Demography drives religious change. That bald comment is too obvious to be worth making, but it’s surprising how little attention demographic factors receive in most histories of religion, particularly of Christianity. That neglect means we miss a very large part of the story.
United for a Fair Economy was started 15 years ago in response to the growing gap between rich and poor in the U.S. Mike Lapham joined the organization in 1997 to head its Responsible Wealth program, which mobilizes the voices of people who want to use their money to create a better society—through their own tax money.
When a child is ignoring basic responsibilities, parents rely on a well-known parenting technique to make a point. Mom looks her ten-year-old in the eye while holding a toothpaste tube in one hand and the cap in the other. “This is called toothpaste,” she says, “and this is called a cap. They go together.” The Lord God is not beyond impatience and remedial instruction when people need a reminder about neglected responsibilities. God held a basket of ripened summer fruit beneath Amos’s nose and said, “Amos, what do you see here?” The prophet, sensing that God was serious, didn’t bother joking. “A basket of summer fruit,” he replied. With that brief exchange, strangely similar to a parent remedially instructing a child, the doors opened to a flood of divine wrath.
Cotton was king in the 19th century, and the industry was dependent upon slavery. It wasn’t only southern plantation owners who reaped its benefits. Northerners and Europeans created a worldwide textile industry on the backs of slave labor, and they lent money to plantation owners to buy more slaves. We are still living with the legacy of that slavery, says Edward E. Baptist, author of the recently released The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. Part of the legacy is that white households have almost $15 worth of wealth for every dollar held by African-American households (CNN, September 7).