In the beginning of his 2016 book titled The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones issued an obituary for white Christian America. The time of death was listed as “in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century.” The cause of death was attributed to “complications stemming from major demographic changes in the country, along with religious disaffiliation as many of its younger members began to doubt (white Christian America’s) continued relevance in a shifting cultural environment.”
In the afterword of his book, Jones called the surprising 2016 election of Donald Trump — along with the Republican takeover of both houses of Congress, and the Senate’s refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, to replace Justice Antonin Scalia which enabled Trump to nominate and the Senate to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court — “the death rattle of white Christian America rather than its resuscitation.”
Four years later in his book White Too Long, Jones wrote that “white Christian souls … have been most disfigured by the myth of white supremacy” and “are most in need of repentance and restoration, not just for the sake of the descendants of those whom our ancestors kidnapped, robbed, whipped, murdered and oppressed (notice that Jones did not include “raped”); not just for those who today are unjustifiably shot by police, unfairly tried, wrongly convicted, denied jobs, and poorly educated in failing schools; but for the sake of our children and our own future.”
Is the moral, ethical and spiritual disfigurement Jones finds in the souls of white Christians part of the death mask of white Christian America? Or is it more realistic to conclude that white Christian America is not dying, but is morphing into an even more sinister version of itself as its adherents age and become a smaller part of the U.S. population?
Trump’s re-election bid in 2020, although unsuccessful, received overwhelming support from white Christians the same way white Christians supported his successful 2016 candidacy. White Christians in Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Texas and Kansas not only supported Trump’s 2020 re-election effort; their support propelled Lindsey Graham to re-election to the Senate from South Carolina despite the better-funded campaign run by his challenger, Jamie Harrison.
White Christians in Alabama, the home state of Congressman John Lewis and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, voted this month to elect a white former college football coach (Tommy Tuberville) — who displayed total ignorance about the Voting Rights Act — rather than re-elect Sen. Doug Jones, the white former U.S. attorney who successfully prosecuted the white racist men responsible for bombing the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four Black girls and maimed a fifth one.
In Georgia, Republican U.S. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are counting on white Christians to turn out “five to a mule” in the Jan. 5, 2021, runoff election against Raphael Warnock and John Ossof that will determine whether Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans will block the Biden administration the same way they blocked the last six years of the Obama presidency.
In Mississippi, white Christians voted — a second time — to elect Cindy Hyde Smith to the U.S. Senate despite her 2018 public remark that she would be on the front row of a public hanging if one of her supporters invited her to attend it. Her opponent in 2018 and 2020 was former Mississippi Congressman Mike Espy, a Black man who served as secretary of agriculture during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
These electoral results — coupled with the overwhelming support that Donald Trump received from white Christians in 2020 in numerous other local, state and federal election contests in the United States — should remind us of Mark Twain, who famously declared, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
“White Christians are clearly not as large a part of the U.S. electorate as in past years.”
White Christians are clearly not as large a part of the U.S. electorate as in past years. However, they continue to be a cohesive voting bloc. I have detected no appreciable difference between the voting behaviors of white men and white women who self-identify as Christians, regardless of education, income or whether they live in rural or urban settings.
There are, however, encouraging signs. A growing number of young white Christians are discarding the white supremacy and patriarchy of their childhood years. They are leaving churches where the heresies of white supremacy, religious nationalism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, technocentrism and xenophobia are taught, preached and practiced. That exodus is encouraging to people who recognize that white Christian churches cultivate, distribute and sacralize white supremacy and its wicked side effects more than any other institution in the United States.
However, the exodus of young white Christians seems less evident in the American South and Midwest. Those are the jurisdictions where white Christian America has a chokehold on public policy in the United States and the way our nation behaves in the world. I have not found white Christians in the 18 to 50 age group any less devoted to white supremacy, patriarchy and authoritarianism than their elders.
The issue for our time is not whether white Christian America is dead or even if it is dying. The question is whether enough people will reject it. Will enough people reject the heresies associated with white Christian America and work together in Georgia in January to elect Raphael Warnock and John Ossof? Will enough white voters reject those heresies in future local, state and federal elections? Will people of color be fooled by white Christian American efforts at “outreach”?
“Yes, white Christian America is aging. But it is plainly not dead.”
Yes, white Christian America is aging. But it is plainly not dead. The divisiveness and hatefulness associated with it is not going away now, or in a future generation. Now, and always, white Christian America must be defeated by a radical white liberation-minded people from all backgrounds and histories — including followers of Jesus, followers of other religions, and people who are unaffiliated with any other religious faith.
In the final analysis, it is as unrealistic to expect the hatefulness of white Christian America to die any more than we expect any other manifestation of sin to die. Instead of watching in vain for white Christian America to take its last breath, we need to unite, cooperate, actively resist it and defeat it — whenever and wherever we can — together.
Wendell Griffen is an Arkansas circuit judge and pastor of New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Ark.