Christian Karma

Yesterday’s post referencing religious exemptions from child neglect and abuse laws joined a number of prior posts considering the intersection of religion–usually, but not always, conservative Christianity–with legal and constitutional requirements of civic equality and public safety.

Given that ongoing focus, you can understand why a recent headline in the Washington Post caught my eye. It read “White Christian America is Dying,” which turned out to be an interview with the author of a just-issued book titled “The End of White Christian America.”

The book (eulogy??) was written by Robert P. Jones, founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). Jones’ analysis is particularly timely because–despite having been written before Trump entered the Presidential race– it offers an explanation of The Donald’s support among white Evangelicals.

As Jones noted in the course of the interview,

Trump’s appeal to evangelicals was not that he was one of them but that he would “restore power to the Christian churches” if he were elected president. This explicit promise, along with his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, signaled to white evangelical voters that when he crowed about “Making America Great Again,” he meant turning back the clock to a time when conservative white Christians held more influence in the culture. Trump has essentially converted these self-described “values voters” into “nostalgia voters.”

If PRRI’s research is accurate, there are not nearly enough of these “nostalgia voters” to elect Trump or anyone else; furthermore, their ranks are steadily–and rapidly– diminishing.

According to PRRI research, young adults between the ages of 18 to 29 are less than half as likely to be white Christians as seniors age 65 and older. Nearly 7 in 10 American seniors are white Christians; fewer than 3 in 10 young adults are in that category.

Some of this, obviously, is due to large-scale demographic shifts — including immigration patterns and differential birth rates.  But Jones notes that the other major cause is young adults’ rejection of organized religion–they are three times as likely as seniors to claim no religious affiliation.

It is notable that the decline measured by PRRI is not limited to mainline Protestant churches, which was the narrative a few years ago. Membership in Evangelical congregations and suburban “mega” churches has dropped substantially as well. As a result, the white evangelical Protestants who made up 22 percent of the population in 1988 were down to 17 percent in 2015.

Looking ahead, there’s no sign that this pattern will fade anytime soon. By 2051, if current trends continue, religiously unaffiliated Americans could comprise as large a percentage of the population as all Protestants combined — a thought that would have been unimaginable just a few decades ago.

The obvious question is, what has caused this precipitous decline?  PRRI’s answer to that question prompted the reference to karma in the title of this post.

When PRRI surveys have asked religiously unaffiliated Americans who were raised religious why they left their childhood religion, respondents have given a variety of reasons — stopped believing in teachings, conflicts with science, lack of time, etc. — but one issue stands out, particularly for younger Americans. About 70 percent of millennials (ages 18-33) believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. And 31 percent of millennials who were raised religious but now claim no religious affiliation report that negative teaching about or treatment of gay and lesbian people by religious organizations was a somewhat or very important factor in their leaving.

In other words, every time self-identified “Christians” use religion as an excuse to marginalize gays and discriminate against LGBTQ citizens, they increase the rate at which their churches decline. (Karma really is a delightful bitch…)

Someone should tell Mike Pence, Curt Smith and Micah Clark….


  1. I was thinking while reading that

    “Someone should tell Mike Pence, Curt Smith and Micah Clark….”

    to which I would add “and all the self-righteous” who cause some young people to embrace this definition of faith: that which is believed without proof.

    Some will argue that there is plenty of proof – others will say well, let’s see how it plays out in the next world.

  2. I was thinking while reading that

    “Someone should tell Mike Pence, Curt Smith and Micah Clark….”

    to which I would add “and all the self-righteous” who cause some young people to embrace this definition of faith: that which is believed without proof.

    Some will argue that there is plenty of proof – others will say well, let’s see how it plays out in the next world.

  3. Teaching our children about equality appears to have made a greater difference than we thought when doing so. I have seen this in both my son 27 and daughter 25. My son who is politically aware because of my involvement in it when he was growing up, but he is not involved politically other than voting, said; “the Republican Party of today will not exist in 10 years because they don’t see the same world me and my generation will have to live in”.
    Their anti science, anti climate change, anti education , cultural discrimination , and pro war status is the exact opposite of how me and my friends see our country.
    I’m so proud of them for seeing something it took me a life time yo see.

  4. Whacked that nail right on the head.

    Anecdotally, our family walked out the church doors 15 years ago after that very “sermon.” Middle aged Americans aren’t having it either.

    We chose love, not hate.

    Thank you Sheila. Testify.

  5. Could it be their “revealed” books are antiquated and hold little influence in the struggle against America’s nearly complete secularization. It might be compared to the idea of exclusively using a 1952 issue of Rand McNally for planning next year’s cross country road trip.

