(Image: Flickr/jnn1776)

In the biggest week of the Christian calendar, the most seismic news went all but unnoticed. Gallup reported that US church membership fell below 50% for the first time. Having hovered around 70% throughout the 20th century, religious participation plunged over the past two decades in a trend that shows no signs of stopping.

This drop underscores the tectonic shifts at play in America's social landscape and how these forces are shaping the political battle over the future. One side is dominated by an ageing demographic that still views the United States as a white, Christian nation. The other encompasses a younger constellation of pluralists who believe that skin colour and religious preference should no longer define citizenship and opportunity in the "land of the free". Both maintain they are the authentic custodians of the country's ideals.

Onward Christianity

Constitutional separation of church and state notwithstanding, the political influence of Christianity has never been concealed. If anything, it has intensified over time. The pledge of allegiance was amended to insert the words "under God" in 1954. "In God we trust" was adopted as the national motto in 1956, supplanting "E pluribus unum" ("Out of many, one"). The inscription appears on US currency and in schools, courtrooms and on licence plates in many states. The phrase was embossed above the speaker's chair in the House of Representatives in 1962. In 2011, the house reaffirmed the motto by a 396-9 vote.