Repost: “Progressive Christians” and Yours Truly

progressivexianityI wrote this post in the summer of 2011.  The trend has continued in the succeeding years.  I will write something more current on the issue, but this old posts still stands.

I’ve been noticing lately within Mainline Protestant  circles, the rising use of the word “progressive” as a way to describe Christians who might have once used the term “mainline Protestant.”  The biggest change to note is over at the religion megasite Patheos, which changed the name of one of their religion portals.  What was once called “Mainline Protestant” is now called “Progressive Christian.”  That change has brought about a discussion of the term and there have been some fairly good posts about name change.

That said, I’m also a tad bit wary of the term.
Continue reading “Repost: “Progressive Christians” and Yours Truly”

Jesus Is Not a Fashion Accessory

There are folks who tend to focus on the “numbers” taking place in Mainline Protestantism with concern.  One example is an article written in 1987 by William Willomon and Robert Wilson.  They looked at the numbers and didn’t like what they see:

The Methodist and the Evangelical United Brethren Churches each began to experience a decrease in membership in the 1960s. This was obscured by the optimism engendered by the merger of these two denominations in Dallas in 1968. The details of the merger took a couple of years to be worked out and several more years for the overlapping annual conferences to combine. During the early years, a number of EUB congregations, largely in the Pacific Northwest region, withdrew to form a separate denomination.1 However, by 1970 The United Methodist Church was in place with a total membership of 10,671,744 and 40,653 organized churches.2

The decline, which began in each of the denominations before the merger, has continued. By 1984, the total number of members had decreased to 9,266,853; a loss of 1,404,891, or 13 percent. We had lost members equal to almost twice the number of EUBs who had united with the Methodists in 1968. The United Methodist Church, in the fourteen-year period 1970-1984, lost an average of 1,930 members every week. (This decrease is illustrated in Graph 1).

The downward trend has not yet been reversed. Preliminary figures for 1995 give the lay membership as 9,105,046.3 During calendar year 1985, the total number decreased by 75,692, or an average loss of 1,455 persons each week. This is the equivalent of closing a church of 207 members every day for one year. The average attendance at the principal service of worship has also shown a downward trend, although at a somewhat slower rate than the membership decline. There were over 442,000 fewer persons attending worship in 1984 than in 1969, a decrease of 11 percent. (This trend is illustrated in Graph 2.)

Nor is the picture regarding the number of congregations is encouraging. During the period of 1970-1984, United Methodism closed a total of 2,665 local churches, or an average of slightly under four congregations per week.

An examination of the membership trends of several other mainline denominations for the decade and a half from 1968 to 1983 reveals equally dismal pictures. The Episcopal Church had a membership decline of 17 percent.4 The decrease in the United Church of Christ was 16 percent.5 The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) dropped by 29 percent. The recently created Presbyterian Church (USA), the result of a merger between the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the Presbyterian Church in the United States, in 1983 had 25 percent fewer adherents than the combined membership of their component parts a decade and a half earlier.

It is difficult to conceptualize the extent of the membership declines suffered by the mainline churches during the 1970s and early 1980s. Every week these denominations averaged a decline of over five thousand; this is the equivalent of mainline Protestantism’s closing one local church of almost seven hundred members every day for a decade and a half.

The significance of this downward trend in membership on these historically prominent denominations and their role in the larger society is great. It may mean a realignment of the religious bodies in America. For example, there are now more members in the Assemblies of God than in the United Church of Christ, a fact that will influence both denominations.

Willomon and Wilson notes that the drop off does have a result on the morale of both pastors and congregations and fosters a sense of self-preservation and maintainence.

Another person that has watch these numbers with some worry is Presbyterian Pastor John Vest.  Earlier this year, he wrote an emotional post about the rate of decline taking place in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and urged the church to do something:

Last week the Office of the General Assembly released the 2012 statistics for the Presbyterian Church (USA). The numbers aren’t good, more signs of our rapid decline (and the similar decline of all mainline Protestant—and even evangelical—denominations).