  6. Watching Trainwrecks; you got it right. As for myself, I walked out those door more than 40 years ago, choosing love over fear. I was becoming almost non-functional regarding decision-making due to the fear of repercussions from God caused by making the wrong decision – but if I didn’t make the decision, what repercussions would that bring about?

    We have moved away from white Christianity which either thanked or blamed God for every event, good or bad. The scientific “awakening” of younger generations (younger than my 1940’s – 1950’s generation) began to reach the ears of those of us who had open minds and wanted answers which could be proven beyond accepting them “on faith”. We are the ones who are aghast and some of us (myself included), living in fear of the lawmakers passing laws based on religions followed by those who deny us our civil and human rights. So far; they have found no religious reason for preventing voter registration or purging votes cast by those who do not live by their religious doctrine but, they just haven’t found the proper Bible verses – YET.

    Trump wouldn’t know a religious tenet if it bit him in the ass; Matthew Tully’s column in the Star today has pointed out that Trump makes Pence look good. Much better than his actuality; to the far right-wing, conservative racists, bigots, anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-LBTQ, xenophobic, violent prone pseudo Christian GOP of this 21st Century. As for Trump’s qualification to become the most powerful person on earth; he is taking Chris Christie with him to his first security briefing. If that doesn’t scare the s#*t out of all thinking Americans – we are doomed!

  7. Sheila,

    Let’s don’t forget what Walter Cronkite said many years ago, “It’s WHITE SUPREMACY masked in Christianity.”

    In furtherance of celebrating my birthday yesterday, I attended a session of the Jacksonville City Council in the afternoon with my friend Larry on a most important subject: Should the City of Jacksonville make an exception and grant a variance on the height of a flagpole from what in Jacksonville has always been a limited to 35 feet in a residential area to a LIGHTED 75 feet in order to fly the CONFEDERATE FLAG so that it can be viewed from Interstate 295.

    Back to your post, I’m still waiting for the real truth in an article from The Washington Post on racism and anti-Semitism which I believe is still a long time in coming. They’ve known about this mess for years and have refused to report it.

    One of the Post’s top editorial writers was a friend of one of my fraternity brothers from Houston. I had met him when I was in college. His family had moved to Jacksonville for business reasons from Houston. His father was President of May-Cohens, a large department store in the center of downtown Jacksonville. So I made contact with him over 15 years ago and alerted him to what was happening in Jacksonville. He was very alarmed and also very interested in doing a story. A week or so later he contacted me and said the paper wasn’t going to TOUCH the story. His name was Peter Melius who died only a few years after our talks.

    What has really been happening in Jacksonville is GASLIGHTING through the MASK of CHRISTIANITY. No better place to do it than what has been described as “The HEART of the evangelical movement in America.” And no better method to use than that which transpired in the 40’s movie “Gaslight” starring Ingrid Bergman.

    What I encountered yesterday at the Elections Office and later posted on this blog was confirmation that the GASLIGHTING is now 100% complete, at least at the prototype and spearhead of the WHITE SUPREMACY movement in America.

    Christianity might be dying, but it is being resurrected into WHITE SUPREMACY and to tell you the truth, I don’t believe Donald Trump is doing a bad job at that.

    To conclude my birthday in a more favorable light, an old acquaintance joined Larry and me at a new “watering hole” near our City Hall, which is now located in the old May-Cohens Department store. I mentioned to her that I felt my soul was more in Indiana these days than Jacksonville. She said, “That’s great. I’m originally from Evansville and graduated from Indiana U.”

    Thanks to all. My social life definitely has needed a lift.

  8. Or maybe because of the catholic church secrets that unfolded in the past 20 yrs? Or what about the politicians that scream against porn and then are found to be “like the Donald” and having multiple wives, with multiple children from those wives and making a mockery of the sanctity of marriage? Or maybe they see the cruelty of gay people and their suicides from bullying? Or maybe it is the people that can’t complete a sentence without invoking Jesus, the Lord or Messiah?

    When I get a chance, I’m going to share my conversation with the driver that took me from O’Hare to my home town yesterday. Get this. He’s an immigrant from the Czech Republic (29 yrs ago) and grew up in communism so he thinks Trump is the best candidate and there is no way he could vote for ‘crooked’ Hillary. Praised Rush Limbach too! I couldn’t believe my ears and as much as I tried to share my point of view…it was pointless. Jet lag is kicking my hiney so when I get more than 4 hrs sleep, I’ll type it up. please excuse any grammar today. I have suitcases for bags under my eyes. My goodness it’s humid here! wow.

    Happy Belated Birthday Marv.

