Have Americans lost faith in the old "mainline" churches?

Millions are attending unaffiliated churches that lack liberal, irrelevant and even litigious national hierarchies. Will Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Episcopalians gradually fade away?

BY: Rob Kerby, Senior Editor


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that these are not the issues that draw them to church. Neither is “ecumenism” – trying to unite the old, shrinking Protestant churches.

An independent church

“During 1960s-era social transformations, conservative laity withdrew money and support from organized ecumenism,” notes Jill Gill on the Religion Dispatches website. “Meanwhile young liberal Christians often left it behind to do social justice work within a secular environment that offered quicker, bolder action. Others comprised a growing exodus of people embracing a post-Protestant ‘spiritual but not religious’ identity, while adults still within the fold bore fewer children than evangelicals. Many secular intellectuals pooh-poohed religion altogether, as the Democratic party excised religious values from its lingo.

“The result: greying mainline denominations struggling to pay bills while facing steady membership and funding declines. Its corollary: an ecumenical movement facing even steeper financial challenges, worsened by the recession. News of a resulting restructuring effort underway in the nation’s historic flagship ecumenical organization, the National Council of Churches, is occasionally met with the query: ‘You mean it’s not dead yet?’”

Nevertheless, religion writers came away from the Episcopal and Presbyterian conventions praising the events. Indignation resounded at Douthat’s and other observers’ assessments. In one of the milder rebuttals, theology professor Sarah Morice-Brubaker chided the Times columnist:

“Ross Douthat is telling stories again. He is a very good and compelling storyteller, which you can tell from the fact that he can tell (beg pardon) an old old story, and somehow it’s still fresh and interesting.

“You probably know this story: it’s about a character called Liberal Christianity, and how it fatuously chased after every faddish cause that came down the pike in a misguided attempt to be relevant and popular. But then – oh, the irony! – it turned out that people who bothered with Christianity actually wanted churches that stood by timeless principles, and so they left. So sad! Now Liberal Christianity is left mostly alone, a victim of its own stinking desperation. For it has become, in his words, ‘flexible to the point of indifference on dogma,

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