Why Most Americans are Christian

Why Most Americans are Christian January 25, 2015
Image from Bruce Gerencser
Image from Bruce Gerencser

by Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser

Ask a Christian for the reason most Americans are Christian and you will likely get some sort of theological explanation, complete with a personal testimony of faith in Jesus Christ. However, is this really the reason most Americans are Christians? Is it really all about theology and relationship?

Perhaps there is another explanation.

First, America is a Christian nation. Not a Christian nation like theocrats think we are, but Christian nonetheless. Christianity permeates our being as a people. Christian churches are everywhere. Our government leaders are overwhelmingly Christian and freely use language that reflects their Christian heritage. Christianity is on full display everywhere you look.

Second, there is a cultural form of Christianity that permeates virtually every aspect of our society. Country singers win an award for a song about cheating on your husband and they thank the Christian God for winning the award. Boxers and MMA fighters brutalize one another and then thank the Christian God for the strength to do what they do. Prayers are uttered at sporting events, players give testimony to faith in Jesus, and the Christian God is given all the credit for their success.

Cultural Christianity is all about what a person says and not what they do. This is the predominant form of Christianity in America. When asked, do you believe in the Christian God? they will say Yes. It matters not how they live or even if they understand Christian doctrine. They believe and that’s all that matters.

It is this Christian world that every American child is born into. While my wife and I can point to the various conversion experiences we had, we still would have been Christians even without the conversion experiences. Our culture was Christian, our families were Christian, everyone around us was Christian, how could we have been anything BUT Christian?

American Christians have a hard time accepting this. They KNOW the place and time Jesus saved them. They KNOW when they were baptized, confirmed, dedicated, saved, or whatever term their sect uses to connote belief in the Christian God.

Why are most people in Muslim countries Muslim? Why are most people in Buddhist countries Buddhist? Simple. People generally embrace the dominant religion of their culture and so it is in America.

It is culture, and not a conversion experience that determines a person’s religious affiliation. The conversion experiences are the eggs the Christian chicken lays. Evangelicals, in particular, have built their entire house on the foundation of each person having a conversion experience. However, looking at this from a sociological perspective shows that our culture’s dominant religion affects what religion a person embraces more than any other factor.

Over the course of my life, I have lived in Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Arizona,, and California. Every place I lived had it own cultural idiosyncrasies. Let me share a couple of stories with you that illustrate this.

Here in NW Ohio, local convenience stores have one or two rows of Dr. Pepper in their coolers. Pepsi and Coke are the dominate brands. When I lived in Elmendorf, Texas, just outside of San Antonio, I would go down to the Conoco and buy a bottle of pop. The dominant pop in the cooler was Dr. Pepper. There would be numerous rows of Dr. Pepper and only a couple of rows for Pepsi and Coke. Big Red was another favorite pop and it also had more space in the cooler than Pepsi. Why? Culture.

When I left the church in Elmendorf and moved back to Ohio I kept in touch with a Hispanic family in the church. They eventually moved to Ohio to be a part of the church I was pastoring. I warned them that they were moving to an area where Anglos dominated the culture. There are no stores here with the foods, vegetables, and fresh tortillas that Hispanics in San Antonio can easily buy at the local HEB. I did my best to make certain they understood these things.

With great anticipation and excitement they moved to Ohio. And, two months later, discouraged and depressed, they moved back to San Antonio. Reason? Culture. The differences between cultures was too great. Even though they convinced themselves they could adapt, the differences were so vast that it would have required them to stop doing things they had done their entire life. Such drastic change is hard.

I pastored in SE Ohio for eleven years. Appalachian culture dominates the area. I found that there is a huge culture difference between NW Ohio and SE Ohio. While only 200 miles separate them, the cultures are very different from one another.

One day a man in the church brought us a bag of green peppers. He said, here are some mangos for you from my garden.Mangos? Mangos are a fruit that grow on trees. I thought, why is this guy calling green peppers mangos? A short time later, we went to the grocery store in Zanesville, Ohio. As we strolled through the produce section we noticed the green peppers. The sign above them said mangos.

Why? Culture.

Culture affects how we live, how we talk, what we eat, and what we do for entertainment. It affects every aspect of our lives. Why should matters of religion be exempt from the influence of culture?

I am an atheist, but I know that my moral and ethical values have been shaped by the culture I grew up in. I have no problem with admitting that some of my moral beliefs come from my Christian upbringing. Growing up in a poor family has shaped how I view things like poverty, welfare, and the place of government in our day-to-day lives. Culture and environment have largely made me who I am today. Even though I am now a godless heathen, I still like some of trappings of my Christian past. I love listening to southern gospel music. I love listening to Third Day and some of the other Christian rock groups. I don’t believe one word of the lyrics, but there is something about the music that appeals to me. It is familiar to me, just like many of the other cultural peculiarities I am surrounded by.

How about you? What cultural peculiarities do you see where you live? How has the Christian culture of America shaped and affected your life?

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Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser He writes from the unique perspective of having been a pastor for many years and having seen it all in churches. His journey out of being a true believer and pastor has been an interesting and informative one.

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have six children, and ten grandchildren.

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