  9. 1) Marv—Happy belated birthday. 2) Your reference to the flag ordinance is chilling. 3) In about 1980, I spoke with a veteran (I think either of WWII or Korea; I did not ask) who was firmly convinced that if the United States erected a giant flagpole on which was inscribed the name of every man and woman who had died in combat while in United States military service, and every person in the country was required to salute that flag (or, I would infer, face the direction in which the flag was located, sort of like Mecca) every day, we would have peace. I asked him how was it that the deaths of all those people failed to bring peace, compared to the symbolic act he suggested. He did not understand my question. 4) That might have seemed off-topic—blame Marv—but the concept is that if we all bow to a single authority, we shall live in peace. Jerry Falwell was angry (surprise) in a broadcast in 1980 or 1981 from his pulpit about “CBS Sunday Morning” and how only church programs should be allowed to be broadcast on Sundays.

  10. Unfortunately, the smaller the percentage the tighter the grip of control becomes. But I must point out that the raw numbers of membership ‘might’ be about the same number (its early for math) – somewhere about 51-57 million people are members of the white evangelical protestant churches in both ’88 and in ’15. I am not stating this to argue against the point of the article because it is still a stagnation of membership, certainly. I only point out that it is still a shit-ton of people that believe that hatred. In my mind, the church needs to change its teaching OR go away at a faster rate otherwise it will still be reeking havoc upon the rest of population at large for years to come. So maybe we should say that it is not growing, it is not shrinking, it is just there.

  11. These numbers reflect what I have seen for years now but could not prove. From my own observations I believe that those “white christian” numbers may be smaller than those reported here. I can sit on my porch any Sunday morning and view forty houses as I count on the fingers of one hand the number of families heading out to church.
    I suspect that many people self identify as christian simply to fit in, appear to be a good guy, want to look good to others when, in fact, their lives bear no resemblance to any adherence to christian teachings.
    The church membership and attendance is also questionable, particularly at the mega churches where every kind of service is more entertainment than worship.

  12. Mike,

    “Marv, (2) your reference to the flag ordinance is chilling.”

    Hope you don’t mind me lowering the temperature. Back in the 70’s in Dallas, I was driving on one of the freeways and I noticed a lighted billboard, two images side by side, one was an American flag, the other was something new, a new flag…….Where the stripes were in the American flag, it was now sold white. Up in the right corner where the stars had been in the American flag was now a CROSS.

    It was many years, before this same flag starting flying in front of many churches instead of the American flag. I’m sure you have all seen it. I’ve always wondered, even when I first saw the new flag……..What would eventually be in the WHITE SPACE next to the cross in the upper right-hand corner? That’s a lot of wasted space. Don’t you think?

    Or better still, a confederate flag with a cross in the middle. That might be more aesthetic. If anyone uses MY IDEA, how about representing me in court?

  13. Will the death of Evangelical Christianity mean the death of hatred and racism? Frankly, I doubt it. We are more easily manipulated by our fears than by our hopes. People like Roger Ailes who control the Republican party understand that and use it only too well. The evangelicals have been their dupes for 30 years.

    Attacks on our public school systems have created a generation that lacks critical thinking skills, as well as the ability to write coherently, or even to read difficult tomes. If there is anything we need to go back to, it’s to an education system that includes a Shortridge High School that produces a Kurt Vonnegut, a Dan Wakefield, and a Dick Lugar in a generation.

  14. Don’t forget anyone who had any sense saluted the Nazi flag in Germany, though only around 60% BELONGED to the legally Nazified Christian churches.

  15. I’m in my late 50’s and left the church 3-1/2 years ago over their judgement and bigotry against gays and lesbians. It became very apparent that they were not exhibiting Christian behavior at all. At least not in my opinion.

    So, it is not only the millenials that have been leaving. There are many more of us in older generations that have left too.

    When I left, I felt like a weight was lifted from my back and I never looked back. Don’t miss it at all.

  16. Nancy,

    You mentioned months ago that you had attended a meeting of Quakers, but were disappointed with them. I attended the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia which was founded by Benjamin Franklin. But Bryn Mawr and Haverford, are both great schools also founded by Quakers. That’s one reason why Philadelphia bore the label “The City of Brotherly Love.”

    I attended a meeting for over a year in Jacksonville which welcomed LGBTQ’s. It really was a great group, but the membership kept dwindling and dissolved to only a few people who met at someone’s home. I liked the idea that there was no one who was telling you how to pray.

    Many of the greatest men and women in America have come from that tradition.

    I must say a”Society of Friends” was very descriptive of the group that I was involved with.

