Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Demographic Diversity and the Historical Impact of Christianity in U.S. History

The history of Christianity in the United States, and its impact on culture and politics, has been both significant and complex. From asserting that “all men are created equal” and launching the abolitionist movement which ended slavery, to long tradition of private-sector charity which helps those in poverty both in the U.S. and around the world, the Christian faith has had a concrete impact on American history.

Perhaps one of the most puzzling aspects of this history is the word ‘Christian’ itself. Although it means, simply and directly, a follower of Jesus, it has often been used cynically, by those who have no desire to act as Jesus would act - those who call themselves ‘Christians’ but in fact are not, acting in selfish and destructive ways.

Thus the word has led to a great deal of confusion.

Further misunderstandings have been generated by those who would link the word to cultural and traditional practices, rather than to the simple and direct ideas of Jesus. The United States is a the great melting pot of social influences from Asia, Africa, and Europe. People from all of these heritages have been followers of Jesus and have impacted the history of the United States.

Demographers inform us, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, that Christianity in the United States is becoming increasingly diverse: a majority of people in the U.S. identify themselves as Christians, but the category “white Christian” is now a minority.

The number of Asians, African-Americans, and Latinos who identify as Christians have grown rapidly over the decades. The definition of ‘Christian’ has no connection to race, to ethnicity, or to cultural heritage.

Demographers have documented the not only the growth of Christianity among various demographic groups, but the relocation of this belief system to different segments of the population. A media outlet known as RNS reports:

“The U.S. religious landscape is undergoing a dramatic transformation that is fundamentally reshaping American politics and culture,” said Dan Cox, research director for Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI).

The growing numbers of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians who identify as ‘Christian’ will create new social, cultural, and political contexts for a core of ideas which has spread from group to group.