Monday, February 24, 2020
Learn more about the Trinity Forum’s first-ever report “Christianity, Pluralism, and Public Life in America: Insights from Christian Leaders” here.
The times, they are a-changing: America is quickly becoming much more religiously diverse and divided. By some estimates, over three-quarters of senior citizens identify as Christian, but less than half of those under 30 do. The largest religious shift of the last decade has been described as the rise of the “nones” – those who claim no religious affiliation. The resulting erosion of a religious consensus has evoked different reactions, including lament and fear. And indeed, we are in uncharted waters. But in navigating those waters, it is helpful to recall that it was the religious pluralism of America at the time of its founding that helped usher in the recognition of the right of religious freedom and protections around it.
Baylor Historian Thomas Kidd argued in his insightful work God of Liberty that in the years leading up to the founding, many of the original colonies had established a state church (usually Anglican or Presbyterian) which, at times, enthusiastically prosecuted Baptists, evangelicals, Quakers, or other then-marginal religious factions. These minority groups, in turn, while harboring no hopes for cultural dominance, advocated for the freedom to worship as they saw fit – and made common cause with the Unitarians, deists, and other theological misfits to oppose the Christian “power centers” of their day to secure full religious liberty.
As Kidd noted: “The evangelicals wanted disestablishment so they could freely preach the gospel; the rationalists and deists wanted disestablishment because they felt an enlightened government should not punish people for their religious views. The combination of the two agendas would transform America, helping make it both intensely religious and religiously free.”
Just as religious pluralism helped usher in religious liberty at the time of our founding, it may help sustain it in our own time. Today, we are pleased to release our first-ever research report on “Christianity, Pluralism, and Public Life in the United States,” ably led by Senior Fellow Michael Wear and Wheaton College professor Amy Black, who interviewed at length more than 50 Christian leaders (mostly, but not entirely pastors) across a variety of denominations. They found (no surprise) some sharp political divides between groups, but also a remarkably broad consensus about the value of pluralism in America, and the opportunities it brings for Christians to live out their faith and cultivate the common good of the country.
In the years ahead, as America’s religious landscape continues to shift and resettle, the importance and value of religious freedom will only grow. We hope this report will be a useful tool to those who proclaim and live out the Good News in every sector of life, and an encouragement to all Americans of the ways in which religious freedom and pluralism has undergirded our civic character and contributed to a more perfect union.
Recommended Reading and Resources:
Christianity, Pluralism, and Public Life in America: Insights from Christian Leaders | Access here
The Trinity Forum, The Great Experiment: Faith and Freedom in the American Republic (The Trinity Forum, 2001) | Access here
Alexis de Tocqueville, “Democracy in America” (The Trinity Forum Reading, 2017) | Access here
Thomas Kidd, God of Liberty (Basic Books, 2010) | Access here