It’s now official. The United States is “bigger, older, more Hispanic and Asian and less wedded to marriage and traditional families than it was in 1990.”
Okay. It is also “less enamored of kids, more embracing of several generations living under one roof, more inclusive of same-sex couples, more cognizant of multiracial identities, more suburban, less rural and leaning more to the South and West.”
Why are such pronouncements now “official”? It’s because the results of the 2010 Census have been pouring out all year and we are now in a position to begin pulling them all together into a cohesive picture.
But there’s more going on here than mere survey data, because the picture that is coming into focus reflects nothing less than a radically different picture than we had before.
As USA Today rightly notes, “The end of the first decade of the 21st century marks a turning point in the nation’s social, cultural, geographic, racial and ethnic fabric. It’s a shift so profound that it reveals an American that seemed unlikely a mere 20 years ago – one that will influence the nation for years to come…The metamorphosis over just two decades stuns even demographers and social observers.”
In 1990, would anyone have predicted that in 20 years, we would have a black president?
A “Venezuela’s worth” of Hispanics added to the population?
Soon to surface will also be the religious ramifications that will come from these demographic shifts; ramifications that have already been explored on a global scale by Philip Jenkins in his seminal book, The Next Christendom.
Jenkins argues that we should take note of the explosive southward expansion of Christianity in Africa, Asia and Latin America. From this comes the larger awareness of the globalization of Christianity, with all that it holds, for the Western consciousness. Jenkins calls this “one of the transforming moments in the history of religion worldwide.”
Jenkins predicts that by the year 2050 only one Christian in five will be a non-Latino white person, and the center of gravity of the Christian world will have shifted firmly to the Southern Hemisphere. Within a handful of decades, cities such as Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila will take the place of Rome, Athens, Paris, London, and New York.
Consider Africa, where the number of Christians increased from ten million in 1900 to 360 million in 2000. Soon, the phrase “a White Christian” may sound as mildly surprising as “a Swedish Buddhist.”
So who is a typical world Christian? Think of a woman living in a village in Nigeria or in a Brazilian favela.
With the new Census, perhaps we can bring this home a bit, as in, “Who is a typical American Christian?” If you think the answer is a white, male Baptist living in the South, think again.
It will more likely be a Hispanic, female Pentecostal living…well, next door.
James Emery White
“Census tracks 20 years of sweeping change,” Haya El Nasser and Paul Overberg, USA Today, Wednesday, August 10, 2011. Read online.
Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2002).
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