PRRI's New Book Declares "The End of White Christian America"

‘The End of White Christian America’ book by Robert P. Jones

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has definitely gotten many tongues wagging. When the Republican Party’s primaries were in their infancy, political pundits and analysts did not see how Donald Trump would emerge as the Party’s nominee for president. Not only did Donald Trump bag the ticket, he also defeated Ted Cruz, a preacher’s son armed with verses from the Holy book in the predominantly white, evangelical demographic of the Republican Party.

The End of White Christian America seems to offer answers to the surprising outcome of the 2016 GOP primaries. Jones, the CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) remarks, “The American religious landscape is being remade, most notably by the decline of the white Protestant majority and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. These religious transformations have been swift and dramatic, occurring largely within the last four decades. Many white Americans have sensed these changes, and there has been some media coverage of the demographic piece of the puzzle. But while the country’s shifting racial dynamics are certainly a source of apprehension for many white Americans, it is the disappearance of White Christian America that is driving their strong, sometimes apocalyptic reactions.”

With this background and considering Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail, it becomes easier to understand his win over Cruz with the white evangelical demographic. For example, while campaigning in Iowa in January, Trump commented, “I’ll tell you one thing: I get elected president, we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again. …because if I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power — you don’t need anybody else.” Trump was essentially tapping into the deep sense of loss that white evangelical Christians are feeling. He was promising to make them the dominant force in culture and politics as they have been for decades. Cruz was offering a more modest promise of respectable retreat.

However, as Jones notes in his book, the numbers do not appear to fair very well for white Christian America. He notes, “Today, white evangelicals are not only experiencing the shrinking of their own ranks, but they are also confronting larger, genuinely new demographic and cultural realities. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, white Christians (Catholics and Protestants) constituted a majority (54 percent) of the country; today, that number has slipped to 45 percent. Over this same period, support for gay marriage — a key issue for evangelicals — moved from only four in 10 to solid majority territory, and the Supreme Court cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states. The Supreme Court itself symbolized these changes, losing its last remaining Protestant justice, John Paul Stevens, in 2010.”

In more ways than one, The End of White Christian America offers a concise view to some of the issues that are shaping the 2016 U.S. election. With the continued decline of White Christian America predicted in the book, it remains to be seen how this demographic will respond to their change in fortunes. This will have a real impact on democracy in America.

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