HOW AMERICA’S DEMOGRAPHIC REVOLUTION REACHED THE CHURCH
Long the dominant group in American religious life, White Christians have fallen to a minority of the U.S. population—and are moving to the political right as they recede. The result is that religious affiliation marks a real point of distinction between Republicans and Democrats, the Pew Research Centre’s Religious Landscape survey shows. As the nation relentlessly diversifies, both in its racial composition and religious preferences, White Christians now represent just 46% of American adults. That’s down from a 55% majority as recently as 2007, and much higher figures through most of U.S. history. Yet even as White Christians shrink in their overall numbers, they still account for nearly seven-in-10 Americans who identify with, or lean toward, the Republican Party.
White Christians, in fact, represent as large a share of the Republican coalition today as they did of American society overall in 1984, when Ronald Reagan won re-election. A clear majority of all White Christians across the United States now identify as Republican, Pew found. In sharp contrast, the data shows, the Democratic coalition has evolved into a three-legged stool that divides almost evenly between White Christians, non-White Christians, and those from all races who identify either with a non-Christian faith or, increasingly, with no religious tradition at all. Most Americans who don’t identify with any religious faith—a rapidly growing group—now align with Democrats. These diverging profiles create electoral challenges for each side.
Republicans face the tension of balancing the morally conservative preferences of their religiously devout base with the deepening instinct toward cultural tolerance of a society that is growing more secular, particularly among the young. The report also shows that Americans who attend religious services regularly are more likely to oppose gay marriage. Pew analysis finds that only 28% of millennials attend services weekly. Democrats must weigh the culturally liberal instincts of their mostly secular wing of upscale Whites with the often more traditional inclinations of their African-American and Latino supporters, who are much more likely than White Democrats to identify with the Christian faith.
Fewer than half of White Democrats with a college degree now identify as Christians. The end of majority status for White Christians marks another stage in America’s transformation into a kaleidoscope society with no single dominant group. In 1944, polls showed that White Christians accounted for more than eight-in-10 American adults, notes John Green, an expert on religion and politics from the University of Akron. Surveys found that even in 1984, White Christians still accounted for just under seven-in-10 American adults. The latest figures placing White Christians at just 46% of the adult population confirm a trend, Green says. The relative number of White Christians has fallen at an increasing rate over the post W.W. II period.”
The Republican Party was founded before the Civil War as the party of Northern mainline Protestants, which remained the case well into the 1960s. Democrats functioned mostly as a coalition of other religious traditions, particularly Northern Catholics and Southern evangelical Protestants. Now, Republicans run well ahead among the most religiously devout in all Christian traditions, while Democrats perform relatively better among Christians who are less religiously observant, those from non-Christian faiths, or of no religious tradition at all. “It means there are really deep social and moral divisions between the two parties,” says Green. “It is not impossible to compromise, but it is much more difficult to compromise, when you’ve got such deep differences.”
PACIFIC ISLAND SHAME – 60% OF WOMEN VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE
More than 60% of women and girls surveyed in the Pacific Islands have experienced violence by an intimate partner or family member. But 12 extra Pacific Island women every day have received help from crisis support services in the 3 years since Australia set up its $320 million 10-year program to help improve the lives of women in the region. The Turnbull government is aggressively pursuing the program, which was launched by then prime minister Julia Gillard at the Pacific Islands Forum summit in 2012. In Fiji, Minister for International Development and the Pacific Steven Ciobo delivered a report on progress in the first three years. The biggest challenge, and thus the biggest investment, had been “addressing violence against women”, Mr Ciobo said.
The report says “women in the Pacific face among the highest levels of violence in the world”. About 13,000 women have used crisis support services made possible through the program. The report says “the Pacific has the lowest levels of women in parliaments in the world”. As of June, the world average of all elected members was 22.2 per cent women and 77.8 per cent men. However, the percentage of women in the 14 Pacific parliaments, excluding Australia and New Zealand, stood at 5.7 per cent. But the report says “although progress has been slow, there are some signs of change. For example, quotas have been used successfully in the region to increase women’s representation at the sub-national level” in Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Bougainville and Samoa.
Samoa has become the first Pacific country to legislate reserved seats for women—10%. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says in the report that “when meeting with women during visits to the Pacific, I heard remarkable stories of bravery, determination and strength”. Fiame Mata’afa, Samoa’s Justice Minister, says “Women’s lack of belief in themselves limits what they choose to do and what they expect of others. This is demonstrated in the health and family surveys undertaken in most Pacific countries, which document that both women and men accept the high levels of violence against women,” she says. She adds: “The practice of physically disciplining children also means that children often learn that physical violence is the normal way of resolving problems.”
