Sunday, January 08, 2006

Follow the Money

Church membership numbers per the National Council of Churches (rounded for convenience):

United Methodist Church: 8.2 million

Episcopal Church: 2.3 million

Evangelical Lutheran Church: 4.9 million

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.): 3.2 million

United Church of Christ: 1.3 million

Total membership in the National Council of Churches: 45.1 million

I'm not even trying to include the membership of the Roman Catholic church (a truly international church), or the Anglican Communion (an international body, of which the Episcopal Church is a part). Let's stick solely with American numbers.

The average daily audience for Pat Robertson's 700 Club, per digby, (and thanks to noisy gong for the link), was 922,000 households in November, 2004. That's a lot, but it isn't as large as the smallest of the "mainline" denominations, the UCC. And while church membership statistic never indicate church attendance or participation, these numbers don't cover the Southern Baptist Convention , which claims 16 million members. So, 61 million Christians, apart from the Roman Catholics and other denominations not a part of the National Council of Churches, and yet Pat Robertson gets all the attention.

"Why," is obvious. He owns a TV station, and he speaks only for Pat Robertson, not for a church, a denomination, a judicatory, or any congregation. Why he is listened to is also obvious:

Money talks.

Why don't the mainline churches rise up and oppose Mr. Robertson (he's no longer "Rev."; he gave up his ordination to run for President years ago)? Well, look at the NCC list, and the phrase "herding cats" comes to mind, if not "loading frogs into a wheelbarrow." Which ones will oppose them, and why? And this is one issue, among many: Pat Robertson speaks for Pat Robertson. James Dobson speaks for James Dobson. Jerry Falwell spoke for his congregation.

None of them speak for a church, as does, say, the Pope, or the Archbishop of Canterbury (who doesn't speak as the Pope does, but who is always aware of whom he represents). They are free to shoot their mouths off, speak their minds, and generally draw attention to themselves and encourage like-minded souls.

A Christian church is not about ego; it is about humility. A pastor who proclaims his greatness, his sure knowledge and understanding of God's word and will, usually wears out his welcome, sooner if not later. A congregation is a great check on ego; sometimes even a brutal and savage one, as they tend to have their own identities to protect.

Pat Robertson and James Dobson don't have congregations. They have "audiences."

Comparing Dobson and Robertson to mainline and established Christian denominations is really like comparing chalk and cheese. In a culture with no history of a state church, and so a history of disparate, divisive, and dividing denominations (or no denomination at all, and so a church centered on the charisma of one pastor), these are the conditions that prevail. Every man (or woman) is free to stand on a soap box and gather adherents who like his (or her) particular and peculiar rantings. As Digby says, Robertson is a major force in GOP politics.

Precisely. He's not a church, or a representative of a church: he's a businessman. A diamond mine owner. A TV station operator.

So when are the TV station operators and businesspeople of America going to rise up and oppose his nonsense?

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