This blog explores and examines the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion.
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Liberal Christianity, Conservative Christianity, and the Caught-In-Between
As you may have noticed, a flurry of articles and blog posts have materialized in the wake of the Episcopal Church USA General Convention, many asserting that the Episcopal Church’s declining numbers, and those of other Mainline Protestant churches, are direct result of their progressive policies. The most notable of these responses came from Ross Douthat of the New York Times who asked, “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?”
“Instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes,” Douthat wrote, “the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace... Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves."
Diana Butler Bass responded with an article entitled “Can Christianity be Saved?” in which she reminds Douthat that conservative churches are also in decline. “In the last decade,” she writes, “as conservative denominations lost members, their leaders have not equated the loss with unfaithfulness. Instead, they refer to declines as demographic "blips," waning evangelism, or the impact of secular culture. Membership decline has no inherent theological meaning for either liberals or conservatives. Decline only means, as Gallup pointed out in a just-released survey, that Americans have lost confidence in all forms of institutional religion. The real question is not 'Can liberal Christianity be saved?' The real question is:'Can Christianity be saved?'
Both were thoughtful, relatively charitable articles, but I was disheartened to see my Facebook and Twitter feeds light up with gleeful jeers from conservative evangelicals essentially saying,“let the liberals die!” followed by defensive responses from more progressive Mainliners reminding them, “we may be dying but we’re taking you with us!”
Missing from the whole dialog was any sense that we’re in this together, that, as followers of Jesus, we may need to put our heads together to re-imagine what it means to be the Church in a postmodern, American culture where confidence in organized religion is at an all-time low.