And community perceptions that women have lower status than men are often reinforced by legal and policy barriers which deny women access to land and other assets, deny them employment protection, and tolerate unequal marriage ages which put young girls at risk of early marriage. But Ms Mata’afa says: “We have already seen major change in the Pacific. Ten new family protection laws have been passed over the last few years and two more are being drafted. “I know that many women in parliaments don’t support quotas, but I think temporary special measures are an important step. If something isn’t happening we have to make it happen.”
BRITAIN NO LONGER JUST A CHRISTIAN NATION SAYS MAJOR REPORT
Britain has seen a “general decline” in its Christian affiliation and the time has come for public life to take on a more “pluralist character”, according to an official report. Major state occasions such as a coronation should be changed to be more inclusive, it said, while the number of bishops in the House of Lords should be cut to make way for leaders of other religions. The recommendations from a panel chaired by the former High Court judge Baroness Butler-Sloss come in light of major changes in British society. Only two in five British people now identify as Christian, the two-year inquiry found, while there has been a general move away from mainstream denominations to evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism have overtaken Judaism as the largest non-Christian faiths in Britain. The report was compiled by the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life (Corab). The proportion of people not following a religion has risen from just under a third in 1983 to almost half in 2014, the report states. Yet the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, as well as the Bishops of Durham, London and Winchester, automatically take seats in the Lords – with an additional 21 seats reserved for other bishops. “The pluralist character of modern society should be reflected in national forums such as the House of Lords, so that they include a wider range of world views and religious traditions, and of Christian denominations other than the Church of England,” the report said.
Dr Ed Kessler, vice-chair of Corab, told The Independent: “It’s an anomaly to have 26 Anglican bishops in the House of Lords. There needs to be better representation of the different religions and beliefs in Britain today.” The report also recommends scrapping the law requiring schools to hold acts of collective worship, reducing the number of children given places at schools based on religion, and including non-religious figures on the BBC’s Thought for the Day. There also needs to be an overhaul of how religious education is taught, it argues. Many syllabuses tend to “portray religions only in a good light … and they tend to omit the role of religions in reinforcing stereotypes and prejudice around issues such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race.”
The report’s proposals “amount to a ‘new settlement for religion and belief in the UK’, intended to provide space and a role for all within society, regardless of their beliefs or absence of them,” said Lady Butler-Sloss. But a spokesperson for the Church of England said: “The report is dominated by the old-fashioned view that traditional religion is declining in importance and that non-adherence to a religion is the same as humanism or secularism.” They added: “Most public opinion is strongly opposed to the marginalisation of Christianity.” Commenting on the suggestion of reducing the number of bishops in the Lords, Dr Omer el-Hamdoon, spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Britain, said: “Introducing other peers based on their religion would only be a token gesture.”
FRANKLIN GRAHAM QUITS REPUBLICAN PARTY OVER PLANNED PARENTHOOD FUNDING
Evangelist Franklin Graham has announced he is abandoning the Republican Party in disgust over the move by the Republican-led Congress to pass a budget that Graham said was “wasteful” and provided funding for Planned Parenthood. Graham’s apparent renunciation of his Republican affiliation is an indication of anger on the right and the strong interest many evangelicals have shown in populist outsiders such as Donald Trump. Graham himself has expressed admiration for Trump, and has voiced support for some of Trump’s more controversial positions, such as his call to ban Muslims from the U.S. which have drawn condemnation from more mainstream evangelical leaders.
The federal government provides $528 million in funding for Planned Parenthood — about 40% of the organization’s budget — primarily through payments to Medicaid. Federal law prohibits funding of abortions, and Planned Parenthood separates federal taxpayer dollars from those used to provide abortions. Social conservatives have long fought to strip taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood, and after the release of a series of videos by anti-abortion activists last year, those calls ramped up to a fever pitch. Activists said the videos show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal organs — which they called “baby parts” — for profit to medical researchers. Planned Parenthood denied that it was profiting from the sale and said it was quitting the practice.
In the wake of that controversy, there was wide expectation that with Republicans in control of both the House and Senate, Congress would eliminate funding for 2016. Some conservatives in the Republican Party threatened to shut down the government if that wasn’t done. But the shooting massacre at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic by a lone gunman seemed to change the calculus, and congressional leaders reached a deal that averted a shutdown and provided government funding until September 2016. Franklin Graham said “This is an example of why I have resigned from the Republican Party and declared myself Independent. I have no hope in any political party to do what is best for America,” he declared.
