CHRISTIAN & New book looks at the many varied ways the label has been applied in the last 150 years.

“What Does It Mean to Be Christian in America?” by Eric Miller, Washington Univeristy is St. Louis, 6/19/18

…In his new book, Christian: The Politics of a Word in America, historian Matthew Bowman documents a few of the many forms that Christianity has assumed over the past 150 years. Beginning just after the Civil War and working forward to the rise of Donald Trump, Bowman demonstrates how the faith has been claimed and counter-claimed by a wide variety of American actors, lending itself to a fascinating array of campaigns and causes, and always revising itself along the way.

Bowman is associate professor of history at Henderson State University. His previous books include The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith and The Urban Pulpit: New York City and the Fate of Liberal Evangelicalism. Eric C. Miller spoke with Bowman about the project over the phone. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

R&P: What is a Christian in America?

MB: I argue that there is no single definition of that word. Instead, Christianity can be understood as an essentially contested concept—an abstract notion like justice or art that is by its very nature disputed because there is no single authority to render a definitive judgment.

Throughout American history, Christianity has been endlessly disputed and, by virtue of that disputation, has injected a great deal of dynamism into American politics and society. Paradoxically, by lending itself to so much appropriation and contestation, it has helped inspire religious, social, and political pluralism in the United States—which is not the way Americans are accustomed to thinking about the role of Christianity in their society.

R&P: What is Christian republicanism?

MB: Christian republicanism refers to one way in which Americans have defined what Christianity is and what implications it has for American politics and society. It derives from American Protestantism and associates Christianity with two essential elements.

The first of these elements is individual liberty. Protestants have long stressed individual autonomy and the importance of an individual encounter with God and Jesus Christ for salvation. In the American context particularly, that notion has influenced Americans’ political emphasis on autonomy and personal liberty.

It’s tempered, though, by the second element, which is the emphasis on virtue. This is owed in part to the traditional Protestant understanding of what it means to be a Christian, but it’s also derived from the early American admiration for classical societies like the Greeks and the Romans. The Roman writers that the American founders were reading emphasized that a self-governing society requires a virtuous citizenry. Christianity provided an effective means for promoting civic virtue because of its particularly Protestant emphasis on character and moral behavior.

This way of thinking about Christianity has been common—though not uncontested—throughout American history. It has taken different forms at different times in different places and been spoken of in a variety of different ways, but the presumed relationship between Christianity and American democratic government has been widely present since the founding.

R&P: The Christian republicanism that you document is very white and very Western—it arises in Europe and culminates in the triumph of “Western Civilization.” How have African American Christians responded to this standard Christian story?

MB: At points, many African Americans have seized upon Christian republican ideology, asserted their faith in it, and then used it to attack white Americans’ complicity in and complacency with slavery, segregation, and racism. These African Americans have argued that, for Americans to live up to the ideals of Christian republicanism—including liberty, autonomy, and virtue—slavery and racism and injustice must be rejected.

Read more at …http://religionandpolitics.org/2018/06/19/what-does-it-mean-to-be-christian-in-america/

STEREOTYPING & Lessons from the Video: I’m Christian, But I’m Not

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: These videos are aimed at going against stereotyping and thus have an important message.  The import seems to be that individual Christians come in all varieties.  Let’s explore this deeper.

A Leadership Exercise. 

Watch these videos (including the parody of the first video with some poignant satire, both below) and answer the following questions.

  1. Is an aversion to stereotyping somewhat of a North American trait?
    • Pew Research Center surveyed people in 44 countries and found that that individualism is more prevalent and celebrated more in North America.
    • What are your thoughts?
  2. How does the “Cultural Christian / Congregational Christian / Convictional Christian” distinction apply to these videos?
    • Ed Stetzer defines the two as, “Cultural Christians … they call themselves Christian because of heritage or culture. Congregational Christians have some connection to a local church, but rarely attend. On the other hand, convictional Christians call themselves Christians like the other two categories, but they attend church services regularly and order their lives around their faith convictions.” (No, American Christianity is not dead,” CNN, 5/16/15, retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/16/living/christianity-american-dead/)
    • What are your thoughts?
  3. Does the latter (satirical) video make some points about the first video?
    • And if so, what are they?
    • What does the world need to know today to better understand these videos?

Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WTUGadddOq0&feature=youtu.be

RELIGION & What’s driving the changes seen in Pew’s Religious Landscape Study

by Pew Research Fact Tank, 5/28/15.

Based on more than 35,000 interviews, the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study presented a detailed portrait of an America where changes in religious affiliation have affected all regions of the country and many demographic groups.

The survey’s findings raise questions about why these changes are occurring.

Fact Tank sat down with David Campbell, a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame, to explore what the new findings mean. Campbell is the author of a number of books on religion, including (along with Robert Putnam) “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.”

