American Grace, part 3

Posted by on Sep 12, 2011

Here is a third installment in my discussion of Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s American Grace. The first two blogs in this series were posted on August 8th and 22nd. This book, based on a remarkably extensive study of Americans’ views about religion, deserves careful consideration by Christians concerned with spreading the gospel in a polarized and pluralistic world such as ours.

In this blog, I want to highlight the authors’ findings about the interconnectedness of “diversity, ethnicity, and religion,” the subject of their ninth chapter. “It is no coincidence,” they begin, “that the United States is both a nation of immigrants and a nation with high religiosity” (260). But, they quickly add, “…the link between ethnicity and religion is not limited to immigrants, nor to minority groups. Instead, it is a more general phenomenon as many Americans, including many whites whose ancestors immigrated several generations ago, evince a connection between their sense of ethnic identity and various manifestations of their religiosity” (261).

Their findings support the intriguing insight that “most churchgoers attend ethnically or racially homogeneous congregations” (261). They also found that “stronger ethnic identity means stronger belief in and inter-generational transmission or religion” (288). Naturally, they anticipate that, as America continues to increase in ethno-racial diversity, so, too, will it become more religiously strong.

Here are some of my reflections:

  1. Others have posited that the immigration process itself is a spiritualizing experience. The uncertainty and fear that comes with uprooting can prompt a deeper dependence upon the supernatural for help, guidance, strength, protection, provision, etc. This is nothing new. But it is increasing. We should prioritize the kinds of ministries that offer help to people in these transitional periods of time.
  2. Those who serve in the secular academy must be careful not to convey, however unwittingly, a subtle racism that implies that, with time and education, ethnic immigrants will become more secularized and less religious. While this may seem obvious, the roots of secular-elitism dig deep and have effected even some evangelical Christians.
  3. Many have considered the twentieth century to be the pinnacle of cultural progress with secularism as an advance from the religiosity of the past. In fact, the twentieth century may turn out to be an anomaly. The future is likely to be more religious than ever. This carries both great opportunity and serious challenge for Christians. These demand much reflection, discussion, and prayerful attention.


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