Van Ens: White Christians’ cultural and religious dominance loses ground (column)
Editor’s note: Find a cited version of this column at http://www.vaildaily.com.
The white Protestant Empire has ruled our nation since its founding. Because its dominance is crumbling, white conservatives fight to turn around this major trend.
“White Christians no longer make a majority of Americans, with their percentage now at 43 percent, down from 81 percent in 1976; and fewer than half of U.S. states have a majority population of white Christians,” reports the Public Religion Research Institute in a recent landmark survey.
Even the Southern Baptist Convention is reeling because of falling stats. This largest U.S. Protestant denomination lost 15.2 million members last year. “So often, white evangelicals have been pointing in judgment to white mainline groups (such as Presbyterians, Methodists and Episcopalians), saying when you have liberal theology, you decline,” observed Robert Jones, who heads the Public Religion Research Institute. “I think this data really does challenge that interpretation of linking theological conservatism and growth.”
Christian white conservatives are digging in, entrenched in unwavering support for President Donald Trump; 81 percent of white evangelical Protestants voted for him. So did 60 percent of white Catholic voters.
Why aren’t white Christians troubled by Trump’s tacky morals, arrogance and a vindictive streak to tweet the lights out of those he demonizes? “We didn’t vote for a pope,” say his Christian supporters. They believe Trump’s the best man to fire corrupt Washington despots who rob citizens of their rights by ignoring constitutional limits on federal power.
Trump’s faults don’t bother white conservatives. They ask, “Didn’t the Apostle Paul identify himself as the ‘chief of sinners’ (I Timothy 1:15)?” The Bible is full of sinners whose ethical lapses surpass Trump’s faults: “a thrice-married real estate mogul and a star on reality television … (who) had written that he got to sleep with ‘some of the top women in the world,’” reports historian Frances Fitzgerald (“The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America,” Simon & Schuster, 2017, p. 627).
White Christians rally to the president’s defense, pointing to the Old Testament’s King David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her soldier-husband Uriah by assigning him front-line combat (II Samuel 11). Scripture praises David as “a man after God’s own heart.”
These biblical readers look the other way when it’s pointed out the Apostle Paul and King David showed remorse for their sins and asked for forgiveness. In contrast, Trump depends on his talents, rejecting God’s mercy, which he claims he doesn’t need.
Alarmed by America’s secularization — it’s living as if God no longer counts — conservative Christians are confident Trump will reverse these trends. They join him in fighting a counter-offensive, beginning with Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court appointment. They are confident his judicial decisions will restore Christianity’s cultural dominance, as it was during the 1950s under white control.
Gorsuch’s addition to the Supreme Court appeals to white conservatives, especially working citizens who lack a college education. “… These members of the lower middle class see many of the values and beliefs they live by — once perceived as honorable in their own communities — ridiculed as bigoted, homophobic, misogynist, xenophobic and backward by a relatively privileged and powerful elite,” reports James Davison Hunter, who directs the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia, in his commentary, “How America’s culture wars have evolved into class warfare.”
Although demographic trends no longer favor them, many white Christians say Trump and Gorsuch will restore traditional 1950s morality and make America white and Christian again.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.