by John Ellis
Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak. Psalm 12:1-2
This past Sunday, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington hosted a lecture by Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Institute and the author of The End of White Christian America. Dr. Jones’ lecture was an informative statistical look at the shifting demographics in America as well as his diagnosis of what propelled President-elect Donald Trump to victory in the face of those shifting demographics. The Q/A session following the lecture was a mix of handwringing from the aging, mostly-white, liberal crowd balanced by Dr. Jones’ dry (in a good way) massaging of the frantic questions back to salient talking points.
I attended the lecture at the behest of my senior pastor. As it began, I contemplated a variety of angles I could take in order to write an article for PJ Media. But, as Dr. Robert Jones spoke, it became clear that what I wanted to say wouldn’t resonate well with the majority of my readers at PJ Media. Entering the lecture, my view of evangelicals in America was already dim; leaving the lecture, those thoughts had begun to collate into a cogent idea. An idea that probably won’t find favor with those who voted to make America great again.
While walking out of the lecture hall, I had several thoughts bouncing around my brain. In fact, my boss and I stood with our car doors open while we breathlessly let loose ideas until we realized the silliness of standing in the cold when we had planned to discuss the lecture over coffee anyway. Back at the church’s office, we dissected the lecture and offered some critiques, mused over points of agreement with Dr. Jones, and praised God for the power of the gospel. Below are some of my thoughts on the heels of the 2016 Presidential Election and the lecture at the UUCA. For the record, I want to stress that the following are my thoughts, and not necessarily my senior pastor’s.
Much of the lecture was spent charting the demographic slide of white evangelicals, the effect the changing demographics has had and will have on politics, and, from the perspective of theological and political liberals, why white evangelicals betrayed their own ethics/morals in order to help elect Donald Trump. I found myself mostly in agreement with his take on why that was; for example, his dismissal of abortion as the issue that provided the steps for evangelicals to climb onto the profane Trump Train was on point, but more on that later.
One of the things that Dr. Jones stressed was the ways in which Trump used the language of power; as in, even though Trump is most decidedly not an evangelical he ably bridged the divide by empathizing with white evangelicals’ fear of cultural and political irrelevance and promising them a return to power. In the view of white evangelicals, America losing its way and needing to be made great again corresponds with their decline in power and influence. One of the statistics introduced into the lecture demonstrates a divide between those who believe that American society is better now versus those who believe that American society was better in the 1950s. Guess which group roundly believes that America was better in the 1950s.
As 2016 comes to a close, even with Donald Trump winning the presidency, many evangelicals feel that society is pushing them further and further to the fringe. Whether that assessment is correct or not should be personally irrelevant to Christians.
Christianity isn’t a religion of human power; it’s a religion that calls its adherents to deny themselves, take up their cross, and desire the salvation of souls through prayer and the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even if that means the loss of prestige, wealth, and comfort – and it frequently means the loss of those things.
The day after the election, I told my senior pastor that one of the things that I had been looking forward to with the presumed Hillary victory was the coming delineation of those for whom the seed of the gospel has produced the fruit of faith from those for whom the seed of the gospel is being choked out, carried off by Satan’s scavengers, or has otherwise failed to take root and produce the fruit of faith in Jesus. Leading up to November 8, all indicators pointed to the reality that conservative Christians would be further marginalized; that the distinct and exclusive soteriological claims of Biblical Christianity, the belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, and the adherence to God’s parameters for sexuality, to name three important Christian distinctions, would cause followers of Jesus to be further pushed out of the public square. While not longing for persecution, the thought of that eventuality caused me to praise God for the means that He would use to make His children clearly known to an unbelieving world. I believed that a Hillary Clinton victory would signal the death nail for cultural Christianity in America. Except Donald Trump won.
Over the last month, as I’ve watched professing Christian after professing Christian out themselves as being far more concerned about their earthly nation than their purported heavenly nation, I’ve begun to conclude that my predictions about a Hillary win are going to hold true under President Trump. The number of memes and social media posts being shared by professing Christians that have the explicit agenda to divide and create strife is shameful. And the marriage of evangelicalism with Donald Trump is appalling.
