It’s happened. More babies born in the past 12 months in the United States have parents who are Asian, African-American, Central or South American or of ethnic origins other than “non-Hispanic” whites. We’ve reached a hinge-point in U.S. history.
In the lead article in the New York Times, demographer William Frey said this represents “a transformation from a mostly white baby-boomer culture to the more globalized multiethnic country that we are becoming.”
Viewed in a global context, it’s even more than that. The global population is shifting in a similarly dramatic fashion. A surging youth population in the industrializing nations, declining birth rates in Europe and the rise of a globalized, multicultural and hyperconnected youth and young adult population are changing the world.
This rising tide of demographic change has been occurring over the past 40 years. It’s more than an unexpected tsunami, according to a paper released in 2007 by the British Council, a nonprofit educational and cultural organization.
And the changes are not benign. Demographic shifts will create cleavages across societies. Policymakers and social institutions, including the church–perhaps especially the church–must address them. We need public discourse that is deeper and more substantial than the polarized point-counterpoint posturing that passes for political dialogue in the United States today.
What the British report says of Europe applies to the U.S. in this regard: “At least equally as important is a societal discourse on how we in Europe want to live (with one another) in the future, since the presently perceived roles of the state, civil society, and economy will function only conditionally under the new demographic circumstances. Regional disparities will be more visible than before, since demographic processes will have increasingly heterogeneous effects.”
In the church, we need to look at our theology with deeper consideration for how we speak to these different groups with their unique life concerns, fears, hopes and aspirations. We will need to speak to the desire for inclusion as we speak to the fear of being left out, the demand for equity in contrast to the fear of losing influence, the desire for opportunity as the young and their seniors fear an uncertain future.
“In the church, we need to look at our theology with deeper consideration for how we speak to these different groups …”
These and a host of other matters are not only about social policies; they are also theological. They will require the church, if it is to remain relevant to this new age, to offer more than pietistic bromides as surely as it will require politicians to go beyond their current level of simplistic, divisive posturing.
They will require us to look at:
- how we are connected as a global church,
- how we fund and carry out mission and ministry,
- how we communicate effectively with various groups as we share the good news of God’s love for all, and
- how we create communities of faith that offer hope, support, growth and compassion.
Within this global reality we will need to
- find our voice for justice,
- assess how we reach out to others as a servant people, and then do it,
- find new ways to express the faith to new people in new circumstances,
- demonstrate through our actions that even in this unsettling change, we continue to believe it is God’s world after all,
- affirm that it is a world of goodness, and
- live out the biblical teaching that it is God’s intent for all of us to flourish.
I’ll be posting about how I think these dynamics will affect my own religious community, and I welcome your reactions and reflections. Please feel free to contribute to this important conversation.