For you, what stands out as the most important new finding or findings in the Religious Landscape Study?

The rise of the religiously unaffiliated has rightly drawn a lot of attention, but it is worth pausing to consider what that rise tells us. For one thing, the secular surge demonstrates the fluid and dynamic nature of America’s religious ecosystem. Most of the people who say that their religion is “nothing in particular” or “none” were raised in a household that was at least nominally religious. In other words, the “nones” were once “somethings.” But, equally important, most of the “nones” are what we might call soft secularists. Most do not describe themselves as atheists or agnostics, which suggests that they are not totally disaffected from all aspects of religion, or from a belief in a God or higher power. In other words, this suggests that many of the “nones” are not actively opposed or hostile to religion, and that some of them might even be attracted to a new form of religion.

The pattern of growing “none”-ism also reminds us that the U.S. version of secularism is different than what we have observed in Western Europe. There, secularism has grown steadily through a process of generational replacement — each generation is more secular than the last. Here, secularism has grown rapidly, which means it cannot be explained by generational turnover. But, as I noted, the growth has largely been in soft secularism. Given the highly innovative and entrepreneurial nature of American religion, it is probable that we will see a response by religious leaders to bring those soft secularists back. Whether they will succeed is an open question, but the U.S. has gone through other periods where secularism seemed to be on the rise, only to see religion respond and stem the tide of secularism. For example, religious influence in U.S. society was waning in the 1960s, but was on the rebound by the late 1970s.

Why have mainline Protestants continued to decline dramatically, while evangelical Protestants have shown only small declines?

Evangelicalism can hold on to its adherents because it is as much a subculture as a religion. While evangelicals are typically defined by more than the church they attend on Sunday, they are also bound by mutually reinforcing expressions of culture — the schools their children attend, the movies they watch, the websites they visit, the music they listen to. The deeper someone’s immersion into such a subculture, the more their religion is an integral part of their identity, and thus hard to leave. Furthermore, evangelicalism — both as a religion and a subculture — is highly innovative, entrepreneurial, and adaptable. Evangelical congregations are often engaged in “creative destruction” by regularly introducing such things as new forms of church organization and types of worship.

In contrast, mainline Protestantism is much less likely to be all-encompassing, largely because over most of American history, the national culture had a mainline Protestant accent. Thus, there was no need for mainline Protestants to develop the sort of subculture found among evangelicals. Similarly, while there are some notable exceptions, mainline congregations are generally steeped in more tradition than their evangelical counterparts, making it more difficult to innovate…

Read more at … http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/27/qa-a-look-at-whats-driving-the-changes-seen-in-our-religious-landscape-study/

CHRISTIANS & 3 Types: Cultural, Congregational & Convictional #EdStetzer

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel; “My friend Ed Stetzer has done a great service to the Body of Christ by pointing out there that there are not just two cultures of Christians (churchgoers & non-churchgoers) but actually three. See this helpful explanation by Ed to CNN. Thank you Ed! (But before this lulls convictional Christians into complacency just remember, despite these insights Pew Research shows that convictional Christians have plateaued and are beginning a decline.)”

Ed Stetzer (CNN), 5/24/15.

It’s helpful to statistically clarify Christianity in the United States into three categories—cultural, congregational, and convictional. The first two categories are nominal Christians—they identify, but do not shape their lives around the Christian faith.

Cultural Christians are the least connected — they call themselves Christian because of heritage or culture. Congregational Christians have some connection to a local church, but rarely attend. On the other hand, convictional Christians call themselves Christians like the other two categories, but they attend church services regularly and order their lives around their faith convictions.

If you read the headlines this week, you’d think the latter category is collapsing. But, that would be a sign of bad math, not an accurate reading of the situation.

About 70-75% of the U.S. population calls itself Christian, but about 25% of the U.S. population practices that faith in a robust manner. This includes, in order of size, evangelicals, Catholics, mainline Protestants, and others….

Today, we are seeing cultural Christians, and even some congregational Christians, now self-identify as religiously “unaffiliated.” Folks who previously marked “Christian” on a religious survey because they weren’t Hindu or Jewish are now choosing “none of the above.”

In other words, nominal Christians (cultural and congregational) are becoming the “nones.” That’s not all that is going on, but the nominals becoming the nones are a big part of it. How do we know? Well, math….

Yet, the kind of Christians going to church has changed, particularly among Protestants. It’s moved from mainline, to evangelical. In 1972, 9% of the American population was regular church-attending mainline Protestant and 8% was evangelical, according to GSS. By 2014, the roles had reversed: church-attending mainline Protestants made up 4% of the population, while evangelicals rose to 13%…

Read more at … http://edition.cnn.com/2015/05/16/living/christianity-american-dead/

(Thanks to Scot McKnight for the edit.)