It was the 1950s. Teenagers slurped milkshakes at drive-in restaurants, and married couples on television shows slept in twin beds. The number one song on the Billboard charts was "At the Hop" by Danny & the Juniors. Poodle skirts and hula-hoops were all the rage. This was the Age of Innocence, the idyllic Eisenhower generation, and it was definitely hip to be square. These were the years that belonged to the Silent Generation.
(Watch Danny & the Juniors whip the girls into a frenzy here:
The Silent Generation was born between 1925 and 1945. Although most of them were too young to participate in World War II, they were on the scene in time to enjoy the peaceful post-war years. They came of age during the 1950s and early 1960s, a time of unprecedented stability in our nation. They married young, moved to the suburbs, worked for the same company for thirty years, and lived the traditional roles of husband, wife, and parent. Growing up they had been told, “Children should be seen and not heard,” and this attitude carried over to adulthood in the form of submission to authority. They respected their elders, their bosses, their country, and their God.
Because of their admirable respect for authority Silents had unwavering faith in the institutional church. In fact, the American church experienced an explosion of growth during the 1950s and 60s. In 1940 around 40% of Americans were affiliated with a church. By 1960 that number had rocketed to 69%. The result was a huge increase in church construction: in 1945 America spent $26 million on new churches; in 1950, $409 million; and in 1960, an astounding $1 billion. Judeo-Christian morality was decidedly “in.”
The Silent Generation held such a pervading Christian worldview that in 1954 the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance, and in 1956 newly minted currency proclaimed, “In God We Trust.” Suddenly, “American” and “Christian” were one in the same. Thanks to the Silent Generation the church had achieved mainstream status, driving the cultural norms and setting the moral code. As a result their era as a whole could be characterized by a sense of relative peace, prosperity, security, and comfort. It seemed America was living out the words of Psalm 33:12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.”
Unfortunately this stability didn’t last forever, as we saw last week when we discussed how the Baby Boomers exploded onto the scene and began to question the very authorities and institutions the Silents venerated. It’s safe to say that the Silent Generation has lived through more change than the rest of us put together. They have watched our country go from the peaceful post-war growth of the 50s, to the cultural revolution of the 1960s, to the postmodernism of today.
Today, Silents are the ones holding down the fort in terms of the institutional church. Pew Forum reports that 53% attend church regularly, 71% pray daily, and 67% believe religion is “very important to their lives.” These numbers are the highest of all the generations.
Many Silents I know are lamenting the erosion of Christian morality in our nation, and rightly so. Perhaps for the Silent generation - more than any other - the possibility of spiritual renewal and church reformation offers a glimmer of hope and a chance that America might once again be that “shining city on a hill.”