaries listed in this section are affiliated with or have students and faculty from more than one denomination or tradition. The seminaries are listed under the denomination with which they are predominately associated if there is one." ... which is pretty much what I said. I mean, Duke is on the list and it's hardly evangelical. BU and Princeton and Yale are on the list. They're all seminaries where there's an evangelical contingent of students, not "evangelical colleges."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:25 AM on March 18, 2015


Everyone I know raised Catholic (but is now non-Catholic, generally atheist) refers to themselves as 'a recovering Catholic'.

I'm no fan of the Catholic Church (though I have some warm feelings about my Jesuit education), but I just say 'I was raised Catholic'--that 'recovering' thing always seemed wack.
posted by box at 5:24 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


« Older That cat has serious issues   |   Does Star Wars ask: whose worldview and style of... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments