Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tolerant Churches Lose Relevance

A couple of blogs that I read have written recently about the demise of the American Anglican Church. And one blog, Lone Star Parson even refers to the Anglican Church of Canada as disappearing into outer space.

He is being more than witty here.

From Tim Stanley in the Telegraph blogs comes this:

Not so, says Ross Douthat in a New York Times article that has caused quite a stir among the liberal faithful. Douthat charts the strange demise of the US Episcopal Church, which he describes as “flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.” And yet, against the predictions of liberal theologians, the result has been the evolution from a pseudo-national church to a hippie sect. “Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.”

This story is familiar across many mainline Protestant denominations. William Briggs’ work shows that the Methodists and Presbyterians have all but disappeared in the last twenty years. By contrast, the Catholics and Assemblies of God have slightly increased their numbers and the Southern Baptists are “treading water.” This map reveals an astonishing picture of faith in the 21st century. Thanks to immigration and a steady increase in priests and congregations, the closest thing the US has to a national church is now the Roman Catholics. The only bastions of Protestantism are the Baptist South and Methodist West Virginia. The Mormons have a strong presence out West, too.


The liturgies that seek to be relevant to modern society are failing at what they aim to do, which is to attract people to the pews. Interestingly enough, the Roman Catholic church in the US is the closest thing to a national church, if you are looking at the numbers. Pentecostalism is also on the rise while Methodists and Episcopalians are declining, and Baptists are treading water.

It would seem that people are going for the message and not the medium.

The other problem is that Americas’ overall belief in God shows no great evidence of decline. What has really fallen isn’t faith but patterns of communal worship. For millions of folks, it is no longer the default to join a church. In fact, giving up your Sunday morning to sit in a cold temple listening to a kazoo band playing Nearer My God To Thee is, for most people, a perverse thing to choose to do. Ergo, it is not enough to get them into the pews by saying, “We've driven out the bigots!” – ministers now how to convince the public that church attendance is in their personal interest. And conservatives are better at doing this than liberals because the product they are selling makes a stronger claim for its value to the individual.

... What post-modern man is looking for is something that speaks to his desire to find clear, satisfying answers in a sick world of confusion and despair. Ironically, in its search for “social relevance,” liberal Christianity risks making itself irrelevant to many people’s lives.

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