In 2011, only 30% of white evangelicals believed that a politician’s moral indiscretions and lack of integrity had no bearing on that politician’s fitness for public office. At 30%, still too high, right? Well, in five short years, that number has grown to an astonishing 72%. When Dr. Robert P. Jones shared that stat, the liberal audience collectively and audibly gasped at the naked hypocrisy of white evangelicals. In that moment, my fears that much of what bears the name of Christianity in this country is empty cultural Christianity and that unbelievers are quite cognizant of that fact were proven valid.
When our King left this earth, he gave his followers a command – to spread the gospel and make disciples. That is our mission. When “making America great again” requires naked moral compromise, the mission of preaching the gospel is dangerously threatened. Evangelical supporters of Donald Trump need to stop kidding themselves and recognize that unbelievers see through the barely veiled protestations of morality and straight to the dark heart of self-interest beating inside selfish individuals. This is why Dr. Jones summarily batted away the suggestion that white evangelicals voted for Trump because of a principled stand against abortion.
Donald Trump doesn’t care about slowing much less stopping the genocide of babies called abortion. The #NeverTrump crowd yelled that from the internet rooftop throughout the entire election season. With nary a mention of abortion or defunding Planned Parenthood in his first 100 days’ plan, President-elect Trump is proving the #NeverTrump crowd’s warning correct. In fact, a source told me that the House the GOP controlled House doesn’t have the will to defund Planned Parenthood. Sadly, I don’t think white evangelicals, as a group, cares. I think this because whenever I bring it up, either in print or in person, I’m told to shut up, get with the program, and be thankful that Trump and not Hillary is the President-elect.
Abortion was a smoke-screen for white evangelicals to justify whole-heartedly supporting a man who made his money off of gambling, defends gay marriage, and has a history of sexually objectifying women, to name three of his vile practices from a long list of vile practices. Furthermore, demonstrating ungraciousness to immigrants, protecting their financial interests, and regaining seats at the table of power, white evangelicals, led by men like Jerry Falwell, Jr., Dr. James Dobson, and Franklin Graham, have severely compromised their ability to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Demonstrating that they lust for power more than they long for Jesus, the white evangelical church complex is proving itself a fraud, and that’s good news.
Christians have a golden opportunity. Amongst all the strife, fear, and anger, we hold the full and final answer found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit has promised to work in and through the preaching of God’s Word. The stripping away of white evangelicals’ pretense of concern for the spread of the gospel is no deterrent to the work of the Holy Spirit. And in this moment in time, Christians in America will be able to demonstrate to their neighbors, immigrants or otherwise, that we serve King Jesus and not political ideologies that put ourselves and our self-interests first. In His mercy, God is divorcing His people in America from the stain of politics and cultural power. God is revealing cultural Christianity for what it is – anti-Christianity. Thankfully, God is not dependent on white evangelicals to spread the message of His Kingdom. And, within the United States, His Kingdom is growing, just not necessarily among whites.
A note within the lecture that struck a dissonant chord with me was the rummaging around within the contemporary clarion call for diversity. Don’t misunderstand, I love diversity; I love the fact that our Creator is so marvelous that He designed a beautiful cacophony of Image Bearers to reflect His glory. However, as a Christian, the title of Dr. Jones’ most recent book rings odd for me. Specifically, the reactions from both the left and the right to the demographic slide of white evangelicals are tones that lack resonance with me. As a member of the statistical demographic, I’m not sure why I’m supposed to mourn The End of White Christian America.
While I understand the need for statisticians and sociologists to break demographics down into manageable bite-size chunks, I cringe at the ethnic adjective “white” attached to the label “evangelical.” You see, my King is making a new nation out of all tribes, tongues, and peoples. The identity of Christians transcends ethnic identity markers. Talk of “white” Christians and “black” Christians and “Hispanic” Christians doesn’t sit well with me; I immensely dislike any divisions that separate me from my brothers and sisters in Christ.
Throughout the lecture, there were several moments when I was tempted to stand up and protest, “Wait a minute! I’m not a white Christian. I’m not an American Christian. I’m a Christian who is white. I’m a Christian who was born in America. I have very little desire to protect and preserve any identity markers apart from the identity marker of being reborn into the family of God.”
