Did Mainline Christianity Win in the End?

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Aaron Blumer's picture

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Liberal Protestants may have ultimately lost the battle for membership, but they won the larger cultural struggle. A trenchant quote from the sociologist Christian Smith: “Liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory.” One could turn to a host of other scholars to buttress Hedstrom’s contentions: David Hollinger and Leigh Schmidt immediately come to mind. Through their embrace of religious pluralism and more universal mystical religious experiences, liberal Protestants imperiled their own institutional strength but persuaded many Americans of the value of their ideas.

If the old "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em" adage is "winning" then, yes, mainline Christianity won. What really happened: the culture defeated Christianity in the mainline denom's. They did not "persuade many Americans of the value of their ideas;" trendy ideas outside of the faith persuaded the mainline Christians.

Ed Vasicek's picture

You know, the article is, of course, discreetly attacking all forms of Protestantism. 

Finally, while broader trends in American culture might seem closer to the ideals of liberal Protestants than their evangelical counterparts, I think both groups simply now find themselves on the margins of an American culture that seems out of synch with either brand of Protestant Christianity.

However, I do not think that the influence of Catholicism has been all that great, either.  The RC church has some serious followers who adhere to RC values, but look at all the RC's that vote for abortion and gay marriage candidates.  Look at all the RC people shacking up, divorcing, etc., etc.  For example:

Reuters/Ipsos exit polling found that 51 percent of Catholics favored ... Obama and 48 percent for Romney,

I think all forms of Christianity that stand for Judeo-Christian values are going to have fewer -- but perhaps more serious -- followers in the future here in the U.S.

 

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Pastork's picture

I think it was a silly article poorly written, at least if taking time to check the sources you cite is any indication of good writing. At any rate, I think it is absurd to assert that "Liberal Protestants may have ultimately lost the battle for membership, but they won the larger cultural struggle. A trenchant quote from the sociologist Christian Smith: 'Liberal Protestantism’s organizational decline has been accompanied by and is in part arguably the consequence of the fact that liberal Protestantism has won a decisive, larger cultural victory.'"

 

I think Aaron got it right when he said that "They did not 'persuade many Americans of the value of their ideas;' trendy ideas outside of the faith persuaded the mainline Christians." Exactly. Anyone who is really familiar with the history of the decline of the mainline denominations knows that they were hoodwinked either by German Rationalism or the Neo-orthodoxy that reacted to it and that this led to their ultimate demise. Any basic church history course that covers the modern era will tell the story essentially the same way, right?

Greg Linscott's picture

Mainline denominations rely(ed) on passing down the traditions from one generation to the next, much more than we proselytizing Evangelicals would. Think of how many people you encounter who were "born" Lutheran (our town of less than 14,000 has no less than 6 Lutheran congregations), Reformed (RCA or CRC), Presbyterian, Episicopalian, and so on.

"Trendy" ideas may have grabbed them, but that is to some degree because they were much more vulnerable, having been raised in a church environment where it is not necessarily assumed that the God of the Bible even exists. I understand the author to be saying that descendants of mainline members have not abandoned their faith and leaving their churches as much as taking their liberal beliefs to their  logical end. Watching discussions here locally, for example- when your denomination is having discussions on whether to ordain homosexuals, can one really accuse people of abandoning the faith they were raised in when they stop attending, but actively support same sex marriage?

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN