Despite doubters, mainline Protestant churches are poised for success

[Religion News Service] Conservative commentators like Rupert Murdoch’s stable and Ross Douthat of The New York Times are feasting on what they perceive as the “death” of “liberal Christianity.”

They add two and two and get eight. They see decisions they don’t like — such as the Episcopal Church’s recent endorsement of a rite for blessing same-sex unions. They see declines in church membership. They pounce.

Such “liberal” decisions are destroying the church, they say, and alienating young adults they must reach in order to survive.

Never mind that surveys of young adults in America show attitudes toward sexuality that are far more liberal than those of older generations. Never mind that conservative denominations are also in decline.

Never mind — the most inconvenient truth — that mainline denominations began to decline in 1965, not because of liberal theology, but because the world around them changed and they refused to change with it.

Conservatives’ anti-change attitudes not only prevented necessary responses to a changing world, but their sky-is-falling venom fed a public perception of mainline churches as argumentative, judgmental, dull and old. It is that perception that young adults are shunning.

What changed in the 1960s? Everything. Urban neighborhoods lost population to white-flight suburbs. Children and parents lost interest in the old neighborhood church. Women entered the workforce en masse. Sunday became at-home family time.

Denominations were slow to establish suburban congregations. In a fundamental management failure led by the anti-change cadre, mainline churches tried to preserve a neighborhood ethos. When they did establish suburban churches, their efforts tended to be hesitant, under-funded, and focused on replicating old ways, rather than responding to realities of suburban living.

Even as women were entering other male bastions, conservatives resisted opening ordination to women. Even as new cultural languages and forms were emerging, conservatives fought any adaptation of mainline liturgies and hymnody. As people sought new expressions of faith in response to changing times, traditionalists mocked “renewal” as “happy-clappy.”

It was those fights that drove people away. It was also the looking-backward attitudes that prevented church leaders from responding to cultural shifts, many of them painful, such as decimation of the middle class, collapse of disposable income for all but the very wealthy, collapse of employment and safety nets, and eroding infrastructure such as public schools.

In time, many mainline Protestant churches became precious enclaves of old people doing old things. We were still arguing about paint colors when people needed us to help them find new purpose and confidence.

Neither do Douthat and Murdoch’s mouthpieces understand the present moment. Mainline Protestant church leaders are finally getting ready to do what they should have been doing for 50 years, namely, looking outside their walls at a deeply troubled world, resolving to turn their congregations toward being responsive and effective, and allowing young adults into leadership.

The Episcopal Church’s decision on same-sex blessings wasn’t a leap beyond; it was the last gasp of old ways of thinking, namely, that Sunday worship and in-house protocols are what matter.

Now leaders can look outward and onward. Conservatives will find themselves ignored, not because mainline traditions have lost their way, but because they are determined to find their way, and my-way-or-the-highway conservatives have cried wolf too often.

Their next round of emotional and financial blackmail won’t find much of an audience, except, of course, on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal.

– Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is www.morningwalkmedia.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.

Comments

  1. Marc Kivel says:

    Although I support much of what GC77 did, I question whether Tom Ehrich is any more correct in “liberal triumphalism” than “conservative pessimism” about the future of TEC and other mainstream churches. As I see it we need a latitudinarian approach to ecclesiology: this AND that, not either/or.

    It would be a HUGE error of judgement to ignore our more traditionalist brothers and sisters – they have much to teach and share: especially because of the questions on inclusiveness and integrity they raise. We do not always recognize how our converts influence the shape, understanding, and witness of our communion – perhaps we need to be more aware? Similarly, we need the youth and their idealism, the pragmatism and desire to conserve what is familiar of the great majority of the pew sitters, and the uncomfortable, recurring, pinpricking of activists among us. This, to my mind, is what being catholic may come to mean in the foreseeable future.

