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An author’s eulogy for ‘White Christian America’ | PBS NewsHour | Aug. 31, 2016

Blurb by PBS NewsHour: The demographic makeup of America is undergoing a visible change, and with it, America’s culture — dominated by White Christian culture — and power structures are shifting, too. That’s the premise of Robert Jones’ new book, “The End of White Christian America.” Judy Woodruff speaks with Jones for more.

Interview highlights with Judy Woodruff, Aug. 31, 2016: We have moved in last 8 years from being majority to minority white Christian America — It has really faded from the center … demographics begins to change in 1990s grief and anger from Trump supporters … nones … immigration. Rising numbers of Latinos … apocalyptic rhetoric … driven by sense of loss and grief … support for Trump … the passing of this era … loss and nostalgia — “Merry Christmas” … and here’s the part that leapt out at me: At 4:23 Woodruff asks “Why is it important that we understand this?”

W’re at a moment when we really have to come to terms with the passing of this era. It really is a cultural era. And to understand the Trump supporters, the grief, the anger that we see from them, and why he’s been able to appeal to them […] to appeal to this sense of nostalgia and grief and loss It’s not because he’s one of them. When he says “Make America Great Again,” he’s saying “I’m going to restore power to the Christian churches.” We can say “Merry Christmas” again, we don’t have to say “Happy Holidays.” Those are all about big cultural shifts that I think are driving a lot of anxiety among conservative white American Christians today.

At the end, Judy Woodruff says, so there’s no going back? And Jones says he began to book with an obituary and ends it with a eulogy [5:30]. It’s a complex cultural moment:

Some people are grieving, but some people are very much ready to move on and say good riddance to this era. I think the real challenge for us is to figure out how to tell a story about who America is and where we’re going as a country that is sort of faithful to its past but makes room, I think, for the new demographics and the new place the country is going.

Cite: Robert Jones, “An Author’s Eulogy for ‘White Christian America’,” interview by Judy Woodruff, PBS NewsHour, Feb. 22, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QURLbHWOjSU.

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Excerpt from panel discussion at Brookings Institution in July 2016, in which Jone elaborates on what he said to Woodruff: Blurb at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqCL6G-eEPg:

In his new book, “The End of White Christian America” (Simon & Schuster, 2016), Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), discusses the stark demographic and cultural changes occurring in the United States. As the book’s title boldly states, white Christians are no longer the American majority, and the cultural and institutional world they built no longer sits at the center of American public life. How has this shift contributed to the rise of Donald Trump and increasing feelings of nostalgia and unease? Jones draws upon decades of polling data to explain how the political dominance of white Protestant Christians has waned in recent decades and the larger effect this decline in influence will have on the American populace.

On July 11, Governance Studies at Brookings hosted Jones alongside Brookings Senior Fellows William A. Galston and E.J. Dionne, Jr. to examine what it means for America to no longer be a majority white Christian nation, and what influence this will have on the upcoming 2016 presidential election. How are the recent demographic and cultural changes shaping concepts of inequality, fairness, and religious freedom for future generations?  

Excerpt from the linked transcript:

DR. JONES: Well, I did intentionally frame it as a eulogy and I tried to think about this as like if I were a pastor at a really complicated death, what would I say? Where you’ve got like warring factions of the family and you’ve got people showing up at the funeral who people haven’t seen in 20 years and some people are like I’m glad, I’m so glad the guy’s dead, whatever. So there’s like a whole –and there’s people crying on the front row and celebrating on the back row. So what do you say when you have a funeral like that? So I really try to kind of think and dust off my M. Div. and put on my pastoral hat and try to think about it that way as a metaphor. To the folks who may be grieving, and it’s a lot of the country that fits the descendants of white Christian America model. It’s 47 percent of the country. That’s a lot of people.

MR. DIONNE: Funny that it’s 47 percent. I just want to note that.

MR. GALSTON: And by the way, the share of the vote that Mitt Romney got, there is a God.

DR. JONES: So what do we say to those? And I think what I was trying to kind of come up with is if you went outside in D.C. and you walked six blocks, you probably would pass some institution that has its history in what I’m calling white Christian America, that has its roots there, that was founded by people who were — again back to this quote, if you were charged with something big and important in 1950, you were probably a mainline Protestant, that that was kind of the world. So everything from like hospitals to social clubs to universities and colleges that maybe now no one really understands. But if you go back and you look at the founding documents, I mean really white Christian America was like responsible for many of those institutions that have held civic — this is a term I stole from E.J. — that served as America’s civic glue for most of the country’s life. And I think it’s important to acknowledge that contribution. So even for the people who might want to celebrate its death, that should be acknowledged I think. And it should also be acknowledged that it’s really unclear what, if this is sort of passing from the scene, what is going to serve that role? What’s going to play that role? If you think about Lincoln’s second inaugural address, you think about Martin Luther King’s letter from Birmingham jail, I mean these documents depended on a kind of vocabulary and a set of traditions. To make really mean what they meant, you have to really understand the sort of theological allusions that they had. So if we’re going to lose the ability for that kind of vocabulary, what’s going to replace it? And I don’t really think I’ve got any easy answers for that, but I think it’s important for that to be acknowledged, particularly for the folks that are like I think maybe sometimes too ready to celebrate sort of the passing of this world from the scene.So I try to do a little bit of both kind of addressing kind of these different worlds. And I think it’s some of the ways we see — we see these divisions I think showing at the scenes in our public life now, in our partisan politics and the kind of racial tensions that we see in front of us. And I think we’re kind of at a crossroads and I think it’s going to require some really serious reflection and hopefully some wisdom to figure out how to mend some of these fences and figure out how to build something new as the remains of white Christian America lay dormant.

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Cite: Robert P. Jones, William A. Galston and E.J. Dionne Jr., “The end of white Christian America,” panel discussion, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C., July 11, 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqCL6G-eEPg [transcript at https://www.brookings.edu/events/the-end-of-white-christian-america/].

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Followup: Also on YouTube:

“The End of White Christian America: A Conversation with E. J. Dionne and Robert P. Jones,” Feb. 22, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRqTYX6IwAY. David N. Hempton, dean of Harvard Divinity School, moderates, mentions changes “… and the impact they’re having on our politics, our culture and on civil society

“Civil Society,” Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_society.

Civil society can be understood as the “third sector” of society, distinct from government and business, and including the family and the private sphere.[1] By other authors, civil society is used in the sense of 1) the aggregate of non-governmental organizations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens or 2) individuals and organizations in a society which are independent of the government.[2]

Sometimes the term civil society is used in the more general sense of “the elements such as freedom of speech, an independent judiciary, etc, that make up a democratic society” (Collins English Dictionary).[3] Especially in the discussions among thinkers of Eastern and Central Europe, civil society is seen also as a normative concept of civic values.

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