Protestant Christianity in the United States took a different turn than it did in Europe during the 20th Century. There have been a number of very powerful economic and cultural factors involved, both in changing the face of Christianity and those which have been strongly influenced by the rise and decline of different features of Christianity.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. Revised and Updated ed. Vol. 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2010b. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 36, “Crisis at the Center: Protestantism in the United States” Loc. 7386-7712.
Involvement in World War I was not as strong an influence on the United States as on European countries (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7392). The nation did not pursue reconciliation. On the contrary, Gonzalez notes isolationism and surges in discriminatory activities (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7407). The social reform moves focused on prohibition of alcohol and corruption (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7429).
Economic disruption, beginning in October 1929, caused mass unemployment and a depression beginning in 1930 (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7445). Christian leaders who turned to socialism, such as the Niebuhr brothers and Paul Tillich, viewed Christianity as a social change agency (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7477). To accomplish change, the church would urge governmental involvement (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7492). The Depression finally ended in 1939 as the United States prepared to join World War II (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7499). During World War II churches tended not to be involved in shows of national pride, moving more toward conciliation (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7515).
The nuclear age, beginning with a bomb but also promising nuclear energy, deeply influenced the postwar generation (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7515). The economy was very active and affluent. Jobs were abundant. Education was readily available (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7522). Churches, especially during the Cold War, became havens where people would show their loyalty to America. Therefore, they grew rapidly beginning by 1950 (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7529). The revivalist tradition was reborn, especially by the work of Billy Graham (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7537). At the same time, Christianity retreated from urban areas, leaving a generation of low income urban dwellers with little Christian witness (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7544).
A move toward desegregation and civil rights emerged as well, with some socially oriented versions of Christianity reaching to the urban black population (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7560). Moves for “black power,” which Gonzalez interprets as gaining rights, not mastery, became common, sometimes sparking riots (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7581).
The feminist movement also flourished during this time period. Often this included calls for ordination of women in churches, as well as critiques of theology written by males (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7597).
Theological fragmentation and an increasing concern with social involvement on one hand, liturgy on the other hand, reshaped Protestantism in the United States (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7626). A wave of interest in the charismatic movement and a concurrent revolution in communications and broadcasting led to the development of powerful and large churches urging either moral or social activism or both (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7641).
The Islamic attacks on the United States in September of 2001 began a new social period (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7675). Moves for revenge through military invasions into Afghanistan and Iraq led to a unified opposition to terrorism and divided opinions about the best respons (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7675). A recession beginning in 2008 moved the country more toward a defensive posture, as well as an attitude that those perceived as outsiders were a threat (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 7689). Churches responded with attempts to care for the needy. Gonzalez suggests that the society and media were no longer interested in hearing what churches might say. The nation was moving away from Christianity.
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