    I close with this story from the Jewish tradition which offers a cautionary tale….two Rabbinic schools went to “war” over how Scripture was to be understood – should teaching emphasize God’s compassion or God’s justice? In the midst of a raging debate the Kol B’Shamayim (the Heavenly Voice) was heard to declare “Both these and these are the words of the Living God!” It was decided then that in this world God’s compassion would be preferred, but in the World to Come it would be God’s justice…

    Thoughts?

  2. Concise and excellent! Thank you for doing a great job at not mincing words and saying what we Episcopalians should have said loud and clear long ago, as well as what we should have been doing. Our parish is growing quickly and it is because we have claimed our identity and seek to live into the gospel today and days and years ahead. I appreciate your words.

  3. Marc Kivel says:

    We have a 1900+ year heritage; how sad if we cannot accommodate the needs of one another within that wonderful tradition that sits in the lap of God…we’ll add to it, undoubtedly, but in this world we should constantly ponder our beliefs and decisions…as the Rabbis of Jesus’ time taught, “Do not be sure of yourself until the day of your death.” Humility rights a multitude of sins, perhaps?

  4. Mainline Protestant churches are withering away because they were too conservative? Really, Tom? Interesting theory, insofar as the Roman Catholic Church is far more conservative than the Episcopal Church ever was and the Roman Catholics can pull more members out of their sofa cushions than attend any given Episcopal church on any given Sunday.

    • Harry Coverston says:

      “Roman Catholics can pull more members out of their sofa cushions than attend any given Episcopal church on any given Sunday.”

      Actually, not. If one subtracts the inflow of Hispanic immigrants from the Roman Catholic totals, they show the same declines everyone else does. This is a much larger question than conservative v. liberal. The question is whether Christianity can make the requisite changes or die. And it was Bishop Spong who saw this coming 10 years ago.

      • Scott Loftesness says:

        “requisite changes”? To become what….a Rotary Club with nicer meeting halls?

      • I suppose Hispanic immigration explains why the Roman Catholic church is growing in Africa and Asia as well?

      • Richard McCargar says:

        Why would you believe that you can justify your point, when you can do so only by eliminating a quickly growing group of new Catholics?

        The Catholic church is surviving in part because they are appealing to Hispanics. To reduce membership that is inconvenient to your argument negates it.

    • Ralph Weitz says:

      “…they don’t have as many kids as they used to and they don’t keep the kids they do have in church.” This is exactly what I observed in the early 60s when I was confirmed (1960) in the Lutheran Church. Combining my confirmation class with the classes before and after, we totaled over 150 at St. John’s. However, by the time I was in 10th grade the boys’ and girls’ high school SS classes had to combine to have just 10 students attending. The baby boomer youth were processed through the church but there was no vitality of spiritual life available. I joined the ushers to find spiritual service and became the “runner” to find the pastor somewhere in the church so he could come to our room to open our meetings in prayer. Twenty minutes later with all business done the ushers were playing cards. My wife had a similar experience in another mainline denomination in a different part of the country. Our spiritual lives need more than process. Ehrich’s observation of the change in 1965 is ironic because that is when I left the mainline church. Two years later as a college student while reading my Bible I discovered that some of the liturgy which I spoke in the Lutheran Church, but did not know what it meant, was actually Scripture. The Bible, my Christianity and relationship with other Christians started to come alive as a spiritual journey and not just a program. What is amazing is that living in the Washington DC area, the Episcopal Church continues to decline and yet I find vibrant Anglican churches all over – urban DC, inner suburbs and newer suburbs – and they are growing with young adults.

      • George Waite says:

        Mainline Protestantism still thinks it can get by with ex-Catholics and ex-fundies and survive: it can’t. So long as it continues to remain a Sixties church in the 21st century, it will continue to decline-and deserve to.

  5. Jason Matthew says:

    Not a very good article. I was hoping that Tom would explain why mainline churches are poised for success. Instead, we get a short article bashing “conservative” christians….lame and divisive.

    I’m a pretty socially tolerant (liberal) person, however, saying that mainline churches are not in any kind of trouble is terribly naive and wishful thinking. Yes, conservative churches like the Southern Baptist Covention are declining, but not at near the rate of decline as “liberal” mainline protestant churches.

