The Former Crystal Cathedral and Evangelicalism’s Decline

17 Dec

I reside in a locale dominated by Dutch-American traditions–more specifically, Protestant Dutch-American traditions. (See some of my earlier posts on Abraham Kuyper.)

There is a local Dutch-American Protestant connection to the once-famous Crystal Cathedral of the Garden Grove Community Church, Orange County, California. Its founding pastor Robert Schuller comes from near Alton. (Alton is three miles from where I sit in Orange City. Here, Schuller is not pronounced Shuller, but rather Skuller.) He attended Hope College and Western Theological Seminary, both of the Reformed Church in America (as is my institution). Schuller’s congregation in the suburbia of post-World II southern California has always been affiliated with the Reformed Church in America, even though the church’s name deliberately stressed nondenominationalism.

Dennis Voskuil in Mountains in Goldmines: Robert Schuler and the Gospel of Success (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1983) has done the go-to study of Schuller’s founding of Garden Grove Community Church and of the ministry there at its height. Now, Jim Hinch updates things in his article in The American Scholar on the demise of the Crystal Cathedral, which was sold to the local Catholic diocese.

Hinch argues that the sale illustrates the decline of (white) evangelicalism:

Schuller’s own Orange County was at the forefront of America’s plunge into entrepreneurial suburbanization. Explosive growth in the county during the 1950s and ’60s led in subsequent decades to the construction of sprawling planned communities. Heavily capitalized developers transformed the landscape into a manicured rebuke to America’s troubled inner cities. Their plans excluded the prevailing elements of urban design: high-rise buildings, mixed-use commercial districts, multifamily housing, and straight streets, which were thought to be easier for criminals to navigate. The county lured corporations with plush but safely bland office parks, and local governments kept taxes low and business regulations light. The result was a resounding success. Today, Orange County is an economic colossus with a 2012 GDP of $195 billion; per capita, its GDP is roughly the size of Singapore’s. Over the years, some portion of that wealth flowed into the evangelical churches, which molded themselves to suit the county’s mostly white-collar, affluent population.

But just as Orange County pioneered a new form of low-rise urbanism, it was also among the first places to experience the demographic consequences. All those planned communities—their well-paid inhabitants liked to eat out, their houses needed cleaning, and their lawns needed trimming. Beginning in the 1970s, migrants, mostly from Mexico, Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and Korea, began arriving to cook, clean, and mow. These immigrants and their families began taking over formerly all-white neighborhoods, principally in northern parts of the county, transforming the look and cultural fabric of those areas. Today, Orange County is one of the most ethnically, politically, and economically diverse places on the planet. Only 43 percent of its more than three million residents are white, and almost a third were born abroad.

Nowhere is this more visible than in the neighborhoods surrounding the Crystal Cathedral. Garden Grove, where Schuller once preached to young white homeowners in their cars, is now inhabited almost entirely by immigrants and their descendants. The adjacent city of Westminster is home to the world’s largest population of Vietnamese outside Vietnam. In another neighboring city, Santa Ana, 82 percent of the families speak at home a language other than English, primarily Spanish. These mostly poor residents cram several families into tract houses, work low-wage jobs, and reliably vote Democratic (the county’s registered voters are evenly split between Democrats and Republicans; Barack Obama won in 2008, Mitt Romney in 2012). They also gravitate not to evangelical megachurches like Schuller’s but to Catholic parishes, Buddhist temples, mosques, and storefront Pentecostal churches. The Islamic Society of Orange County, which owns a mosque, school, and mortuary five miles from the Crystal Cathedral, is one of America’s largest centers of Islamic worship. The Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, a few miles north of Orange County, is the largest Buddhist temple in the United States. Orange County’s Catholic diocese is one of the nation’s largest and fastest growing.

For the entire article, which gives much on which to ponder for those interested in religion and in the U.S. West, see here:

The American Scholar: Where Are the People? – Jim Hinch.


One Response to “The Former Crystal Cathedral and Evangelicalism’s Decline”

  1. Douglas Firth Anderson December 17, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    Reblogged this on Northwest Iowa Center for Regional Studies.

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