A pundit considers the decline of Christian religious influence on American politics and culture.
For most of America's history, white Protestantism has been a dominant cultural force, providing what E.J. Dionne calls “the civic and moral glue that held American public life together.” A combination of demographic change and the abandonment of churches by younger generations may be bringing this era to an end, creating theological challenges for churches and political and cultural challenges for the nation. Public Religion Research Institute founding CEO Jones (Progressive & Religious: How Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist Leaders are Moving Beyond the Culture Wars and Transforming American Public Life, 2008, etc.) charts the rise and decline of white Protestant churches and their cultural hegemony over the past century. He hits his stride in his description of the two great branches of American Protestantism, the mainline churches and the evangelicals, and their competition for cultural dominance, and in his all-too-brief conclusion, with its thoughtful consideration of how Protestant churches and American society could best adapt to the new dispensation. Unfortunately, a core definitional issue plagues the work. The author at first indistinctly defines the phrase "white Christian America" as "the domain of white Protestants in America"; Irish Catholics, for example, do not count. Further uncertainty persists throughout as Jones uses the term differently according to context, referring variously to a group of people today, a similar group in the past and their cultural norms, and even some evangelicals' social agenda. These constantly shifting meanings confuse readers and are reflected in a failure of topical focus, leading the author to pay excessive attention to well-documented but ultimately tangential discussions of sectarian foot-dragging on such issues as desegregation and gay rights and a purported "white Christian strategy" on the part of some Republican operatives. Finally, the author's thesis is overstated. Though white Protestants may no longer be a demographic majority or a dominant social force, they remain a significant social and political influence.
A missed opportunity to explore an important cultural change in the making.