    The true universal “inclusive” church needs to be a place where liberals, moderates, and conservatives all have a say and a voice. The Episcopal Church needs to be a place where all are welcomed, regardless of politics.

    • Jenks Hobson says:

      In my part of TEC, all points of view are most certainly welcome. However, the conservatives did not want to be welcomed and left nastily. This militant moderate finds that it is one of our great challenges to be passionate about what we believe but still accepting of others who differ. I keep trying. Perhaps if we all did, we could then actually do the work that our God places before us!

  6. Scott Loftesness says:

    Let’s look at the parochial reports one year from now, two years, and three years from now – and see how well the new “gasps” of liberal “thinking” are playing….shall we?

    While Mr. Ehrlich rearranges the pews on board the TEC Titanic. Doomed by the arrogance of its renovators.

  7. Jan Rudinoff says:

    The depth of change that needs to happen won’t. Are we willing to deny the divinity of Jesus? Will we give up his death as an atonement for our sin? The willingness for Christians (Episcopal types) to address the scholarship emerging that address scriptures and the creeds doesn’t offer much hope that the God we acknowledge will be unchained from our precious traditions.

  8. I agree with Jason. I really cannot quite figure out what “poiseition” to which Tom is referring. There is much too much complexity in the matter of religious institutional decline to label it all in the liberal/conservative polarity. Internally there are significant issues of leadership, of the age of the newly ordained and their middle aged, second career mentality (I am 66 with 40+ yrs. of priesthood) and the whole COM process that has made institutional judgement about leadership needs vs. individualistic call very difficult; high costs attached to old building maintenance, bishops who would rather meet with each other and their staffs than truly listen to their constituents are some factors. Externally our historic value of and interdependence with WASP cultural vales are now antique; our understandable but disastrous aesthetic reverence for so many redundant, however beautiful, buildings in urban and old suburban locations, our noble belief in rational discourse and fairness, our willingness to be tolerant and our once confident but now archaic notion that everyone else will finally see how smart we American Episcopalians really are, are some of the inhibiting conditions and symptoms of both our decline and perhaps our redemption. I refer anyone who is interested to see some of our notions about complexity and its reality and the value of chaos theory and other notions that may give some pearly clues (biblically speaking) as to our present circumstance and future possibilities: http://episcopaljourneyofhope.blogspot.com/. It’s chaos out there. . .

  9. Mel Jenkins says:

    One of my frequent comments, regarding the Anglican/Episcopal situation is: If we made it through the 17th in Britain and the 18th century in North America, we can make it through this.

    Change has been a constant challenge.

    Today, all around the world, in every culture, there are shifting understandings. In our Anglican heritage, we will have to make decisions. I have, recently, decided to more solidly cast my lot with one broad concept of our heritage. In my approach, there is a retaining of the foundations with adaptation to an evolving understanding. That, of course, to many people, puts me in the “liberal” camp. To me, it feels like continuing the basics of our Western/British/American way of facing new issues with old understandings.

  10. Brian Ticknor says:

    The Episcopal Church a “mainline protestant church” ??
    I don’t think so.

  11. Mel Jenkins says:

    Well, Mr. Ticknor, you are right. The Anglican/Episcopal heritage is “catholic.” Henry VIII made that clear.

    And, we could add that weight to the scales. Let’s be catholic.

  12. Thomas Andrew says:

    “… mainline denominations began to decline in 1965, not because of liberal theology, but because the world around them changed and they refused to change with it.”

    Do you see the error in this manner of thinking?

  13. Fr. Brian Ticknor says:

    Mr. Jenkins,

    Well…. I kinda already am catholic. I am a priest of the Independent Old Catholic Church, serving an Episcopal parish, and licensed to do so. I am always amused by those who lump Anglicans in with Protestants just because we are not Roman Catholic. There are about a dozen Catholic denominations, only a few of which are in communion with Rome.

