Understanding The Times: Did Christianity Become Marginal In America In 2014?

To refresh, my framework posits that during the period of secularization post-1965, America has passed through three distinct phases or worlds in terms of how secular culture views Christianity.

  1. Positive World (Pre-1994). Christianity was viewed positively by society and Christian morality was still normative. To be seen as a religious person and one who exemplifies traditional Christian norms was a social positive. Christianity was a status enhancer. In some cases, failure to embrace Christian norms hurt you.
  2. Neutral World (1994-2014). Christianity is seen as a socially neutral attribute. It no longer had dominant status in society, but to be seen as a religious person was not a knock either. It was more like a personal affectation or hobby. Christian moral norms retained residual force.
  3. Negative World (2014-). In this world, being a Christian is now a social negative, especially in high status positions. Christianity in many ways is seen as undermining the social good. Christian morality is expressly repudiated.

Like all frameworks of this type – such as the division of history into ancient, medieval, and modern – my three worlds model is a simplification of very complex phenomena, and designed primarily for utilitarian purposes. Unlike with theological or scientific models, which are claims to objective truth, frameworks like these are tools to help us make sense of and navigate the world. There may be many frameworks to explain the same phenomenon, each of which is useful to some people but not others, or each of which illuminates different dimensions of the situation. I always encourage people to try out different frameworks or lenses on a problem to look at it from multiple angles. Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option is a related but different lens, for example.

…It is objectively true that there was once a positive world in the United States. This world was, specifically, positive towards Protestant Christianity. Up through the 1950s, the United States had a well-documented Protestant establishment. Even Catholics could be excluded from certain institutions on account of their religion, and the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960 as the first Catholic president was controversial at the time. The establishment’s religion was predominantly liberal Protestantism, but it was Protestantism to be sure. The divisions of this era were not Christian vs. non- or anti-Christian, but primarily sectarian and ethnic.

…There was clearly a set of major shifts in American culture around the year 2014, or, to put it more broadly, during President Obama’s second term. One of them is the so-called “Great Awokening.” The Center-left technocratic writer Matt Yglesias dated the Great Awokening to the Ferguson protests of 2014….

…Additionally, there was a major change in views towards homosexuality in this period. The Obergefell decision that legalized gay marriage was in 2015. This inaugurated a completely new legal regime in America around gender and sexuality issues that is still being elaborated. While the Obergefell decision itself was perhaps as much effect as cause, there was clearly a major and extremely rapid shift in public sentiment during this time period (albeit perhaps not as stark as with the Great Awokening).

In 2008, a majority of voters in California – yes, California – approved Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Also in 2008, Barack Obama campaigned for President as an opponent of gay marriage, specifically citing his Christian faith as a rationale. He was lying. He had in fact been on record as supporting gay marriage in the 1990s while a member of the Illinois legislature. But it’s notable that he felt compelled to lie about this issue, and even stress Christian bona fides in order to get elected. (Hillary Clinton also publicly opposed gay marriage at that time).  By 2016, Donald Trump was personally holding up pride flags at rallies while running for President as a Republican. Today, the effort to prevent people who are male-to-female transgendered from competing in girls’ sports seems like a desperate rearguard action. This is quite a sea change in a short period of time. Read more☞

Aaron Renn | The Three Worlds Of Evangelicalism Debate | May 18, 2022


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