A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Bad History

Here's another column bashing the mainline, repeating a number of claims that are off including that liberalism in the church is around 40 years old. A surprise to JG Machen who wrote against it 80 years ago.

A better date could be the late 1700s with Schleiermacher's work Speeches to Religion's Cultured Despisers where he reconciles faith and modernity. It's also evident in the 1700s in what would become the Unitarian Congregationalist split of the early 19th century.

It's what led to historical critical understandings of the Bible in the 19th century. The search for the historical Jesus didn't begin with the Jesus Seminar, it also dates to the 19th century. Matthew Arnold's work on metaphor, likewise.

And re-envisioning God? Far more radical at the turn of this century then what we see today. If you were to walk through the halls of the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1906 versus 2006, the willingness to radically revise religion was more evident then.

And Liberal churches from the Quakers, Unitarians, and Congregationalists were in the forefront of social movements including abolitionism. And starting one of the "sins" Unitarians and Congregationalists in the 19th century began ordaining women.

How are the 60's blamed? I think it's based on the principle that whatever of significance has occurred within one's generation. Also the conservative narrative still demonizes the decade. And the membership decline of *some* churches started at this time.

So you can draw causation, without worrying why liberal churches before the 1960s held their own or grew. And you can ignore liberal religious growth after the 60s such as with Reform Judaism. This piece has some other assumptions I'll work with tomorrow.


At 12:50 PM , Blogger Alan said...

I don't have the link handy, but there was an interesting study published recently by a few sociologists that suggests that the "decline" of the mainline is mostly due to simple demographics.

At 11:42 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate your historical perspective on this -- thanks for the interesting posting.

The problem with her article also is that she ignores the churches which espouse a conservative Christian theology, such as the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Synod, the second and third largest Lutheran church bodies in the country, which have also been declining since the 1960s.

In response to Alan's posting above, I would recommend the book Chasing Down a Rumor : the Death of Mainline Denominations, by Bacher and Inskeep. this seems to be a similar study as to what he is referring.

At 10:11 PM , Blogger The Cubicle Reverend said...

Tis a double edged sword, lean too far towards conservativism and you try to legislate morality, lead towards the liberal side and they deny the deity of christ or try to nutor God. That's why I'm a political agnostic.

At 12:12 PM , Blogger Charles Rathmann said...

I think a distinction needs to be drawn between political and theological liberalism, and further defining liberalism.

The "classical" definition of liberalism is such that each individual has the power to understand, to achieve and in the religious setting to know God. Central authority is not necessary and even harmful to spiritual development. The Quaker movement of the 17th Century can lay claim to this type of liberalism.

I am afraid that 20th and 21st Century Quakers, however, have bought into the liberalism of large government, of unsound economics and political correctness. These are hallmarks of secular thinking and should be discarded by all Christians along with other forms of materialism and faith in secular authorities.

In the Light of Christ,
~ Charles Rathmann

At 1:04 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

I've heard that too, and it makes sense of my experience in rural churches in particular where ethnicity and not the left right split defined the nature of the church as well as the dilemmas they face today.

Bought, loved, and fully recommend Chasing Down a Rumor :)

I agree that there needs to be a distinction between liberal theology and what gets called political liberalism today. They are not collapsable into each other. Though I do admit I identify with both, I'm a social democrat but I also hold to a certain theological heritage.

At 5:52 PM , Anonymous Dan Harper said...

Silly columnist Charlotte Allen. Just because she says things in the LA Times doesn't make them true.

The late 1960's did see a big decline in Mainline membership, and as Allen notes in her column this appears to be linked to the so-called "Baby Bust," a demographic shift in which fewer children were being born -- particularly in middle-class Mainline families.

But pervasive anecdotal evidence also implies that this decline was linked to the fact that many people, especially young adults, were rejecting the whole idea of church. In other words, anecdotal evidence suggests that the problem wasn't that the Mainline was too liberal in the 1960's, but rather that it was perceived as too conservative by many people, people who then left religion altogether. That may still be true today.

It should also be noted (as Christian Century has amply documented over the past few years) that well-funded right-wing Christian groups have deliberately encouraged and funded small, vocal minority groups in Mainline denominations to exploit "wedge issues" like same-sex marriage and ordination of women -- in order to split the denomination in question. Columnist Charlotte Allen may well be affiliated with one of those groups -- certainly she copies their modus operandi of spreading misinformation and of using deliberately inflammatory language.

Just my $.02 worth.


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