In the aftermath of the Obergefell decision by our Supreme Court this last summer, many on the Left have celebrated that evangelical Christians will finally be forced, by an irresistible cultural tide, to give way to the sexual revolution and the new creed of sexual orientation.
Baptist leader Russell Moore wrote in First Things that, contrary to the popular narrative, Christian are not caving on gay marriage and neither are Millennials. Popular writers like David Brooks, the leashed conservative at the New York Times, would have us believe that “The share of Americans who describe themselves as Christians and attend church is dropping. Evangelical voters make up a smaller share of the electorate. Members of the millennial generation are detaching themselves from religious institutions in droves.”
But is this truly the case? First, the numbers of people who continue to hold the Bible in reverence remains high: according to one survey, the number may be as high as 79%. This statistic is occuring at the same time that church attendance is falling, and at the same time that the numbers of “nones”–those Millenials who identify with no religion at all–continues to rise. Second, the numbers of young people who identify as evangelical are currently around 19%, which is as high as they were in the 1970s. This comes after a fall since around 2000. These facts hardly support the hypothesis that religion is fading among Americans.
This feeds into the larger “secularization thesis,” which holds that as a society becomes more advanced and wealthy, faith will begin to lose its hold. The eventual collapse of religion has been predicted by Voltaire, Jefferson, Comte, and others, and all to no avail. A leading secularization thinker, sociologist Peter Berger, has stated that “by the 21st century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture.” He has since retracted such views, as the unfolding of events have failed to vindicate his predictions.
Berger’s humility in this area, however, is rare for so eminent a thinker. Jose Casanova, by contrast, has gone so far as to say, “The new American paradigm has turned the European model of secularization on its head… What was until now the American exception attains normative status, while the previous European rule is now demoted to being a deviation from the American norm.”
The idea that the large segment of America that is evangelical will simply roll over due to cultural winds shows a distressing ignorance of religious history. Christians have stood against kings, emperors, popes, dictators, and commissars, and none have yet succeed in breaking their resolve. Is it likely that a few activists with a Supreme Court decision can accomplish the feat that others more terrible than they have failed to achieve?
While it is unlikely that Christianity has come to a “Here I Stand” moment, as it did in Worms, Germany in 1521, it is appropriate to say to Christianity’s detractors that we are still standing.