Christian right falls from mainstream

Election signals America's cultural shift as white evangelicals lose power

The Rev. Scott Sauls, pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, said his city, like the rest of the country, is becoming more secular. But believers don’t necessarily need to fear that.  Sauls, who spent several years as a pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, said being in a culture where Christianity is normal can cause people to take faith for granted. In New York, he said, few people attend church on a regular basis.  Nashville is different.

 

Since the day Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, white Christians have considered

themselves the home team in American politics. As the dominant social group, they’ve shaped the country’s moral and political culture for nearly 400 years.

But the recent presidential election is a sign that those days may be over, a prospect that’s encouraging or terrifying, depending on which side people are on. For some, the change leads to fear that America is no longer a Christian nation. For others, it’s an opportunity to separate faith from the quest for political power.

The trend is fueled by simple demographics, said Robert Jones, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Religion Research Institute. White Christians are simply too old and too few in number to control the outcome of a nationwide election. His research shows 69 percent of senior citizens are white and either evangelical, Catholic, or mainline Protestants, and many voted for Romney. Those same groups are only a quarter of all 30-year-olds.

“Romney’s coalition looks like senior America,” Jones said. “Running up big totals among white Christians and expecting them to take you over the top is not a strategy for victory nationwide.”

Post-election, some in that group are downplaying the results, saying their side lost because of bad tactics, not bad ideas. Others say their leaders are too focused on politics and the culture war and not enough on living out their faith. Few want to give up the idea of letting Christian ideals shape politics, but most acknowledge they are in for a long struggle.

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