Robert P. Jones writes: The general decline of white Catholics and white mainline Protestants, the more liberal branch of white Protestantism anchored in the Northeast and upper Midwest, has long been noted by sociologists. But until recently, their white evangelical cousins in the South and lower Midwest had seemed immune to these trends. This evangelical exceptionalism was not lost on white evangelicals themselves, who frequently pointed a judgmental finger at their more liberal cousins, arguing that there was a direct link between more progressive theology and denominational decline.
But one of the most important findings of our survey is that as the country has crossed the threshold from being a majority white Christian country to a minority white Christian country, white evangelical Protestants have themselves succumbed to the prevailing winds and in turn contributed to a second wave of white Christian decline in the country. Over the past decade, white evangelical Protestants have declined from 23% to 17% of Americans.
During this same period, the proportion of religiously unaffiliated Americans has grown from 16% to 24%.
The engines of white evangelical decline are complex, but they are a combination of external factors, such as demographic change in the country as a whole, and internal factors, such as religious disaffiliation — particularly among younger adults who find themselves at odds with conservative Christian churches on issues like climate change and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights. As a result, the median age of white evangelical Protestants is now 55, and the median age of religiously unaffiliated Americans is 37. While 26% of seniors (65 and older) are white evangelicals, only 8% of Americans younger than 30 claim this identity.
The evangelical alliance with Trump can be understood only in the context of these fading vital signs among white evangelicals. They are, in many ways, a community grieving its losses. After decades of equating growth with divine approval, white evangelicals are finding themselves on the losing side of demographic changes and LGBT rights, one of their founding and flagship issues. [Continue reading…]