The American Conservative recently ran a fascinating article that raised the question: what will become of a Republican Party that only speaks to (certain) Christians? (Granted, after the most recent food fight…er, GOP debate…there are other reasons to question the continued viability of the party…)
We all know that demographic changes are creating a more racially and ethnically diverse America. Indeed, there is substantial evidence for the proposition that it is the growth of that diversity that has triggered the rise–and rage–of a bigotry that had been suppressed (albeit not eliminated) over the preceding few decades. What demographers are now beginning to recognize is the emergence of what the article calls “post-Christian” America.
And as the article notes, that reality hasn’t yet penetrated to the current crop of Presidential candidates
Judging solely from the rhetoric and actions of the Republican presidential candidates this cycle, you would be hard-pressed to tell much difference between 2016 and 1996, the year that the Christian Coalition was ruling the roost in GOP politics. Sure there’s a lot more talk about the Middle East than before, but when it comes to public displays of religiosity, many of the would-be presidents have spent the majority of their candidacies effectively auditioning for slots on the Trinity Broadcast Network.
Even Donald Trump, the thrice-married casino magnate turned television host, has gone about reincarnating himself as a devout Christian, despite his evident lack of familiarity with the doctrines and practices of the faith.
If Americans are moving away from Christianity–if even the people most likely to vote Republican are moderating their connection to the version of Christianity that has been most congruent with political conservatism–the GOP will need to significantly expand its appeal to non-Christians and those who describe themselves as “spiritual” rather than religious.
That isn’t happening.
While the process of secularization has been slower-moving in the U.S. compared to Europe, it is now proceeding rapidly. A 2014 study by Pew Research found that 23 percent of Americans say they’re “unaffiliated” with any religious tradition, up from 20 percent just 3 years earlier. The Public Religion Research Institute confirmed the statistic as well with a 2014 poll based on 50,000 interviews indicating that 23 percent of respondents were unaffiliated.
The trend away from faith is only bound to increase with time. According to Pew, about 36 percent of adults under the age of 50 have opted out of religion. At present, claiming no faith is the fastest growing “religion” in the United States. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of people claiming “nothing in particular” increased by 2.3 percent, those saying they were agnostics increased by 1.2 percent and those claiming to be atheists increased by 0.8 percent. No actual religious group has experienced anywhere near such growth during this time period.
The article provides analyses of vote shares from the last election cycle, demonstrating that as people move from church-based religiosity, they also move–in significant numbers–to the Democrats.
In 2016 and beyond, Christian conservatives face a choice. They can embrace identity politics and become a small group of frustrated Christian nationalists who grow ever more resentful toward their fellow Americans, or they can embrace reality.
There are many things today’s GOP embraces, but reality isn’t one of them.