Christine Wicker. The Fall of the Evangelical Nation: The Surprising Crisis Inside the Church. HarperOne, 2008.
I’d like to believe the main argument of this book–that “evangelical Christianity is dying” (“evangelical Christianity” here meaning basically the kind of Christianity linked with right-wing politics and the culture wars in America). Wicker does give us some strong evidence indicating that the claims for evangelical power have been greatly exaggerated and that trends indicate that even the less powerful that assumed movement is losing steam and beginning to fade.
She looks at facts and figures concerning conversions, baptisms, membership, retention, participation, giving, attendance, and impact upon culture at large. The indicators all point downward. In part, her argument makes sense because the claims for extraordinary power and influence have never been subject to much scrutiny. And it has served the interests of many politicians, et al, that there be the general assumption that those claims be taken at face value.
To some degree, Wicker’s book was prescient leading up to our recent presidential election and the ending of the Right Wing hegemony in American politics.
Yet, the breezy style and lack of precision (such as her slippery definition of “evangelical” itself) foster a bit of a sense of skepticism on my part. This was a quick read and confirmed many of my suspicions about Right Wing Christianity’s actual power being based much more on perception than reality. But we need more solid research and careful writing on this topic.
The bigger issue for me that this book raises has to do with how “secular” is the American culture. Are we moving away from organized religion as many sociologists have been asserting for a long time? How do we account for the rise of the Christian Right? And has this movement actually (and ironically) accelerated the long-term diminishment of the influence of Christianity in the broader culture?