“Seeing and hearing Planned Parenthood talk nonchalantly about selling baby parts from aborted fetuses with utter disregard for human life is reminiscent of Joseph Mengele and the Nazi concentration camps!” Graham wrote. Graham drew immediate support on social media, but his sway with voters is debatable. Graham has never been hesitant in commenting on electoral issues of interest to social conservatives. Graham also made a pitch for the prayer rallies he will hold in every state this year. The rallies, Graham said, aim to “challenge Christians to live out their faith at home, in public and at the ballot box.” He said that if more evangelical voters turn out it could prove the difference in national and local elections, a point also made by Republican candidates.
After a year that included Pope Francis’ first visit to the U.S., the ongoing battle over “religious freedom” laws, and shifting views about America’s Christian heritage, we took a look back on some of the more important—and surprising—findings about American Christians and Christianity in the U.S.
1) America: No longer a Christian nation.
Most Americans don’t think the U.S. is currently a Christian nation. Some 35% believe the U.S. was in the past, and remains today, a Christian nation; 45% say the U.S. was a Christian nation but no longer is, and 14% say the U.S. has never been a Christian nation. These findings represent an important shift: In 2010, more than 42% said the U.S. has always been and is currently a Christian nation. The change is likely attributable to the increasing diversity of the religious landscape and the rise of the religiously unaffiliated.
2) Are Christians being discriminated against? Depends on who you ask.
Although more than seven in ten American adults identify as Christian, concerns about discrimination against Christians appear to be increasing, with some groups voicing more concern than others. Nearly half (49%) of the public say that discrimination against Christians has become as big of a problem as discrimination against other groups, while nearly as many (47%) disagree. However, 56% of Christians, including a whopping seven in ten (70%) white evangelical Protestants, say Christians are facing levels of discrimination akin to that experienced by other groups.
3) Pope Francis buoys the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis may just be the best thing to happen to the Catholic Church in some time: 67% of Americans have a favourable view of the Pope while a more modest 56% say the same about the Catholic Church. And while Catholics view both the Church and the Pope very positively (89% and 90%, respectively), former Catholics have much more positive feelings about the pope (64%) than the Catholic Church (43%). Pope Francis is also more popular among American Catholics than the U.S. Bishops. Fully 80% of Catholics say that Pope Francis understands the needs and views of American Catholics, while only 60% say the same of the American Bishops.
4) …but Christians are divided on same-sex marriage.
Similar numbers favour (46%) and oppose (46%) allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally—but attitudes vary by denomination, with Evangelical Protestants, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses being most strongly opposed, and Universalists, mainline Protestants, and Catholics most strongly in favour.
5) Americans’ double standard on religious violence.
When it comes to those who commit acts of violence in the name of religion, Americans are more likely to reject perpetrators who claim a Christian identity than those who say they are Muslims. 75% of Americans say that self-identified Christians who commit acts of violence in the name of Christianity are not really Christian. In contrast, only 50% say that self-proclaimed Muslims who commit acts of violence in the name of Islam are not really Muslim.
COPTIC BROTHERS REFUSE TO DENY CHRIST EVEN IN FACE OF DEATH
Two Coptic brothers executed by Islamic State extremists in Libya have been remembered by their church family as martyrs who kept the faith and refused to deny Christ even in the face of certain death. According to a report from International Christian Concern, 37-year-old Wasfy Bakhit, his brother, 31-year-old Sabry Bakhit and their younger brother, 27-year-old Fahmy Bakhit migrated to Libya in 2013 hoping to find employment to provide for their families in Upper Egypt. On November 6, Wasfy received a phone call from a Libyan man asking if he would be able to put a concrete roof on a building. Excited about the opportunity, Wasfy gave the man the address and arranged for him to pick him up so that he could go to the job site and give a cost estimate.
Wasfy and Fahmy went with the man to give him a quote, while Sabry stayed at home. The brothers never returned. “I waited for them all day and night to come back, but they didn’t return,” Sabry said. “I stayed up all night and was very worried about them.” Sabry and his cousins continued to search local hospitals and police stations for the two brothers, but they were nowhere to be found. A week after they disappeared, their bodies were found with gunshot wounds to their heads. It was determined that they were killed the day before. Sabry said it was a very big shock to us when we saw their bodies. Both of them were shot in the head. It was terrible.”