The Decline of Evangelical America

OPINION

The Decline of Evangelical America

Brad Wilson/Getty Images

A road in St. Louis, at dusk.

By JOHN S. DICKERSON
Published: December 15, 2012

Prescott, Ariz.

IT hasn’t been a good year for evangelicals. I should know. I’m one of them.

In 2012 we witnessed a collapse in American evangelicalism. The old religious right largely failed to affect the Republican primaries, much less the presidential election. Last month, Americans voted in favor of same-sex marriage in four states, while Florida voters rejected an amendment to restrict abortion.

Much has been said about conservative Christians and their need to retool politically. But that is a smaller story, riding on the back of a larger reality: Evangelicalism as we knew it in the 20th century is disintegrating.

In 2011 the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life polled church leaders from around the world. Evangelical ministers from the United States reported a greater loss of influence than church leaders from any other country — with some 82 percent indicating that their movement was losing ground.

I grew up hearing tales of my grandfather, a pastor, praying with President Ronald Reagan at the White House. My father, also a pastor, prayed with George W. Bush in 2000. I now minister to my own congregation, which has grown to about 500, a tenfold increase, in the last four years (by God’s favor and grace, I believe). But, like most young evangelical ministers, I am less concerned with politics than with the exodus of my generation from the church.

Studies from established evangelical polling organizations — LifeWay Research, an affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Barna Group — have found that a majority of young people raised as evangelicals are quitting church, and often the faith, entirely.

As a contemporary of this generation (I’m 30), I embarked three years ago on a project to document the health of evangelical Christianity in the United States. I did this research not only as an insider, but also as a former investigative journalist for an alt weekly.

I found that the structural supports of evangelicalism are quivering as a result of ground-shaking changes in American culture. Strategies that served evangelicals well just 15 years ago are now self- destructive. The more that evangelicals attempt to correct course, the more they splinter their movement. In coming years we will see the old evangelicalism whimper and wane.

First, evangelicals, while still perceived as a majority, have become a shrinking minority in the United States. In the 1980s heyday of the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, some estimates accounted evangelicals as a third or even close to half of the population, but research by the Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently found that Christians who call themselves evangelicals account for just 7 percent of Americans. (Other research has reported that some 25 percent of Americans belong to evangelical denominations, though they may not, in fact, consider themselves evangelicals.) Dr. Smith’s findings are derived from a three-year national study of evangelical identity and influence, financed by the Pew Research Center. They suggest that American evangelicals now number around 20 million, about the population of New York State. The global outlook is more optimistic, as evangelical congregations flourish in places like China, Brazil and sub-Saharan Africa.

But while America’s population grows by roughly two million a year, attendance across evangelical churches — from the Southern Baptists to Assembles of God and nondenominational churches — has gradually declined, according to surveys of more than 200,000 congregations by the American Church Research Project.

The movement also faces a donation crisis as older evangelicals, who give a disproportionately large share, age. Unless younger evangelicals radically increase their giving, the movement will be further strained.

Evangelicals have not adapted well to rapid shifts in the culture — including, notably, the move toward support for same-sex marriage. The result is that evangelicals are increasingly typecast as angry and repressed bigots.

In 2007, the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, in a survey of 1,300 college professors, found that 3 percent held “unfavorable feelings” toward Jews, 22 percent toward Muslims and 53 percent toward evangelical Christians.

To be sure, college professors are not representative of the population, and, despite national trends of decline, evangelicals have many exceptional ministries. Most metropolitan areas in the United States have at least one thriving megachurch. In New York City, Redeemer Presbyterian and the Brooklyn Tabernacle pack multiple services every weekend. A handful of other churches, like North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., and Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., see more than 20,000 worshipers each weekend. Savvy ministers like the Rev. Craig Groeschel, founder ofLifeChurch.tv, are using new technologies to deliver the “good news.”

My opinion:  The great decline was foretold and not hard to see as the church lost her way in the morass of American culture.  Contrary to the prevailing opinion, I do not believe that the answer is to cave on our convictions.   On the contrary, that has been the problem.  The diluted seeker church has been popular for years.  On their watch we saw the fastest moral landslide in American History.  It is obvious that anyone who is gently persuaded to add God as a woozy nebulous aspect to their life will not be strong enough to stand against the tide of evil.

I warned every leader who would listen about the unintended consequence of seeker churches:   that by giving out the vibe that Church was not important; by making following Christ hip and convenient the audience would ultimately do the math and stay home.   “If God is that into me and glad that I throw him a bone on Sunday, why not stay home and create a personal spirituality centered on me?”

ABANDON THE BIBLE ON GAY MARRIAGE!!! Church Growth Experts are wrong to call for more of the very thing that got us into this mess.   The answer is a supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit with great signs and wonders so that a new generation sees the power of the Word of God and is converted.

One thing to remember is the misery index.  A godless America is also a miserable one.  God creates disciples who are living proof of His goodness.  The miracle of a true born again believer is the most contagious force and the finest P.R. the Church has ever had or ever will have.

 

-Mario Murillo

P.S. I brought this article to your attention not to scare you but as a reality check.   The Church has never been relevant because of human approval.  She is relevant because of God’s Grace on her mission.

6 million born again Christians voted for Obama. Why?

Six million born again Christians voted for Obama.  In essence they carried the election.  You know that I believe that no one who reads and understands the Bible could have pulled the lever for a platform so clearly against scriptural marriage, religious freedom, and Israel. So you can imagine how that statistic hit me.

Mario, why are you still talking about Obama?  He won the election, I get it but there is some explosive unfinished business.  First of all, there was pandemic voter fraud; so much so that a petition is coming to Congress to recount the votes.   However, that is not nearly my biggest concern.

