The term “culture war” is shorthand for the increasingly frantic effort of America’s White Christian Nationalists to turn back the clock–to return “uppity” women and Blacks to their prior, subordinate positions, stuff LGBTQ citizens back in the closet, and make it clear that respect for “religion” extends only to Christians (and really just certain Protestants).
The ferocity with which they are waging that battle can make our lives chaotic and dangerous. Bizarre accusations leveled at school boards and teachers are accompanied by voucher programs intended to destroy the schools that create a democratic polity; rogue Courts ignore longstanding jurisdictional rules in order to accommodate anti-gay religious bigotry; a contingent of Congressional mental cases has now gone beyond their effort to defund the FBI by refusing to fund the military if the Pentagon doesn’t eliminate what they call its “woke” policies.
Rational people are understandably depressed and/or frightened.
I don’t know who first uttered the phrase “this too shalll pass,” but it definitely applies to the culture warriors’ current eruption of fear and hate. What we are seeing is a tantrum triggered by subconscious recognition that the America they are fighting so hard to prevent is inevitable.
Why do I say it’s inevitable? Because it is already here.
A few months ago, I was asked to speak to a local church’s Sunday school class about anti-Semitism. It was a good discussion (they were members of a denomination that I categorize as actually Christian), and as I was leaving, a lovely lady stopped me to say she’d appreciated the conversation, because her grandchildren are Jewish.
She has a lot of company. A 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 42% of all currently married Jewish respondents had a non-Jewish spouse. (I’m obviously one of them–in case you were confused, Kennedy is not a Jewish name.) For that matter, the high rate of Jewish intermarriage is of great concern to the Rabbinate and to Jewish organizations; to the extent intermarriage reduces the number of people identifying as Jewish, we may disappear entirely. After all, there weren’t that many of us to start with.
Of course, it isn’t just inter-religious marriage. It’s also interracial and same-sex unions.
America is experiencing the demographic “mixing”that so terrified Southern slaveholders (at least, when they weren’t engaging in some of that “mixing” themselves, with slaves who couldn’t refuse…) The most recent data I could find from the U.S. Census Bureau was from 2019; at that time, about 11% of all marriages in the United States were interracial. Even more significantly, in 2021, according to Axios, approval of interracial marriage in the U.S. hit a new high of 94%, according to Gallup polling.
The article noted that the prevalence of intermarriage continues to increase. In 1967, when Loving v. Virginia was decided, just 3% of married couples were interracial. In 2021, Pew estimated it at 20%.
Numbers and percentages can change, depending upon the definitions used, but whatever the “accurate” percentages, the rate of demographic inter-mingling continues to rise, and to affect the social context within which increasing numbers of Americans live.
It isn’t just increased acceptance of opposite-sex intermarriage. A poll conducted by the Trevor Project found that two-thirds of American adults report personally knowing someone who identifies as gay or lesbian, and nearly two-thirds of them (62%) said they would be comfortable if their child came out to them as gay, lesbian, or bisexual.(Only 13% would not be comfortable–a huge change from past attitudes.) Approval of same-sex marriage is now at 71%.
Dobbs was also too late to re-stigmatize abortion. Researchers tell us that one in four American women have terminated a pregnancy at some point in their lives. Gallup tells us that 85% of American women support reproductive choice–and that 45% would impose no restrictions on the procedure.
We now live in a society in which a not-insignificant number of older White Christians have Jewish, Black, Latino or gay grandchildren. Some number of those people react by rejecting those grandchildren, but a larger number will fight for a world that treats them fairly.
It isn’t just our friends and families. Increasing numbers of Americans go to jobs every day where their colleagues and co-workers are “diverse.” We have doctors and lawyers and CPAs who come from backgrounds different from our own.–and increasing numbers of those doctors, lawyers and CPAs are female.
In short, the world has moved on, and most of us prefer its current contours to the bigotries and caste-like social structures of the past. The exceptions are very angry and very loud, and they can do a lot of short-term harm. But their time has passed–and the tantrums they are throwing are evidence that–deep down–they know it.