    When Benedict XVI was still a Cardinal he wrote that the Old Catholic Church was a particular Catholic Church because it has valid apostolic succession, valid rites and ceremonies, and valid Holy orders. And further, that, in an emergency, when a (Roman) Catholic priest was not available, Old Catholic priests can administer the sacraments to Catholics. I do so frequently at the hospital where I serve as chaplain.

    • George Waite says:

      Brian, you and your church(es) are proof that religious people make are the most self-involved and self-important: who cares?

  14. The fact: the corporate name of our denomination is: The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church, USA, Inc. (http://www.ecusa.org/) My paychecks when I was Executive Director of the Office of Stewardship and Development came from this corporation which I was lead to believe by the Presiding Bishop and Convention to be the Episcopal Church we all know and love. We are in the proper use of the English language, a catholic body in protest, i.e. protestant and catholic. Our protest remains historically consistent in our critique of Roman Catholicism’s excesses in doctrine and discipline, such as an exclusively celibate male priesthood and the false assumption of the Virgin Mary bodily into some sort of heaven to join her Son and Father with Holy Spirit. (What a conversation at dinner table that must make!) There are some other “dillies,” as well. Thank God I am protestant and Anglican, too!

  15. Eric Mellenbruch says:

    I believe Fr Ehrich is correct to point out that all mainline communions have been in numerical decline for some time, and that this is the result of great change in our society and the great difficulty the Church has had in coming to grips with the modern, and now post-modern, world. He is furthermore absolutely right to call the Church to respond to the profound need all about and among us.

    We begin to disagree, however, almost immediately after that, as a litany of suggested and real failures is laid at the feet of ‘conservatives’*. I do not think that any perception, general reality, or particular embodiment of the Church as ‘…argumentative, judgmental, dull, and old’, any cause for decline, any shortcoming whatsoever, can be considered the unique province or product of ‘conservatives’ – or of ‘liberals’ (besides which, there are plenty of people, though perhaps a declining number in these dichotomous days, who resist easy categorization as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’). All of us are eminently capable of being lazy, shallow, and blind to need, sin, and evil in our world, our Church, and ourselves, as the Epistle to the Romans and our various forms of Confession remind us.

    The good news is that, Deo gratias & Dei gratiâ, we all also have much to offer to our world, to our Church, and to each other: but no one person, congregation, or communion has every gift required. This is why it is so profoundly disturbing to read – and if I misunderstand Fr Ehrich, I apologize for imputing to him an attitude which can certainly be encountered in many other places – what for all the world sounds like a joyful announcement that those who do not share a particular view or agenda can now safely and proudly be jettisoned from a cleansed and purified vessel – and furthermore, that only in so doing can the Chuch truly get on with its mission and future. St Paul has much to say about this sort of thing, as a close attention to the Letter to the Ephesians which we are reading these Sundays (as well as to I Corinthians and other texts) will remind us. Of course, if Sunday worship does not matter (and again, perhaps I misunderstand the author), we may miss hearing that Epistle, as we shall surely miss the sacramental communion with God and one another that is at the heart of everything we are and do as the Body of Christ: our true, our only mission and future. The sort of triumphalism – from whatever corner – that proclaims ‘I have no need of you’ simply will not do.

    The Archbishop of Canterbury gave an address along these lines at the 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. I give only a couple of representative quotations and exhort you, dear readers, to read this still timely work in its entirety at http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/news.cfm/2005/6/20/ACNS3991:

    ‘Paul insists without any shadow of compromise upon our solidarity in rebellion against God, and so tells us that we shall not achieve peace and virtue by creating a community we believe to be pure. And these words are spoken both to the Jew and the Gentile, both to the prophetic radical and the loyal traditionalist.’

    ‘Because of the cross of Jesus and his resurrection, we may trust that God has acted to overcome our rebellion and more, to bring us into a renewed world. In that world, we live in gratitude to God and in a pervasive sense of involvement in and responsibility for each other. We acknowledge that we shall none of us be healed alone. We confess that each of us is made poor and sick by the poverty and sickness of our brothers and sisters. So we do not shrink, therefore, from fellow believers who have erred and reconstruct ourselves as a pure remnant; we admit that we are all now suffering. Likewise we need each other’s life and hope…’

    (He goes on to warn, after Schmemann, of the inadequacy of any understanding of the Church and life in Christ that reduces it to an agenda – something else we all do well to heed.)