What kept me in my seat, however, and apart from the fact that I’m not generally a rude individual, was my awareness that Dr. Jones was honestly responding to the sociological subculture that identifies as white evangelical Americans, many of whom do want to protect and preserve identity markers that are not necessary to being a member of God’s family. I mean, if I had stood up and delivered my protest, what would I have followed it up with? Dr. Jones is correct, white Christians are losing their hold as the most powerful demographic in America and many of them, if not most, are not ok with that. Further, at that point, within a setting like the lecture, I can’t adequately separate myself from other white evangelicals except to bluster that, “Hey! I’m not like them. They (the white evangelicals being discussed) do not represent my church.”
When Dr. Jones pointed out that the evangelicalism is on the rise within the Hispanic community, I wanted to give an “amen.” Discussions about the growth of evangelicalism within the black and Asian communities cause me to praise God. For Christians, it’s not a contest to see which of us can win the most of our ethnicity to Christ. All sinners that are saved by grace through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ share the most important identity of all – being in Christ. The place of a subculture’s demographic rankings should be of very little concern to Christians in light of the glorious reality that God is demonstrating the diversity of His Kingdom through the salvation of all peoples and tongues. In fact, I wholeheartedly believe that it’s good and right that evangelicalism in this country stop being thought of as the religion of white people.
Over the last two centuries, one ethnic subculture’s dominance over both the theology and the halls of power in America has created anemic churches that have become focused on specific, artificial ethnic markers, which, to be frank, is one of the main problems to which the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had succumb. Possibly worse, many evangelical churches in this country have conflated true religion with power, prestige, and cultural relevance. So much so that in order to preserve their power, white evangelicals have gotten in bed with a man whose life, words, and deeds are antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
With the end of white Christian America, my prayer is that the focus of Christians will return to the centrality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the lives of believers; that churches in this country will make the preaching of God’s Word central, and divest their worship services of any and all things that distract or otherwise takeaway from the preaching of God’s Word. I pray that as the false god of an identity separate from Jesus is revealed in the hearts of many of those in this country who profess the name of Christ, true followers of King Jesus will have the courage to disavow cultural Christianity for the sake of the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As our cultural milieu shifts, I pray that Christians will stop worshipping the false idols of power, cultural relevance, and material blessings. It’s true that Christians in America have been blessed with security, comfort, and great material blessings. We should strive to use those blessings in joyful and obedient service to God, the author of all our blessings. Turning our backs on the selfish desire for power and esteem, we need to pray for the grace to disavow unholy alliances with those who have promised us the riches of the world. “For [you] to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).”
Soli Deo gloria
 Dr. Jones brought out that many of the gaffes that Trump committed in reference to religion would have sunk other politicians.
 A comprehensive take on that polling question would be almost impossible, making it an almost nonsensical question. I mean, I could answer that question different ways depending on which indicators are in question. If you’re asking me which decade I think is better for someone with cancer to live during, thanks to medical advances, the answer is easy – now. If you ask me which decade is better to eat a steak in, the answer, thanks to the meddling of health nuts, is the 1950s. Of course, factoring in things like crime, home ownership, the civil rights of African-Americans, the safety of automobiles, the objectification of women, entertainment choices, etc. makes the question so multifaceted as to be almost unanswerable. Note – “almost” – if forced to choose, I think that I’d rather live now than in the 1950s (or any other decade, for that matter). The reasons for my answer are many and are complicated. For one thing, the availability of many kinds of delicious beer is a strong plus for this decade, that and I doubt that I would be getting paid to write in the 1950s.
 I would love for there to be a genuine revival, so to speak, among Americans. I would love for the majority of Americans (all, in fact) to respond in faith to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever concern I have about evangelicals being pushed to the fringe of society should be concern about the mortal souls of those doing the pushing.
 “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake (Matthew 10:22).” “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of this world, but I chose you out of this world, therefore the world hate you (John 15:18-19).”
 Discussions about diversity are difficult. For starters, I’m rarely sure what people mean when they use the word. Most of the people that I know that talk the most about diversity lead very non-diverse, homogenous lives. For another thing, I’m afraid that if they do get their wish, the Church will turn into a vague, drab gray – to please everyone, no one will be able to be pleased, kind of thing. Personally, I like knowing that there are churches in existence around the world that worship God in ways that are way outside of my specific comfort zone; I don’t want them changing in order to make me feel comfortable. If they are in Christ, I would feel welcomed and loved, even if I wouldn’t feel comfortable with every aspect of the worship service.