Few white Americans today are alarmed by predictions that the Caucasian race will become a minority in this country sometime around the middle of this century. Few of us today will be alive then and are not all that concerned.
But there is another rather alarming socio-religious transformation that is steadily growing. According to recent surveys the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as white Christians has recently dropped below 50%.
While American Christians of all kinds remain at an almost 70% majority, white Christians now comprise only 43% of our population. Less than 40 years ago almost eight in 10 Americans were white Christians. What’s going on here?
The greatest losses have occurred in the predominantly white mainline Protestant denominations. That includes Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Congregationalists and others. While Baptists vehemently deny they are mainline, many of them are also losing members at about the same rate. Southern Baptists have dropped to their lowest numbers since 1990.
In the past the evangelical-fundamentalists have judgmentally pointed to the mainline denominations, saying that their theological liberalism is causing losses in membership. But these new numbers might challenge the claim of linking growth to conservatism. But there is more at work here than policy, theology or doctrine.
Never a large denomination, my own Episcopal faith is in a prolonged decline. In addition to the ongoing divisive conflicts over the ordination of female clergy and gender identification acceptance, the fact is that historically Episcopalians have never been great reproducers. They tend to stay in school longer, marry later (and less), have smaller families and some don’t insist that their children automatically adopt the parents’ religious affiliation. They expose them to a broadly inclusive education and sometimes even encourage them to use their own judgment in choosing a religious faith.
In the U.S. and in Europe the Catholic Church has also been losing members. But here in the Bible Belt, still a hotbed of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, while many Protestant churches are struggling many Catholic masses are filled to standing-room only. This is primarily due to the massive influx of Hispanic Catholic immigrants and the growing southward migration of Catholic retirees and families from the U. S. Northeast and mid-west. In many southern Catholic Churches as many as twelve masses are held from Friday evening through Sunday. In 2016 Hispanics made up about 40 per cent of American Catholics and are reported to be far more active in U. S. churches than they were in their former countries, probably from a new-found respect and freedom.
The attraction of some recent Hispanic immigrants to American Pentecostal denominations-Churches of God, Assemblies of God and Holiness groups-is growing and shows little signs of slowing down. The cultural roots of Latin American immigrants is often more indigenous than Hispanic and is more in tune with the openly emotional style of American Pentecostal worship services.
The Seventh Day Adventist and Latter-Day Saints (Mormon) denominations report impressive annual gains in membership. But these are largely outside of North America. And some of these congregations fail to report their losses along with their gains, thereby distorting the net figures.
On the brighter side, Christianity is experiencing phenomenal growth in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Christianity is not dying, it’s simply relocating.