    In short, there is no ‘they’: there is only ‘we’: and the Body of which we are members requires all of us in order to be complete, whether apostles, prophets, teachers, pastors, healers, possessed of a passion for justice, or a love of Scripture, or a respect for tradition, or an ability to reason, or a concern for public worship or personal prayer or ascetical discipline or holiness of life, or any of the other gifts with which we have been graced. Without looking to it for either ready ammunition or easy answers, we might do well to heed the Apostle’s warning that a failure to ‘discern the Body’ in all its fullness leads to weakness, illness, and even death – which I suggest we might understand spiritually and institutionally as much as individually and physically – as we pray continually for the unity that is so central to St Paul and indeed to Our Lord’s own prayer.

    *As something of an aside, I find his account of the suburbanization of the Church to be at odds with my own layman’s experience, which is that it did take place on a massive scale, that it bears all the marks of both attempting to meeting people where they are and falling into the trap of not leading them anywhere else, and that these congregations are generally more conservative, not less, than their downtown counterparts. Perhaps he and I are thinking of different parts of the country or of the Church or of postwar history.

    • Deb Seles+ says:

      Thank you Eric Mellenbruch for a cogent response here. I too am wary of triumphalism of any sort and suggest that we learn a few things from our evangelical brothers and sisters. When members of my congregation wonder at the growth of mega-churches and those of our more fundamental brothers and sisters, I remind them that reaching out deliberately to others is expected of every Christian. Members see it as their call to follow the Great Commission. Should we wonder then that congregations that do this, that see this as core to their identity grow?

      When the more liberal denominations can better articulate the faith that every member has in Christ and sees it as their vocation to proclaim Christ by word and deed then perhaps our shrinkage will stop. Frank Schaeffer (son of evangelical Frank Schaeffer, former shaper of the Religious Right and current Orthodox Christian) wrote recently in the Huffington Post about the failure of mainstream denominations to reach out to disaffected evangelicals. When we take the Great Commission as seriously as we purport to take the Great Commandment (and stop thinking of evangelism as a dirty word or worse–unseemly), then perhaps we will stop shrinking.

      Furthermore, denominationalism means less and less to Gen Y and the Millenials. Show them what we do, in Christ’s name, declare the hope that we have in Him, live forgiveness and then we stop being the Rotary with hymns.

  16. Marc Kivel says:
  17. Doug Desper says:

    Ross Douthart recently wrote in the New York Times:
    “Today the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world. Absent such a reconsideration, their fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die.”

  18. Rand Watters says:

    It is greatly disturbing and saddening to me to find so much of the dialogue here of low quality and mean character. Sarcasm, ridicule, vaunted ideas, lack of humility (or gentleness), all of which underscores the writer’s point about historical bickering. Is it possible to express a concept or value or opposing idea without heat and ire, without denigrating the position of another? Have we become so unable to speak calmly and kindly to one another?

    Perhaps the heart of the issue of decreasing adherents is not so much one of conservative vs liberal as it is religion vs spirituality. By that I mean that the catechetical approach of mainline churches, regardless of lib/con position, may be missing the mark of meeting people where they want to be. Where have our lost numbers gone? To nothing at all? I suspect not. Rather, there seeming creeping synchretism of world religions appeals to so many as a smorgasbord of the spirit — a trend that was obvious in the late 1970’s to so many of us. Perhaps it is true that our fleeing members are simply tired of the well-known, well-worn path, or rut, if you will. Perhaps the experiential components of spiritual practice in other world religions provides what these souls are longing for. Perhaps other sacred stories have become a diving board from which our lost members leap into the vast existential possibilities of new and foundationally different spiritual ways.