  • Our membership has dropped to 1,849,496.
  • This represents a decline of 102,791 members. About half of these are due to transfers.
  • 86 churches were dissolved.
  • 110 congregations were dismissed to other denominations.
  • While losing these 196 churches, we only organized 13 new congregations—quite a bit short of the 1001 goal we’ve set for ourselves.

I’ve said it before: this is simply not sustainable. Continue reading “Jesus Is Not a Fashion Accessory”

Progressive Christianity’s Pyrrhic Victory

The latest meme going around at the moment is a Pew Research survey on religion.  What has caught people’s attention is how the share of religious conservatives falls with each new generation while religious progressives seem to be rising with each new generation. Of course, progressive Christians have latched on to this story.  There is a sense of vindication that after  years of seeing the Religious Right grow, that now it is time for Religious Progressives to step out into the limelight while Conservatives recede into the background. It should be no surprise to readers of this blog that I … Continue reading Progressive Christianity’s Pyrrhic Victory

Repost: We Can’t Be Friends

First off, welcome to all the new visitors who saw my post on Freshly Pressed. Below is a post from last year.  It was about 20 years ago, that I attended a large Baptist church in Washington, DC. The church was an odd mix, or at least it would be odd today. Evangelicals and liberals were somehow able to worship together, along side a healthy dose of members from Latin America and Asia. The church decided at some point to hire a pastor to the join the good-sized multi-pastor staff. The person chosen was a woman with great pastoral care … Continue reading Repost: We Can’t Be Friends

Silence of the Drones

Michael Kruse has a good post that deals with my long quest to find out what is truly prophetic and what is just a poser.  Here’s a taste: The Christian Left (or progressives) hold themselves up as the antidote to this unholy alliance between the church and state. They are prophetic. Unlike conservatives who were in the tank for Bush and the Republican Party, they stand unflinchingly for justice. Addressing the issue of torture is a good example. The Bush administration used “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding. This was torture and torture is never justified, we were told. No amount … Continue reading Silence of the Drones

You Gotta Serve Somebody

It’s been interesting watching my Facebook feed today in light of the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act.  What has made it interesting is seeing a number of mainline pastors kind of be so nakedly partisan. I guess it shouldn’t shock me.  Mainline Protestantism has long ago jumped into bed with liberal interests in the way that Evangelicals have fooled around with the Republican party. But while it might not be shocking, it is a little sad to me.  It’s just one more confirmation on how Mainline churches are just as beholden to ideology as evangelicals have been. … Continue reading You Gotta Serve Somebody

What Does It Mean to Be Prophetic, Revisited

Alan Bevere again picks up the the theme of being prophetic in a post today: I have spent some time this week in the Old Testament prophetic books. I do not find it surprising that most prophets are not accepted in their own time. Their cutting words of truth at best fall on stopped ears. Then, in order to reinforce their words, they resort to symbolic acts which, if committed in the 21st century West, would be more than sufficient cause for them to be put away in special places reserved for people who walk naked in public (Isaiah) and who eat … Continue reading What Does It Mean to Be Prophetic, Revisited

Constitutional Amendments and the Church

This fall, Minnesotans will go to the polls to vote on two constitutional amendments.  The first one would ban same-sex marriage and the second one would require photo ids before a person could vote. Now I have my own opinions on the amendments and I’m not shy about sharing them (I’m strongly against the first and somewhat in favor of the second).  However, when it comes to the context of church and in my role as a pastor, I am less comfortable in telling people how they should feel on this issue, let alone how they should pray. Recently, during … Continue reading Constitutional Amendments and the Church

A Table, A Cross, An Elephant and a Donkey

Christ of the Polls by Stushie. There was a time in my life when I really loved talking about politics. I come from a family where my mother talked about politics constantly and still does. But these days, I don’t enjoy politics as much as I used to. I still enjoy and I still blog about politics, but something has changed over the years, at least within me. I think I know why. It’s that people take politics way to seriously. So seriously, that we don’t know how to be friends with those we might disagree with. The 2008 bestseller, … Continue reading A Table, A Cross, An Elephant and a Donkey