Category : United Church of Christ

(TGC) Alastair Roberts–Lessons from the Collapse of American Protestantism

Up through the 1960s, members and institutions of the Protestant mainline dominated American public life. To be sure, this dominance was not without serious issues””most notably, the exclusion of “Catholics, Jews, blacks, and atheists from nearly every position of influence in American life.” The significant demographic changes brought about by post-war immigration did nothing but exacerbate this problem.

Through these developments, influential mainline thinkers such as Harvey Cox and Paul Tillich responded by abandoning Christian particularism. Gleason writes:

They focused on the church’s social obligations, which they emphasized at the expense of the exclusivity and particularity of traditional doctrinal claims. In one famous formulation, Tillich argued that Christianity was just one of many ways to touch “the ground of being.” Symbols, religious and otherwise, all inadequately represented their ineffable subjects, but they also pointed beyond themselves to this ground of being, which Tillich called God. If Tillich was right, then mainline Protestants had no reason to distrust people of other faiths. Perhaps their beliefs were not so different after all.

This liberal thought was disseminated to millions of congregants by mainline Protestant clergy. They taught the values of “individualism, tolerance, pluralism, and emancipation from tradition”””and, in so doing, played a pivotal role in creating the culture in which we now live.

By virtue of their very “success,” however, mainline churches became a “vanishing mediator.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Church History, Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

Chicago Theological Seminary welcomes Episcopal Church seminary to campus

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Religion News & Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), Other Churches, Seminary / Theological Education, Theology, United Church of Christ

(NYT Op-ed) Ross Douthat–Will Pope Francis bring a Springtime for Liberal Christianity?

He is certainly not a Marxist, and he’s not a “liberal” as American politics understands the terms. But he has been a gift to liberals who are also Christians, to religious believers whose politics lean left.

It’s a gift the religious left sorely needed, because the last few decades have made a marriage of Christian faith and liberal politics seem doomed to eventual divorce. Since the 1970s, the mainline Protestant denominations associated with progressive politics have experienced a steep decline in membership and influence, while American liberalism has become more secular and anti-clerical, culminating in the Obama White House’s battles with Francis’ own church. In the intellectual arena, religiously-inclined liberals have pined for a Reinhold Niebuhr without producing one, and the conservative fear that liberal theology inevitably empties religion of real power has found all-too-frequent vindication.

Pope Francis has not solved any of these problems. But his pontificate has nonetheless given the religious left a new lease on life. He has offered encouragement to Catholic progressives by modestly soft-pedaling the issues dividing his church from today’s liberalism ”” abortion and same-sex marriage ”” while elevating other causes and concerns.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Politics in General, Pope Francis, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology, United Church of Christ

William Smith–Who’s Scared of Polygamy? A Restrained Case for the “Slippery Slope” Argument

Polygamy may well make for a coalition of strange bedfellows drawn from across the religious and non-religious spectrum in the United States. If the so-called “mainline” churches repeat their same-sex marriage trajectory, they could well provide polygamy some hefty cultural and political ballast (though the impact of that support may not be quite as big as it was for same-sex marriage in light of the continued demographic decline of these denominations).

These Christians would, of course, also need to square their religious heritage around polygamy with the kinds of feminist critiques that informed the overhaul of monogamy during the past 50 or so years. The Reformation proponents of polygamy, after all, only had polygyny in mind, and a very male-dominated version at that. Protestants today would almost certainly need to consider polyandry and, to use a clunky term, polygynandry.

I agree with Douthat and Silk that Americans are going to need to think seriously about polygamy. Douthat is probably right in arguing that many of the arguments liberals put forth on behalf of same-sex marriage will be deployed on behalf of polygamy, but Silk is probably also correct that religious freedom claims will play a role as well. In any case, rather than let fear guide the conversation, perhaps we should embrace an honest, thorough, and thoughtful debate that will likely generate a new set of pro- and con- alliances from a diverse range of people and groups in the United States. It wouldn’t be a reformation of marriage without one.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, Lutheran, Marriage & Family, Methodist, Other Churches, Philosophy, Politics in General, Presbyterian, Psychology, Sexuality, United Church of Christ

(World Magazine) Church, Inc: Mainline denominations with empty buildings enter the real estate Bus

The Church of the Intercession is a beautiful stone building constructed in 1915, with vaulted ceilings, large stained glass windows, and a nave that could seat several hundred. It now needs $1 million in repairs, and its members face difficult choices.

Outside this Episcopal church in Harlem is its sweeping cemetery that includes the grave of naturalist John Audubon. Inside on a Sunday only 42 worshippers, including the choir, were present. Almost everyone was elderly. There were three canes, one walker, and one child.

Those 42 seemed a megachurch in comparison with the congregation across the street in North Presbyterian Church (PCUSA). In its historic stone building Pastor Carmen Mason-Browne preached to an audience of six women in a room with space for several hundred. The women weren’t even sitting together, but spaced like strangers on an empty train.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, Theology, United Church of Christ

(JE) Mark Tooley–Mainline Protestant Decline and Hope

This year is an ignominious anniversary for Mainline Protestantism, commemorating a half century of continuous decline since their membership peaks in the early 1960s. Fifty years ago one of every six Americans belonged to the Seven Sisters of Mainline Protestantism. Today it’s one of every 16 and plunging. Membership has dropped from 30 million to 20 million during a time when Americas population has nearly doubled. And it did so despite Gallup Poll’s insistence that overall church attendance has remained essentially the same for about the last 80 years.

In our current post denominational age, many question why this decline matters. Who cares about the Mainline except the dwindling and increasingly aged members who remain? After all, haven’t evangelical churches, especially nondenominationals, plus Catholicism, more than filled the void? Wasn’t it time for the Mainline to leave the stage, having more than played its part in American and Christian history across 4 centuries? And in the end, didn’t they deserve their own demise?

The answers are yes and no.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Church History, History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

(ARDA) David Briggs–Why hundreds of congregations made the final break with mainline denominations

It was not as if these congregations chose the most theologically conservative new homes.

The great majority of congregations leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) chose to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Few chose to join the larger Presbyterian Church in America, which does not permit women clergy.

Similarly, congregations leaving the ELCA overwhelmingly bypassed the more conservative Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod denominations for the new Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ and the North American Lutheran Church.
Still, the future does not look bright for reconciliation, analysts noted.

“There is an exhaustion factor of having fought for decades,” Thompson said.

Among some denominational leaders, he said, there is a sense, “The bad guys have left.”

And leaders of congregations departing their former mainline Protestant denominations told Carthage researchers they were happy to be in a new place.

When the church leaders were asked if they had any regrets about their decision to leave, “The only thing they’d ever say is we should have left sooner.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Sociology, TEC Conflicts, TEC Departing Parishes, Theology, United Church of Christ

(R+P) Gene Zubovich–The Protestant Mainline Goes to Washington

On a Sunday morning this past October, some 1,500 preachers and ministers across the country joined in a nationwide protest they called Pulpit Freedom Sunday. They spoke defiantly from their pulpits about political campaigns and pending legislation. They even endorsed politicians, knowingly violating laws meant to prevent such mixing of church and state. Organized by the Alliance Defending Freedom, this group of evangelicals targeted the Johnson Amendment, which forbids tax-exempt organizations from endorsing political candidates and getting involved in campaigns. By violating these rules in an act of civil disobedience, they hoped to trigger a court case to get the amendment overturned. The issue, as they see it, is too much involvement by the government in religious life. The government should not tell Christians how to run their businesses, how to teach their children, or””as the Pulpit Freedom Sunday protesters asserted””how to write their sermons.

These sermons of protest were part of a broader political mobilization among religious institutions in the United States in recent years. The number of “Nones”””those professing no religious affiliation””is on the rise, and a small but vocal group of atheists are challenging Christian displays in public spaces. And the Christian Right appears to be losing the battle on gay rights. In response, many of the leading conservative religious organizations are mobilizing politically while also shifting their strategy. Their new aim is to mark off a part of life that can remain Christian, to protect Christians as a minority that can stand apart from the demands of a national culture they see as being dominated by secularism. The Hobby Lobby case was only the most prominent example of this trend.

On the other hand, a broad swath of American Christians sees things entirely differently. Although they receive far less attention, members of the religious left do not feel besieged by their country. Instead, they are pushing law and politics in the very directions the religious right is resisting. The United Church of Christ filed suit in April 2014 to overturn the prohibition on gay marriage in North Carolina. In the same state, many ministers are participating in the “Moral Monday” campaigns, a movement that is saturated in religious language. And Jim Wallis and Cornel West were arrested last month for protesting police brutality in Ferguson, Missouri. Although the left differs with the right on cultural policy, both groups see political mobilization as being at the heart of religious thought and practice.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Politics in General, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

(Sightings) Martin Marty–on the End of Elite Denominational Headquarters

Once upon a time, from the UUA on down, “Headquarters” buildings were statements of power: “Look! We are important! ”˜Notice us!’” But just as cathedrals don’t tower in an age of skyscrapers, so impressive-looking headquarters no longer draw notice. And “secularization” is only part of the reason for this change.

When we look at secular analogues, we see that newspaper and other publishing empires are down-sizing for many reasons, including digitalization and the demands and opportunities that come with the internet. Today denominational and agency business is largely transacted in ways that permit employees to work from home, committees to meet by Skype, Conference Call, and other digital means. Many in the “secular” public make up their minds about the power and value of religious works and workings not based on images of huge Interchurch Centers or denominational Power Houses, but based on what they do….

Planners in religious agencies may regret turning the key to close the Big House doors for the last time, but wise planners are using their skills and energies to advance their work through non-elite, less-strategically-located bases of operation.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Theology, United Church of Christ

(RNS) Alban Institute, a resource for mainline institutions, to shutter

As mainline Protestant denominations continue decades of decline, one of the main institutions helping educate its leaders announced Wednesday (March 19) that it will shut its doors.