    We are post-New Age, and have been for more than a decade (or two). Some might agree that its ripple across the pop-spirit landscape was the spark igniting interest in many to go deeper and really dig into other spiritual practices. Episcopagans, Buddhapalians, Presbyhindus — they are already among us. Is it necessary for us to serve up this synchretic banquet to woo people back into the fold? Probably not. But perhaps we might do much more in meeting needs of the spirit in people rather than promoting catechetical aims of the institution.

    By all means — blast away.

  19. James McLemore says:

    My children may be a clue for the decline in church in general. Raised in a nicely balanced Episcopal Church, and well educated, they asked out of curiosity how to square ancient dogma with plain facts. They were met with, at best obfuscation, and at worst dark superstition. They have since departed the arched doors and fresh winds lifted their wings to a larger more beautiful world. The cries of Hell which chased them away echoed only within the pit from which they rose and were heard no more. The Church knows this too, and as it tacts back toward my children we’ll just have to face the cries of hell and deal with them.

    • Rand Watters says:

      Thank you for sharing your perspective from personal experience, Mr. McLemore. Interfaith efforts of the past century as well as the interspiritual movement of recent years may offer effective ways we Episcopalians might use to engage others and perhaps reclaim those we have lost. My first paragraph in my earlier post addresses the comments on all the articles I’ve read on this site. It is very hard for me to understand how the clergy of my own church engage in what I believe is rather cruel discourse. I’m not certain that I can bear reading the comments any longer.

      I believe that the Order of the Laity must step into a much more active and dynamic role within our Church. I believe we are the Order that can most fully be the non-institutional voice of reason and balance the discourse which leans so heavily toward the doctrinal. We are, after all, the largest portion of our denomination, yet we have the weakest voice it would seem at times. I think more than any other Order, the Laity has the greatest freedom to infuse our “religion” with God’s Spirit. We are not obligated to tow the party line, the doctrine, the dogma. I believe we are essentially counter-institution. I’m all for the structure, polity and governance of a healthy institution. But that cannot be the only voice that is heard. There must be dialogue with the counter-institution for continued health of all.

      • Thomas Andrew says:

        God gives the authority of teaching to the Bishops in Sacred Scripture, not the laity. Sadly, the granfalloon of Episcopal bishops has clearly forfeited that responsibility. There is a very clear reason why the discourse should lean toward doctrine and dogma – it should be driven by the text of Scripture. But, from my perspective, discourse is not dominated by scriptural texts but by emotion and experience. The laity actually are obligated to follow doctrine and dogma but yet they are truly the least educated in Scripture and theology to lead the discussion. The Church is not a democracy, God’s decisions are the only ones which matter. The more the Church resembles the opinion of the secular culture, you can be fairly sure it is moving further from God.

        • Rand Watters says:

          Mr. Thomas Andrew — Authoritarianism as you outline in your post is a killing force in any organization, particularly the church. And patronizing condescension toward the laity is most certainly not a saving grace for the church either. Orthodoxy strangulates dialogue and healthy discourse and exchange of ideas. While it’s true that we are not a democracy, we resemble more closely a republic — keeping in mind that the entire process of moving from discernment into the novitiate to initial ordination is from the people. No clergy can access their holy order without the say-so of the common congregant. In case I did not make myself clear previously, it is very important, I believe, for the future survival of our church that all voices within the church be heard, including and most especially the laity. In this way, we all together can move in the Holy Spirit with God. I cannot understand the concept “moving further from God” as you phrase it. I believe such dualism is divisive. I do not think it is helpful in bringing us together, let alone attracting former and new adherents.

  20. Thomas Andrew says:

    I’m sorry you interpret my comments so harshly. The only dialogue that has any place in the Church must be anchored in, and circulate around, the Word of God as revealled in Holy Scripture. Otherwise there’s not much purpose in the enterprise, is there? The reality is, whether you like it or not, that the laity is the least prepared to lead that discussion. The Church is not “any organization” and it is dangerous to ignore it’s very unique charism. Indeed, if it is just like any organization, then I’ll give my time talent and treasure to the local homeless shelter, food bank or garden society. But no doubt you disagree and I respect your right to your opinion..

