Generous Orthodoxy  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Protestant Christianity and the decline of the American WASP

Today's New York Times has an op-ed piece that already has people talking. Written by Noel Feldman, a law professor at Harvard, it's called "The Triumphant Decline of the WASP," occasioned by the imminent disappearance of the last white Protestant from the Supreme Court. Feldman, a Jew, celebrates the values of Anglo-Saxon Protestantism with words like these:

"Unlike almost every other dominant ethnic, racial, or religious group in world history, white Protestants have ceded their socioeconomic power by hewing voluntarily to the values of merit and inclusion, values now shared broadly by Americans of different backgrounds. The decline of the Protestant elite is actually its greatest triumph."

As a proud member of the rapidly disappearing "elite" of old Virginia, I find these words (and the rest of the article) both stirring and truthful. There's something missing, however. Feldman credits two factors in the development of American democracy: 1) "the playing fields of Eton" (that's my quotation, not his) for instilling a sense of fair play; and 2) the Protestant, presumably Puritan/Presbyterian reverence for education. He gives Princeton University as a stellar example of the shift from its identity as an all-male Protestant redoubt to a singularly divers faculty and student body.

Very true, no doubt. But what's missing? Protestantism itself is missing. If it occurs to Prof. Feldman that the Reformation itself had something to do with democracy, abolition, women's suffrage, free markets, freedom of speech, the civil rights movement, separation of church and state, etc etc etc, he does not say so. I believe that this is demonstrably the case, however, and Protestant leaders should not fail to celebrate this and hold us to our own biblical grounding.

I will be watching the Letters to the Editor for the next few days to see if anyone takes up the challenge. (I have written at least a dozen letters to the Times myself and none have ever been published, so I am tired of trying.)

Here is the link to the Feldman piece: