Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Dividing easily two who were never really joined....

Where are all the people? 

This is an argument that deserves more consideration.  The thesis is that evangelical Christianity gained adherents in America not because of its theology, but because of its politics.  Focusing on the trial of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., charged with conspiracy to aid avoidance of the draft, the argument is that church members left denominations which were against the war, and went with denominations that supported the war.  In other words, the split between "liberal" and "conservative" Protestants was over politics, not theology.

Which is pretty much what the Rev. Dr. King was pointing to in his letter from Birmingham jail.  And it is now the explanation for why so many evangelical church leaders have embraced Trump in a bear hug they can't relinquish.  This is sort of interesting, too, because of what I ran into in my brief stint as a parish minister:

 A significant number of ministers, for example, championed civil rights efforts and affirmed interfaith cooperation with Catholics and Jews – efforts staunchly opposed by many of their congregants.

In the late '90's I had a church member gravely upset by my use of the title "Prayer of Our Savior" for "the Lord's Prayer."  I hadn't thought much of it; it was the title given the prayer in the UCC Book of Worship and commonly used at my UCC seminary.  She, however, was convinced that it was a Roman Catholic usage, and that I was secretly an agent of the Roman Catholic church.   This was further proven by my use of liturgical worship, which was historically part of the UCC through the German Evangelical (no, not THAT "evangelical") & Reformed traditions, which were in part Lutheran (Lutherans and Anglicans both follow the classic Christian liturgical traditions).  The worst insult she could think to hurl at a minister or a church idea she didn't like was to call it "Catholic."  That struggle didn't end, in other words, in the '60's.

If you look at this alone, the thesis of the argument seems pretty solid:

Mainline Protestant denominations, however, did not fare as well. They went into decline, losing nearly one in six members between 1970 and 1985.

Most Protestants can't tell you what their denominations position on the Trinity is, or on communion, baptism, what sacraments are (and aren't), and even some "evangelical" churches are starting to talk openly of Lent and Advent as seasons of the church that help organize worship across the calendar and keep every Sunday from being the same service as last Sunday.  But they can tell you what their denomination's stance on immigration or the death penalty or abortion or even gay rights is, and I have no doubt most people leave their churches over those issues than over the theological, ecclesiological, soteriological, or Christological stance the minister brings to the pulpit


  1. The history of Christianity could be told as a struggle between the Gospel and the general pagan cultures that nominally adopt Christianity even as they either don't give up or have to struggle to not revert to either non-Christian or anti-Christian habits. Why there were so many Christian Monarchs of Europe who warred and whored and stole and never much went in for doing to others as they would have done unto them, and the nobility in general, not a few of them members of the clergy.

    I don't know the percentages but a lot of White Evangelical Americans who identify so much as Christians don't seem to have any problem with the princeling of liars, Trump. They fit into a long line of such people. Racism being the American original sin, as most dramatically expressed in slavery, that is a huge part of it.

    I don't know when it was but Elizabeth Johnson said a lot of Catholics freaked out when some priests and others started crossing themselves "In the name of the Creator, the Savior and the Sanctifier" after Vatican II, and that was in the Catholic Church. There is a recent reform to change the line "and lead us not into temptation," Pope Francis said he favored changing it because it was a bad translation, that God doesn't lead anyone into temptation. In France they've changed it to "let us not be put to the test." The U.S. Bishops head has recently said that maybe they should look at changing the Benedict XVI era "reform" of the liturgy which changed rather good idiomatic English that was quite natural for some really bad "closer to the Roman Missal" nonsense fostered by a right-wing Chilean Cardinal, a good buddy of Benedict. Catholics really hated that "reform" which, among other things, was very expensive to implement. Benedict resigning was the best thing he did as Pope.

  2. @The Thought Criminal: very well said, summed up beautifully in the first sentence. The struggle is between Christianity - whose values are not of this world - and Christendom, whose values are.