White evangelicals say U.S. no longer a Christian nation

About six in 10 white evangelical Protestants in the United States believe their country used to be a Christian nation but is not any longer. Photo by Benjamin Gustafsson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/benjamingustafsson/)

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WASHINGTON (RNS)—Nearly six out of 10 white evangelical Protestants believe the United States has been a Christian nation but is not now.

A survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, in partnership with the Brookings Institution, revealed 59 percent of white evangelical Protestants believe the United States is not a Christian country anymore. And that number has jumped 11 points in just four years, from 48 percent in 2012.

White evangelicals’ growing convictions the United States is losing its Christian identity and the country now is headed in the wrong direction come as politicians debate immigration and cultural change during the 2016 election season.

Concern about foreign influences

In the new immigration survey tackling those issues, Americans expressed concerns about foreign influences on the American way of life. They mostly agreed the United States is on the wrong track but differed as to how to get on the right one. The survey polled more than 2,600 adults between April 4 and May 2.

“When we step back and look at the big picture, we do see heightened anxieties among Americans,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive officer of the research institute.

While a strong majority of white evangelical Protestants agree the United States has lost its Christian identity, Americans overall are split on the question—41 percent say it was Christian and remains so, and 42 percent say it was in the past but is no longer. Relatively few—15 percent—say America never has been a Christian nation.

Lost cultural dominance

The white evangelical Protestant community feels it has lost its cultural dominance in America, said Henry Olsen, senior fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center.

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“Over the last four years, a growing number are seeing that it’s lost irretrievably,” he said. “That has massive implications for our politics going down the road.”

Americans also are split on whether the nation’s culture and way of life have mostly changed for the better (49 percent) or worse (50 percent) since the 1950s.

“No group of Americans is more nostalgic about the 1950s than white evangelical Protestants,” with 70 percent saying the country has changed for the worse, the research institute’s report said.

Americans also split politically on the question, with 68 percent of Republicans agreeing things have gotten worse, while nearly the same share of Democrats (66 percent) say times are better.

But Americans overall agree the country is moving in the wrong direction—a belief that crosses the political divide and has inched up from 65 percent in 2011 to 72 percent. And most (57 percent) believe they should fight for their values, even if they are at odds with the law and changing culture.

Other key findings:

  • Nearly six in 10 Americans (57 percent) say the values of Islam are at odds with American values and its way of life. Of all major religious groups, white evangelical Protestants (74 percent) expressed the most skepticism.
  • A majority (55 percent) of Americans believe the American way of life needs to be protected against foreign influence. Of all major religious groups, white Christians— including white evangelical Protestants (76 percent), white Catholics (68 percent) and white mainline Protestants (63 percent)—are most likely to say their way of life needs protection.
  • Americans are split on whether discrimination against Christians has become as big a problem in America today as discrimination against other groups. Many Christians— including 77 percent of white evangelical Protestants, 54 percent of white mainline Protestants, 53 percent of white Catholics and black Protestants and 50 percent of Hispanic Catholics—feel anti-Christian discrimination is a problem. About eight in 10 Americans who are religiously unaffiliated (78 percent) and members of other religions (77 percent) disagree.

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