My concern is if there was a great shift in America and we did not know it.  But the greatest concern is if it is true that 6 million born-again Christians voted for Obama because that is a massive earthquake in the Church.  That astonishing shift is what this blog is about.

Now let me get something off my chest. Two things that I have discovered: First of all, people do not like it when I criticize Obama. Second of all, those on the left are particularly adept at vile language and violent threats.  If you are one of those that come on our site and spew your hate, F-bombs, adolescent bathroom references, you should know that you are merely making our case.   I believe that Obama is the great divider, and these putrid posts help make the argument that he has divided us by race, gender, family, and doctrine.

Don’t bother posting hateful, nonsensical comments, they will be instantly deleted.  On the other hand no thoughtful comment will be blocked.  For example, one thoughtful post by a Christian who voted for Obama has made me want to dialogue and understand. 

Now back to the point of this blog.  Why did 6 million Christians vote for Obama?  There is plenty of blame to go around.  I believe that the Republican Party ignored the fundamental changes in America and especially they lost sight of the concerns of women, including Christian women.

Then there was the Mormonism.  I believe that Romney is an honorable man.  I would love to see him touched by Christ to see the error of Mormonism, but I still believe that he would have been a great Chief Executive.  However, many Christians could not get past his Mormonism.  How that alarmed them more than the extremes of Obama is curious.

Finally, there is the real issue: Christians do not know the Bible.  Christians have sat under pastors that do not teach Bible doctrine or call for commitment.  Many of the posts I have read showed remarkable illiteracy about what the Bible says.  They make remarks that remind me of Jay Leno’s man on the street interviews.  Where they could not find Montana on a map, or name the vice president of the United States.

I believe that Obama is the crowning achievement of a celebrity cult nation, a nation that prizes style over substance.  That same system is why celebrity pastors mishandle truth.   Ask yourself, shouldn’t it bother you that your pastor sounds like he is quoting fortune cookies in the pulpit?

The great Bible dumb down has filled buildings but it has emptied our souls.  Now we have a Christian constituency that can’t see anything wrong with secular situation ethics.   Take for example, one of the most famous young female country singers in America.  “I am a Christian but I believe in gay marriage because my pastor said we should not judge.”

With this sloppy agape on their mind, they went into vote blissfully unaware of the glaring contradiction of their faith.  All they knew is that they were being cool and nice to people.

 

My source for the 6 million is Joel C. Rosenberg.   Here is a more complete breakdown. * President Obama received some 6.6 million fewer votes  in 2012 than he did in 2008 (60,217,329 in 2012 votes compared to 66,882,230 votes in 2008).

 

* One would think that such a dynamic would have helped Romney win — clearly it did not.

 

* Incredibly, Governor Romney received nearly 1 million fewer votes in 2012 than Sen. John McCain received in 2008. (In 2008, McCain won 58,343,671 votes. In 2012, Romney won only 57,486,044 votes.)

 

Why? How was it possible for Romney to do worse than McCain? It will take some time to sift through all of the data. But here is some of what we know from the 2012 election day exit polls:

 

The President received a whopping 71% of the Hispanic vote (which was 10% of the total votes cast), compared to only 27% for Romney (McCain got 31% of the Hispanic vote in 2008). Obama also won 56% of the moderate vote, which was interesting given that Romney (who got 41%) was widely perceived by the GOP base as being a “Massachusetts moderate.” The President lost married women (getting only 46% of their vote to Romney’s 53%). But won decisively among unmarried women (67% to Romney’s 31%).

 

That said, what I’m looking at most closely is the Christian vote, and here is where I see trouble:

 

42% of the Protestant Christian vote went for Obama in 2012. This was down from 45% in 2008.

57% of the Protestant Christian vote went for Romney in 2012. This was up from 54% that McCain won in 2008.

When you zoom in a bit, you find that 21% of self-identified, white, born-again, evangelical Christians voted for President Obama in 2012.

You’d think this decrease in evangelical votes for Obama would have helped win the race for Romney, but it didn’t.

78% of evangelical Christians voted for Romney in 2012. Yes, this was up from the 74% that McCain received in 2008, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

To put it more precisely, about 5 million fewer evangelicals voted for Obama in 2012 than in 2008. Meanwhile, some 4.7 million more evangelicals voted for Romney than voted for McCain. Yet Romney still couldn’t win.

Meanwhile, 50% of the Catholic vote went for Obama in 2012. This was down from the 54% that Obama won in 2008.

48% of the Catholic vote went for Romney in 2012. This was up from the 45% that McCain won in 2008. Yet it still wasn’t enough.

Now consider this additional data:

In 2008, white, born-again, evangelical Christians represented 26% of the total vote for president, according to the exit polls.

In 2012, white, born-again, evangelical Christians represented 26% of the total vote for president, according to the exit polls.

In other words, we saw no change at all in the size of the evangelical vote, –no net gain, certainly no surge, no record evangelical turnout, despite expectations of this.

Of the 117 million people who voted on Tuesday, therefore, about 30 million (26%) were evangelicals. Of this, 21% — or about 6.4 million evangelicals — voted for Obama.

By comparison, of the 125 million people who voted in 2008, 32.5 million (26%) were evangelicals. At the time, Obama won 24% of evangelicals, or about 7.8 million people.

What’s more, in 2008, 27% of the total vote for president was Catholic, according to the exit polls.

In 2012, only 25% of the total vote for president was Catholic.

Remarkably, this means that Romney got a higher percentage of the Catholic vote than McCain, but millions of fewer Catholics actually voted in 2012, despite having Rep. Paul Ryan, a practicing Catholic, on the ticket.