Soul Searching, Republicans and the Mainline Church

Being a Republican right now is both frustrating and a bit hopeful.  As someone who has been worried about the direction of the party over the years, there is something hopeful of how Republicans are trying to understand the sweeping victory of the Democrats last week.  I’ve seen a bunch of articles about the how the GOP has to change to meet the upcoming shift in the demographics of nation.

There has always been a small hope that some election would be the one where the GOP would hit bottom and finally come to some conclusion that it needed to change.  I was a little surprised it came so quickly, but I’m glad it did.  This time of wondering what works and what doesn’t is good for the party and might make it a competative party once again, this time with a more diverse base than before.
Lutheran pastor Keith Anderson has written a fascinating blog post about how the mainline churches are in a similar path to irrelevance as the GOP.  Here’s a bit of what Anderson says:

It turns out that the downfall of the Romney campaign was not appreciating the demographic shifts that had taken place in the country over the last four years. America and the electorate had become more diverse and urban – and the tone, resonant issues, language, and culture had shifted along with them.

In many ways, the mainline church now finds itself in the same position as the Republican party – scrambling to catch up to changes in country and culture. The Church must understand the lesson of the Romney defeat and pivot toward the culture that exists now rather than the one that used to be.

His post makes a lot of sense.  I am hopeful that the Republicans will listen to the people and make changes to meet this changing America.  I’m not so sure when it comes to my own churches that make up Mainline Protestantism.  While both institutions are in need of a serious overhaul, I am afraid that only one of them is really able to take a good long look at itself and ask some hard questions of itself.  Republicans have the chance to listen and try something new, the chance to retreat on some issues until another day and the willingness to embrace new ideas while keep their values intact.

Mainline Protestantism, of which I am a part, there is less willingness for self-examination.  For some reason, we never want to hear bad news.  On more than one occasion, I’ve heard pastors dismiss the shortcomings of Progressive Christianity and talk about how the future is bright.  I surely don’t want to focus only on our shrinking budgets and empty pews, but I do think it makes sense to at least be honest that there are problems, since it’s only when we admit our own shortcomings can we actually make change.

During the summer, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote a post about the faltering of Liberal Christianity.  I thought it was good advice to take heart.  His words brought out a backlash among Progressive Christians. They didn’t much appreciate this conservative telling them how to do church.  Allan Bevere summed up that mainliners tend to not examine themselves in the same way that evangelicals have as of late:

In recent years evangelical Protestantism has been going through a soul searching, questioning some of its cherished political and hermeneutical positions that have become so intertwined with evangelicalism. An increasing number of evangelicals are re-evaluating some of their “sacred” views on Scripture and science and politics. I think that has been a good thing. But I must say, I have not seen that same kind of soul searching among mainline Protestants. It cannot hurt to wonder if we always have it right. It cannot be a bad thing to remember that perhaps our views are not always biblical, but rather the opposite side of the same modern coin we share with those who are evangelical. Perhaps Dennis and John are beginning an important self-critical conversation that we mainliners need to have. If this is the start, I welcome it.
After all, the unexamined life, politic, and theology is not worth embracing… and it’s not good for the soul… or the church either. An adjective is meant to describe a noun, not get in the way.
I offered my own two cents on the issue:

I think Progressive Christianity has some great strengths.  However, we do a crappy job of self-examination.  We never allow ourselves to think that somehow what we do and how we do it might possibly be wrong.  We are unwilling to think about what we might have done wrong and how to correct for fear that we will become some kind of clone of the Southern Baptists.

Self-examination doesn’t mean we have to stop being progressive Christians.  It doesn’t mean throwing out everything.  But it does mean seeing what might be hurting us and putting aside our egos to in order to see if we are the best church we can be.  When liberal Christians start doing this, then we can be on the road to saving Liberal Christianity.  Until that happens, we will keep whistling down the road towards irrelevance.

I read a number of progressive and evangelical bloggers.  What has always struck me about the progressive bloggers is that there is this sense that they are right.  While there maybe doubts on whether or not Christ rose from the dead, there are no doubts when it comes to social policy.  For all their faults, evangelical bloggers seem more willing to look within and examine themselves.  There’s a lot more diversity of thought in evangelical circles than in progressive Christian ones.

What long to hear someday is some denominational exec get up before a crowd and say something like how we need to get our act together and fast.  I don’t want to hear more sunny talk.  I want more handwringing and a willingness to change for the better.  Will it happen?  I dunno; it depends on whether the mainline church has hit bottom yet.


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