The Christian Right is in decline and it’s taking America with it.
July 9, 2021 at 10:44 am #38271
Reg the Fronkey FarmerModerator
The following is an opinion piece from today’s New York Times by Michelle Goldberg.
The presidency of George W. Bush may have been the high point of the modern Christian right’s influence in America. White evangelicals were the largest religious faction in the country. “They had a president who claimed to be one of their own, he had a testimony, talked in evangelical terms,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute and author of the 2016 book “The End of White Christian America.”
Back then, much of the public sided with the religious right on the key culture war issue of gay marriage. “In 2004, if you had said, ‘We’re the majority, we oppose gay rights, we oppose marriage equality, and the majority of Americans is with us,’ that would have been true,” Jones told me. Youthful megachurches were thriving. It was common for conservatives to gloat that they were going to outbreed the left.
Activists imagined a glorious future. “Home-schoolers will be inordinately represented in the highest levels of leadership and power in the next generation,” Ned Ryun, a former Bush speechwriter, said at a 2005 Christian home-schooling convention. Ryun was the director of a group called Generation Joshua, which worked to get home-schooled kids into politics. The name came from the Old Testament. Moses had led the chosen people out of exile, but it was his successor, Joshua, who conquered the Holy Land.
But the evangelicals who thought they were about to take over America were destined for disappointment. On Thursday, P.R.R.I. released startling new polling data showing just how much ground the religious right has lost. P.R.R.I.’s 2020 Census of American Religion, based on a survey of nearly half a million people, shows a precipitous decline in the share of the population identifying as white evangelical, from 23 percent in 2006 to 14.5 percent last year. (As a category, “white evangelicals” isn’t a perfect proxy for the religious right, but the overlap is substantial.) In 2020, as in every year since 2013, the largest religious group in the United States was the religiously unaffiliated.
One of P.R.R.I.’s most surprising findings was that in 2020, there were more white mainline Protestants than white evangelicals. This doesn’t necessarily mean Christians are joining mainline congregations — the survey measures self-identification, not church affiliation. It is, nevertheless, a striking turnabout after years when mainline Protestantism was considered moribund and evangelical Christianity full of dynamism.
In addition to shrinking as a share of the population, white evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the United States, with a median age of 56. “It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.
White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.
From this fact derives much of our country’s cultural conflict. It helps explain not just the rise of Donald Trump, but also the growth of QAnon and even the escalating conflagration over critical race theory. “It’s hard to overstate the strength of this feeling, among white evangelicals in particular, of America being a white Christian country,” said Jones. “This sense of ownership of America just runs so deep in white evangelical circles.” The feeling that it’s slipping away has created an atmosphere of rage, resentment and paranoia.
QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.
“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”
The fight over critical race theory seems, on the surface, further from theological concerns. There are, obviously, plenty of people who aren’t evangelical who are anti-C.R.T., as well as evangelicals who oppose C.R.T. bans. But the idea that public schools are corrupting children by leading them away from a providential understanding of American history has deep roots in white evangelical culture. And it was the Christian right that pioneered the tactic of trying to take over school boards in response to teachings seen as morally objectionable, whether that meant sex education, “secular humanism” or evolution.
Jones points out that last year, after Trump issued an executive order targeting critical race theory, the presidents of all six seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention came together to declare C.R.T. “incompatible” with the Baptist faith. Jones, whose latest book is “White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity,” could recall no precedent for such a joint statement.
As Jones notes, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 after splitting with abolitionist Northern Baptists. He described it as a “remarkable arc”: a denomination founded on the defense of slavery “denouncing a critical read of history that might put a spotlight on that story.”
Then again, white evangelicals probably aren’t wrong to fear that their children are getting away from them. As their numbers have shrunk and as they’ve grown more at odds with younger Americans, said Jones, “that has led to this bigger sense of being under attack, a kind of visceral defensive posture, that we saw President Trump really leveraging.”
I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.July 9, 2021 at 3:12 pm #38273
Reg the Fronkey FarmerModerator
The reality is not that the Evangelicals are being attacked but that they are imploding. Their ranks are not being repopulated by their children because the younger generation sees that conservative beliefs are either to some degree racist, homophobic or anti-LGBTQ. They are too educated and have a much less insular view of the world than their parents. For the new generation making America great again is not some vague rose tinted reverie about the past but rather a re-imagining of what the American Dream can be.
Hunter S. Thompson once said “I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours”.
What would he say about the death throes of the Evangelicals ?July 14, 2021 at 5:35 pm #38291
I am actually very afraid for this country. The few crazy assholes are ruining it for the rest of us with their conspiracy theories and lies. They may be smaller in numbers but as long as these fringe extremists types exist in the intensity and propensity to violence, our country isn’t safe. Remember…how many men did it take to ram a plane into the twin towers?….not a lot but just enough.July 20, 2021 at 9:44 pm #38363
I shed no tears whatsoever for the decline of the Christian Right and only regret that it hasn’t happened faster in my own community. I can’t count the numbers of times people come into the store giving out bible tracts and wearing T-Shirts with thoughtless scriptures like: “Iron sharpens Iron” from Proverbs 27:17. (Uh, no. It’s harder, more abrasive metals and minerals that sharpen softer metals like Iron. The ancients just didn’t know that Iron could also contain Carbon, which did make it harder and thus able to sharpen purer, softer Iron.)
That said, the author misunderstands the rational, Secular reason for opposing Critical Race Theory (C.R.T.)
There ia nothing a rational person should disagree with in studying the existence of racism, discrimination, slavery, and genocide in either Local, State, U.S., or World history.
What is objectionable is to say that people living today are responsible for these horrors that happened prior to their birth, to say that some people are guilty of these horrors just by virtue of their immutable traits, and especially to teach that to children who have no hand in anything.
A person is only responsible for what he or she says or does at the age of accountability forward, nothing before and certainly nothing prior to birth in antiquity.
And no one is responsible for any debt not willfully assumed. We have an entire identity theft protection industry dedicated to fighting to keep people free from incurring debts they don’t owe. That industry and the people it serves do not need staving off ancient grievance shake-down artists added to their list of concerns.
And the Christian Right could learn something from this opposition too. If people are not guilty of racism, discrimination, slavery, and genocide by birth, they certainly aren’t guilty of anything else by birth either.
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