AS THE BLACK LIVES Matter movement has shone a light on police brutality against black people across the country, the public conversation in the United States has been unable to ignore the legacy of racism that shapes many of our nation’s most vital institutions. In his important new book, The End of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), makes the bold claim that White Christian America (WCA)—the fertile ground that gave root to and energized the legacy of American racism—is dead. Granted, this does not mean the death of racism. But for those of us striving for racial reconciliation, the changing societal narrative that Jones offers here is a hopeful one.
Jones begins the book with a tongue-in-cheek obituary for WCA: “Although examiners have not been able to pinpoint the exact time of death, the best evidence suggests that WCA finally succumbed in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st century.” He ends the book with a eulogy for WCA that is much more serious in tone and draws upon the stages of grief named by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her eminent book On Death and Dying.
Jones defines the WCA as a distinctly Protestant entity, with two primary branches, white mainline Protestants and white evangelical Protestants. Jones notes that although these two subgroups are often at odds, together they comprise the “single dynasty” of WCA. “For most of the nation’s life, White Christian America was big enough, cohesive enough, and influential enough,” Jones writes, “to pull off the illusion that it was the cultural pivot around which the country turned.”