The End of Christian America

Newsweek reported this past week on a recent study that revealed a decline in religious influence in our country. The title of the article was as catchy as it was overstated—“The End of Christian America.” The message of the study the article stresses is that the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8% to 15%. The article points to “an old term with new urgency: post-Christian.” Post-Christian means that we live in a world (or country) where there is no longer a Christian presumption.

The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) covered by Newsweek found that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10% points since 1990, from 86% to 76%. By contrast, the Jewish population is 1.2% and Muslims are 0.6%. The article also pointed out that “the number of people willing to describe themselves as atheist or agnostic has increased about fourfold from 1990 to 2009, from 1 million to about 3.6 million.” So we have twice as many atheists as Episcopalians in the United States.

So... what do you think when you hear people talking about “The End of Christian America” or the "Rise of Post-Christian America?" What is your first and best response when people suggest that the political and social influence of Christianity on our country is on the wane? Would it surprise you to hear some believers responding with, “It’s about time?” Some believers point out that one of the great enemies the kingdom of God has had to face in recent years as been the allusion that it (God’s kingdom) fits in so well with the kingdoms of the earth. In a recent blog, Greg Boyd lists 6 reasons why the church should not weep too much over the demise of American Christianity. The bullets below are summaries of his points; read his blog for the full discussion—

  1. America has never been (or will be) a “Christian” nation. All nations of the world are ruled by Satan (Lk. 4:5-7; 2 Cor. 4:4; I Jn. 5:19). No earthly country is capable of being Christian in the sense of loving enemies, doing good to those who mistreat it or blessing those who persecute it (Lk. 6:27-35). By applying the term “Christian” to America, we’ve watered down the meaning of Christian.

  2. Most American’s who identify themselves as “Christian” to pollsters actually mean they are “American” in terms of core values and lifestyle choices. A majority of people assume they are “Christian” by virtue of being American or because they prayed a certain prayer or go to Church once a year. If fewer people see themselves as “Christian,” this is one less illusion we have to confront as we invite folks into the Kingdom of God.

  3. If Evangelicals lose all their political clout, we may be less tempted to lust after political power, which means we may have one less distraction from actually doing what God called us to do — namely, manifesting God’s reign by how we humbly live, love and serve.

  4. The Kingdom has always (only) thrived when it was on the margins of society. The Kingdom is, by its very nature, a “contrast society.” If Christians lose all their power and position in society and become marginalized, this can’t help but be good for the Kingdom. If Christians become persecuted, it likely will be even better.

  5. American as “Christian nation” was never deeper than the thin veneer of a shared civic religion. Many think being “Christian” is focused on preserving this civic religion (prayer in school, 10 Commandments on government buildings, a “Christian” definition of marriage within our government, etc.). This veneer of civic religion causes many Jesus followers to not notice the many foundational assumptions that permeate American culture are diametrically opposed to the values of the Kingdom.

  6. If Jesus followers are more marginalized by culture, that may drive us together in fellowship and help us to finally get it that the Kingdom of God is inherently communal. It is very difficult for many to embrace radical Kingdom community when we can get along very well (by American standards) without it. The demise of American Christianity would serve us well by stripping us of the privilege of individualistic living.

Peter addressed the Christian to whom he wrote as "God’s elect, strangers in the world" (1 Pet 1:1). He later called them "aliens and strangers in the world" (1 Pet 2:11). The Hebrews writer says that one of the characteristics of people who live by faith is that they see themselves as "aliens and strangers on earth" (Heb 11:13). Those who live in the kingdom of God will never quite fit into this world. We are called to follow Jesus "outside the camp" of this world "bearing the disgrace that he bore" (Heb 13:13). The more we fit into the power structures of this world, the less we are living the principles and power of the kingdom of God.