    • Rand Watters says:

      T.A. — You say, “the laity is the least prepared to lead that discussion” — that would be the point on which we part ways. I believe it is an ungenerous and unkind statement. Are all theologians also clerics? Are there no learned laity amply endowed by God’s Spirit to speak? What inside information does anyone possess to resolutely state which vehicle the Holy Spirit will use? Polity, governance, authority are not the things that will renew the church. An involved, engaged and lively laity, however, shows much more promise for renewal. Otherwise the church would be a museum of clerical relics overseeing the dwindling subservient few. I wish to thank you for reinvigorating an idea suggested by another member of the laity in my parish to seek a more substantial role and voice for the laity. You have clearly shown me the way. I am in your debt.

  21. charles daily says:

    Okay, GC has opened the same sex blessing door. We now look for growth and fill the pews?
    We are keeping the lights on for those seeking a place to belong. We are saying there are no obstacles.

  22. “Never mind that surveys of young adults in America show attitudes toward sexuality that are far more liberal than those of older generations. Never mind that conservative denominations are also in decline.”

    But did they survey young Christians? It seems that this is a case of the Church abandoning their own moral base in the name of political correctness.

    And just because culture outside the Church coarsens, doesn’t that mean that the Church needs to be even _more_ diligent in its teachings?

    I was raised in a “suburban” Episcopal Church in Michigan. I stopped attending about twenty years ago in disgust. Since then, I have only paid enough attention to the Church to notice that, when a “mainstream” congregation does something REALLY weird, it’s inevitably an Episcopal church.

    • And in the same period, over the past 35 years, the Roman Catholic Church has actually gained membership by returning to a harder-line interpretation of it core beliefs, and a stronger interpretation of them.

  23. Ronnie Lester says:

    “Nice” to see the spokesman for a declining denomination cite the beliefs of juveniles rather than the Word of God. No wonder his credibility is spit. And mainline churches have lost their way, despite what this paid spokesman claims.

    No longer can they be called “mainline.” From now on they are “fade-line” churches.

    Stick to the Word. That’s the “inclusiveness” ordained by God that can’t be duplicated or exceeded by those who are wise only in their own minds, but actually foolish.

    • To what are you responding? My eyes have become glazed with the abundance of reading. You seem all to be in the intellectual stratosphere. I’m just a common guy.

  24. Emmie Lou Tucker says:

    I was raised as a main stream Presbyterian and loved my Church. I left the Presbyterian Church in 1960 because of its membership in the National Council of Churches and the World Council. Simply could not stomach their programs. I consider myself a fiscal/political conservative but fairly liberal in social matters. My family is racially and ethnically diverse. In the early 60s I joined a small Dutch Reformed Church on Long Island. I moved in 66 and have not belonged to a church since. I have lived in the South for over 30 years. When I can live with the politics of the church I can’t handle the theology. When the theology fits me, the politics send me ‘around the bend’ as the expression goes. My husband, born and raised in the South feels the same way. I would love to find a church I could be part of again but I will not join one I do not feel I should support financially and I will not support financially whose politics are so far left they are down below the 180 degree line. All those who have left the main stream churches are not for the reasons given.

  25. Thomas Reiter says:

    You all need to visit Europe to see how the churches have committed suicide there.

    This is “death by liberalism” not, “death by conservatism.”

    My wife was raised Roman Catholic. I was raised Methodist. We joined together in the Episcopal Church and recently tried to return. I told me wife, “OK but, first whiff of so-called ‘liberal’ propaganda and, I’m outta here.”

    Tolerance is one thing but changing the Church to a political tool is quite another.

    So-called “liberals” are all about “separation of church and state” – unless they can use it to push their agenda. Then it’s all about politicizing spirituality in order to foster an ultimately secular society.

    The left destroys whatever it touches. The Church is no different.

  26. George Waite says:

    The biggest reason all churches are shrinking? They’re boring. Really, really tedious.

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