  17. Marv,

    I must say that I liked the Quaker chuch much more than the Methodist denomination that I was raised in. However, four or so years ago when churches all over my area were becoming very vocal against gays/lesbians and then ultimately held votes on whether or not to accept “those people” is when I could no longer tolerate the hatred and bigotry. Of course, maybe it was worse in Indiana than in other states. There is a great possibility of that, given that northern Indiana especially has many evangelicals and white supremacists.

  18. Nancy,

    “I’m in my late 50’s and left the church 3-1/2 years ago over their judgement and bigotry against gays and lesbians. It became very apparent that they were not exhibiting Christian behavior at all. At least not in my opinion.”

    I absolutely and totally understand your sentiment. When in contemporary society a particular church within any Christian denomination blatantly ignores or refuses to acknowledge its early beginnings as a radical movement for protecting the poor and the otherwise overlooked groups of people, then that church has lost its way. It’s not a belief in some supernatural being that kills Christianity, it’s when the behaviors of the Christians in question are not congruent with their stated beliefs.

    As an aside, I remember reading about a rather noisy congregational split in a northern Indiana small United Methodist Church. The split involved a talented and much-loved music director who was gay. I remember shaking my head at the small-minded people who evidently insisted upon his removal.

  19. Religion is best kept away from government because it’s inherently a leader-follower concept. God speaks through humans and has enormous power to judge those who choose to follow or not. So it’s sort of a one way government in itself as envisioned by those who claim to speak for God.

    None of that is inherently bad, in fact it can be very good, but it conflicts with earthly government.

    Clearly these are times of turmoil for white Christians because there are both many choosing to not follow their God and many more non whites. It’s easy to conflate those two independent variables.

    Of course because we believe in government limited to only secular things whatever solutions Christians come up with cannot rely on government power.

    I personally can’t see that to be any real limitation because there are many other avenues by which other alternatives can be explored, but it is I suppose tempting to try to take the easy route and expect secular government to rule on religion.

    Not here.

    Simple and clear. That’s not the way of America.

  20. I for one am not surprised that white Christianity is on the wane. Perhaps organized Christianity is getting in the way of real Christianity to be practiced out here where the rubber meets the road. Jesus forgave adultery and all kinds of felons, but we seem to have forgotten that section of scripture in favor of the more judgmental sections. Why not let Christianity be Christianity? Stripped of Jewish history and war stories and New Testament magic by those who read selectively and intelligently, it represents a gentle philosophy and one that can be followed for the good of all.

  21. From:

    The religious profile of the world is rapidly changing, driven primarily by differences in fertility rates and the size of youth populations among the world’s major religions, as well as by people switching faiths. Over the next four decades, Christians will remain the largest religious group, but Islam will grow faster than any other major religion. If current trends continue, by 2050 …

    The number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians around the world.
    Atheists, agnostics and other people who do not affiliate with any religion – though increasing in countries such as the United States and France – will make up a declining share of the world’s total population.
    The global Buddhist population will be about the same size it was in 2010, while the Hindu and Jewish populations will be larger than they are today.
    In Europe, Muslims will make up 10% of the overall population.
    India will retain a Hindu majority but also will have the largest Muslim population of any country in the world, surpassing Indonesia.
    In the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050, and Judaism will no longer be the largest non-Christian religion. Muslims will be more numerous in the U.S. than people who identify as Jewish on the basis of religion.
    Four out of every 10 Christians in the world will live in sub-Saharan Africa.

  22. Marv,

    I’ve always had this understanding and feeling that Jesus was not intended to be the focus of early Christianity and certainly not the focus of any religion. He simply happened to be a man who found himself leading a rather radical movement during his time, a radical movement that pointed out the failures of the current religion’s ignoring the needs of the people, actually the poor people and the people who for whatever reasons were deemed unworthy of consideration by the prevailing religion. I suspect Jesus was nothing more than an accidental leader.

  23. Fran,

    “Tax the churches…”

    It’s altogether possible that you and the historical Jesus have more in common than you’d imagine.

  24. There are people who want a cafeteria church where they can pick and choose which teachings they “feel” are a good fit for the way they want to lead their lives.

  25. Susan, I’m not affiliated with any particular church and yes, I’m familiar with the cafeteria concept church, something for everyone, smart marketing actually. At this point in my life, it does not bother me one bit, one iota if a person believes in a supernatural being, be it the flying spaghetti monster, the cosmic muffin, or some exalted deity who is so holy that his name cannot be written. Seriously, if personal belief brings some measure of comfort, security, happiness, or whatever to a person, who am I to burst the bubble. On the other hand, when an individual’s personal belief begins to impact my life, as in without invitation into my life, I’ll speak out.

  26. Another hit: conservative Christian churches tended to support the second War in Iraq. The Americans burying their friends and siblings tended to be Millennials.

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