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.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Liberalism and Mainline decline

In response to the story that "liberalism" of the 60s has caused mainline decline: But the move to a liberal understanding of faith probably dates back to the late 1700s, the late 1800s in a more recognizable form.

Walking through a divinity school in 1907 you would likely hear far more doubt about basic Christian doctrines and their traditional articulation than you would hear in 2007.

Before there was the National Council of Churches, there was the Federal Council of Churches. The sort of social witness groups, such as Methodist Federation for Social Action, were created around the turn of the last century.

This is all to say that I've noticed the propensity of baby boomers both left and right seem to think that anything of importance must have happened since the 1960s. And since the 60s coincides with the fall off of mainline membership it works great for a certain narrative.

But there was religious liberalism before the membership decline. And there are conservative mainline churches like the Missouri Synod Lutherans who face the same drop off situation and in some respects the Southern Baptists as well.

And of course there are liberal religious groups growing such as Reform Judaism. More interesting is the fact that folks not identifying with any religion has doubled over the last decade or so. That's the biggest growth your seeing.

Having one group of Christians relishing over their growth numbers (which has little or no relation to any Gospel rational) and rejoicing against mainline numbers shows alack of charity and avoids the issue of the overall decline of religious identification in this country.

10 Comments:

At 5:13 PM , Blogger Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Dwight, You're quite right about religious liberalism (doctrinally) predating the 1960s. Gary Dorrien's triology handles that quite nicely. I think what the 1960s did was introduce a social radicalism not present before that is likely the issue. The sexual revolution, Viet Nam, Civil Rights, those are the 1960s issues that contributed to the turmoil in the Mainline churches, not liberal doctrine.

Good point to raise!

 
At 9:52 PM , Blogger BruceA said...

Some studies have indicated that birth control is the biggest factor in the decline of church membership. The denominations that promote large families are the ones that have showed the most growth over the last half century.

 
At 10:16 PM , Blogger Craig said...

"In response to the story that "liberalism" of the 60s has caused mainline decline: But the move to a liberal understanding of faith probably dates back to the late 1700s, the late 1800s in a more recognizable form."

Hmmmm. Seen the movie "Amazing Grace"? It would seem that there is some link between outlawing slave trade in England, and the civil rights movement. Slavery was outlawed in the 1600's.

Craig

 
At 10:53 AM , Blogger Gunfighter said...

Check your reference, Craig. Slavey was abolished in England in the same century that it was abolihed in the United States, the 19th century.

I'm sure that was just a typo.

Peace,

GF

 
At 12:33 AM , Blogger Sheila West said...

My general sense has always been that the 1960's simply caused a shake-up in the mainline churches, and an eventual re-structuring of denominations. But to say the 1960's caused a decline is a bit of an over-simplification. The 1960's was a the decade of questioning authority. That included church authority. We did not become a less religioious nation as a result, just a more religiously diversified nation. The mainlines are still there, just a little different is all.

 
At 5:10 PM , Anonymous DJ Black Adam said...

I think an aggitaing factor to the whole problem is the lack of actually spirituality within the older traditions here in the US.

I talk with alot of younger people about faith and religion, religion, liberal or conservative is just turning people off. That is why, when I minister to anyone, I focus on Christ and ultimately relationship with Him as opposed to "church" per se.

People are still receptive of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God, when we demonstrate it in our lives, but what we have on the conservative side is folks trying to re-live the Salem witchhunts against every body not "like" them, and on the liberal side there is a need to be all inclusive to the degree that in my opinion the Gospel and uniqueness of the message that Christ brought is compromised.

Just my 2 cents

 
At 11:13 PM , Anonymous thomas1946 said...

I believe the decline in mainline churches is more simple than you might think. The "Greatest Generation" came home from the war and took their children to church. Huge increases in church attendance was seen in the '50's.
Unfortunately, the most pampered generation the world has ever seen was told they didn't have to go to church if they didn't want to. And the "baby boomers" didn't go. What did they do? They 'tuned-in','turned-on' and 'dropped-out'. They were brave in the Sexual Revolution but when their college deferment ended they headed for Canada. After the summer of love, they left their 'free love' mate and their 'love child' so they could 'find' themselves. Working overtime on their 'self' esteem, they decided that self actualization was their 'bag'.
For the most part, I am embarrassed for my generation and believe we may be the most self centered generation ever.

 
At 1:40 PM , Blogger Gunfighter said...

I believe that the decline in mainline churches dropped off as a result of the social stances that the church took during the vietnam war and Civli Rights movement.

Lots of people would rather their churches never took a stand on issues of social justice... because it makes many members of "mainline" denomintations nervous.

As far as the greatest generation is concerned, I wonder about the correlation of the generation that gave us Bull Connor, Lester Maddox and Strom Thurmond being more moral or religiously commited than anyone else.

 
At 7:17 AM , Blogger Bill Baar said...

Those of us in the 1960's called ourselves radicals and revolutionaries. We mocked the Liberals. Including those in our Churches (mines was First Cong in Oak Park, Illinois and sometimes I'd wonder over to OP's Unity Temple and Chicago's Third UU).

The Liberal adults were helpless in response: from the closeted ancient Communists at third UU, to the comfortable Liberals at First Cong.; they seemed helpless and adrift with it all.

Not an era I'm very proud off in hindsight.

 
At 2:16 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

If not the decline then at least the sterility of many mainline churches is more than a little attributable to liberalism. Reaching lost people for Christ requires more than polite opinions reflectively offered over steaming expresso. Reaching lost people requires taking seriously the demands of the Gospel, both personal and social. To fail in either is to fail utterly. The at best ineffectiveness if not outright failure of liberal mainline churches is directly related to a lukewarm commitment to sharing the message of the Gospel as a individual personal commitment to Christ.

 

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