How did American Christianity become synonymous with conservative white evangelicalism? This sweeping work by a leading historian of modern America traces the rise of the evangelical movement and the decline of mainline Protestantism’s influence on American life. In Christianity’s American Fate, David Hollinger shows how the Protestant establishment, adopting progressive ideas about race, gender, sexuality, empire, and divinity, liberalized too quickly for some and not quickly enough for others.
Christianity’s American Fate: How Religion Became More Conservative and Society More Secular
David A. Hollinger. Princeton University, $29.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-691-23388-8
This cogent and comprehensive chronicle by historian Hollinger (Protestants Abroad) outlines how Protestant America’s “two-party system” came to be. Divided between progressive, cosmopolitan “ecumenicals” on the one hand and conservative evangelicals on the other, this system, Hollinger contends, has shaped U.S. politics for centuries, and the “destiny of the United States as a whole remains significantly determined by individuals and groups who claim the authority to speak for Christianity.” The author details how “Protestant cultural hegemony” formed in the country’s earliest years and was disrupted in the 20th century by the assimilation of Jewish immigrants and the dissent of Protestant missionaries critical of Protestantism’s “religious parochialism.” The 1960s saw the split between ecumenicals and evangelicals grow as the latter resisted calls to engage in the civil rights movement while the former agitated for racial justice. Hollinger describes the decline of ecumenical churches, which lost a third of their congregants amid growing secularization by the 21st century, leaving evangelicals with a larger relative share of “Christianity’s hollowed-out remnant.” The history is thorough and often surprising, demonstrating how contemporary political fissures have been shaped by internecine conflicts within Protestantism. This is superlative religious history.