Since it was founded four decades ago, the Virginia-based Alban Institute has guided mostly mainline congregations through consulting and publishing. Its founder and former president, the Rev. Loren Mead, became well-known for his speaking and writing about the future of U.S. denominations and was one of the first to predict denominational decline.

“When I started as a parish pastor, I found there wasn’t much help or continuing education,” said Mead, a retired Episcopal priest. “I am glad I have been able to contribute to the church, but I have not been able to solve its turnaround.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Ecclesiology, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, Sociology, Theology, United Church of Christ

(NY Times On Religion) Back After Losing His Church, and Still Supporting Same Sex Marriage

Three below zero on a Minnesota morning, and the Rev. Oliver White stomps the snow off his boots as he enters the stucco edifice of Clark Memorial United Church of Christ to lead worship. He peels off an overcoat to reveal the kente-cloth vestments his wife made for him, which match the kufi hat he wears.

On this Sunday midway between Christmas and New Year’s Day, he sees a congregation thinned by both vacation and weather. Perhaps 50 people fill the pews, yet in their modest number resides a startling range: a lesbian couple with their son; a 98-year-old man who still shovels his own sidewalk; the black and white relatives of a biracial baby about to be baptized.

“Good morning, and let’s have the church say, ”˜Amen,’ “ Mr. White, 71, begins, standing in the aisle rather than at the pulpit. Hearing the desultory response, he chides: “That was only half the church. Again?” The voices now rise, and he adds his own emphatic “Amen!”

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Ministry of the Ordained, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Sacramental Theology, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths), Theology, Theology: Scripture, United Church of Christ

(Citizen-Times) Rob Neufeld looks start of churches in Western North Carolina

“In the western section of the diocese,” the Rev. John Stark Ravenscroft told North Carolina Episcopalians in 1825, “the prospect (of advancing the faith) is very discouraging, though not without hope.”

“Spiritual destitution” is how Bishop Levi Silliman Ives characterized our region’s religious landscape 19 years later, though the physical landscape was “beautiful and striking, far beyond my powers of description.”

Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians had made great spiritual progress in Western North Carolina as early as the 18th century. Samuel Edney, head of the Methodist church’s Swannanoa circuit, established the first camp meeting west of the Blue Ridge in what is now Edneyvillle in the 1790s; in 1797, the Rev. George Newton turned Asheville’s Union Hill Academy into a Presbyterian school named after him. The French Broad Baptist Church was organized in Henderson County in 1780, and regional churches formed the French Broad Baptist Association in 1807.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Baptists, Church History, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ

(RNS) Cathy Grossman–Mainline Protestants: Vintage or vibrant?

Half a century ago, the denominations under the mainline umbrella dominated the American faith landscape. Now, after decades of declining numbers, only about one in five U.S. adults identifies with a mainline denomination such as United Methodists, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA) and American Baptists.

Could replacing the “mainline” name help stem the slide? The challenge came from scholar and Presbyterian pastor Carol Howard Merritt. Writing in the venerable Christian Century magazine, she called for a new brand that conveys her view of the mainline’s rising diversity and social justice leadership.

“The image of an all-white, elitist church is not going to fly for generations to come,” said Merritt, an author and speaker who lives in Chattanooga, Tenn. “’Mainline’ was a good historic marker but the future needs to reflect who we are now.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

(Christian Century) Martin Marty–From declinism to discovery

Finitude, contingency, transience. These three linked words signal basic elements of what it is to be a human””and especially to be a historian. David Tracy, noted theologian and next door study-neighbor, taught me this connection, and I’ve let it color my life and scholarly preoccupations. It will help us interpret the almost reflexive use of the rubric “decline” in relation to the western Christian presence. Specifically, do a search for “mainline Protestant” and “decline” and you will get the picture, millions of times over.

Everything and everyone dies, is subject to accidents and change, and all human endeavor will pass and be forgotten. What can a church historian do with this obvious insight at such a time as ours? Given my parallel calling as a peregrinating lecturer, I use the vantage acquired there to try to sense the comings and goings of topics for inquiry. One way to measure public curiosity is to listen to questions asked after a lecture.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ

A Religious Legacy, With Its Leftward Tilt, Is Reconsidered

ome scholars with roots in more traditional churches caution against overstating the importance of liberal religion. The recent work on the subject is “a nice rebalancing of the historiographical ledgers,” said Mark Noll, a historian of religion at Notre Dame and a prominent evangelical intellectual. But for a tradition to have any continuing influence, he added, it needs committed bodies in the pews.

That point is seconded by Ms. Coffman, who worked as an editor at Christianity Today before entering academia. She currently teaches at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian institution where pastors in training, she said, are less likely to be savoring their broad cultural victories than debating which elements of evangelical worship they should adopt to attract a viable congregation.

“I teach at a mainline seminary, and we do not feel very triumphal,” Ms. Coffman said.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Education, Episcopal Church (TEC), History, Lutheran, Methodist, Other Churches, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture, United Church of Christ