The End of White Christian America was released in July of 2016. It acknowledged the now well-cited US Census Bureau statistic that, by 2042 the United States would no longer be a majority white nation. It followed-up with statistics from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), stating that the numbers of US citizens who were both white and Christian (by which they mean all Catholics and Protestants) had already “slipped below a majority” to 47% of the population as of 2014 (Jones, p. 47). The author reinforced PRRI’s findings with a 2013 Republican National Committee task force’s conclusions. It recommended Republican leaders begin “rebranding their conservatism to appeal to women, ethnic minorities, and young people, who saw the party as narrow-minded and out-of-touch” (Jones, p. 102).
However, what followed were a series of ill-advised premonitions. Chief among those was the claim that “appeals to white Christians…will likely set the GOP back when it turns to the task of reclaiming the White House in 2016” (Jones, p. 107). Four months later Donald Trump won the presidency in large part by feeding on division; using racist, sexist, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant and Christian bigotry. This event did not help the author’s book sales. Non-fiction readers quietly re-shelved their copies of The End of White Christian America, and went out to find new books explaining why God-fearing hillbillies in the middle of the country were fooled into believing that a New York billionaire would hand them jobs and money.
Despite its failed forecast of political events, the book’s sources of information appear unbiased. PRRI is a Christian organization. The author is its CEO and a religious Christian. Even though Jones is a liberal Christian, neither he nor PRRI gained anything by admitting that Christian influence or population is diminishing. Even fundamentalist Christians worry about the decline in church attendance, so the concern crosses the political spectrum. Similarly, the Republican National Committee task force had no stake in admitting that its views are out-of-touch with America. And finally, the US Census Bureau has, in the past, shown a bias against minorities. It has been repeatedly criticized for under-reporting the country’s non-white population. We know that they are not prejudiced in favor of minorities when they announce the demise of white majority status.
So where did Jones go wrong? He failed where most statisticians fail: He was overly focused on the numbers and did not take into account human reaction or emotion. Statistics about a population’s rise or decline in percentage reveal nothing about their enthusiasm, their fears, their anger or their irrational prejudices; the kinds of things that drive people to the voting booths. A demographic that makes-up 47% of the country is still a significant number and can change an election.
But this may not be the only blind spot in the book. Although Jones’s statistics, if accurate, point to a continual decline in white Christian percentage, they fail to take historical events into account. The United States has experienced periods of religious revivalism in the form of two “Great Awakenings” (circa 1730 and 1790), and several smaller but significant bumps in church attendance (most recently circa 1980). Again, too many statistics; not enough meditation on human nature. These kinds of revivals have the potential to push our non-fictionally illiterate, scientifically-impaired fellow citizens, back into the open arms of the superstitious congregation.
It’s easy to kick a book when it’s down. So let’s focus for a moment on what is positive about Jones’s study. The End of White Christian America is an optimistic and useful book for atheists, minorities and progressives. Feminist activists seeking federal funding for battered women’s shelters learned that, when they did their own research on the numbers domestic violence survivors, they were accused of inflating the data. So they began using crime stats provided by the FBI; an undeniably male-dominated, politically conservative organization that could not be accused of promoting a feminist agenda. Similarly, atheists, minorities and progressives, can turn to Jones’s Christian, Republican and US Census Bureau conclusions, in order to both bolster their arguments and provide them with a sense of optimism for the future. After all, barring a “Third Great Awakening,” not much stands in the way of the further decline of white or Christian domination.
Jones, Robert P. The End of White Christian America. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2016.