Whither the Denominations?

Issuing from the foresight and wisdom of the founders of this nation was the freedom of religion that has played a major role in the structuring of both the body politic and the family, the basic component of the nation’s foundation – the glue that holds things together. In the organized elements of religion – the churches and denominations – the families have found structures that give them reason/hope to function spiritually and the ability to tolerate each other as well as generate, maintain, and protect the general welfare.

Creeping into every area of public life has been the insidious concept of political correctness, only a small bit of it justifiable and nearly all of it an artificial restraint upon what might be called the “natural order of things.” For instance, people not only may not use certain terms in their public discourse, but they are subjected to accusations of everything from bigotry to racism if they use certain terms in private discourse. Rather than supposedly offending one person in a group of 500, no matter the milieu or the activity, entire projects are either inordinately restructured or abandoned altogether.

Sadly, this has happened to organized religion, as well. Depending on subject and group, the intrusion of political correctness into church/denominational life has been handled differently. Long-held doctrinal or theological positions have been totally compromised in some denominations and greatly abridged in others, while a handful of others have treated the PC-driven concepts with disdain. This has been especially interesting in the last few weeks, as denominational meetings or conclaves of one kind or another have been held.

The so-called “mainline denominations” have spent at least three decades trying to sort out what to do with homosexuality, not with respect to whether or not to minister to or welcome homosexuals, but as to whether or not to ordain them to church offices and ministries, thereby sanctioning what for hundreds of years has been accounted doctrinally as totally unacceptable – even perverted – behavior. As if this weren’t enough distraction from the business of Christ’s admonition to care for all people, these denominational pooh-bahs can’t decide whether or not two men should be allowed to marry each other, never mind laws in many states that absolutely – even constitutionally – forbid such a bizarre arrangement, not to mention “natural law.” Multi-men groupings haven’t been discussed yet, but it’s a lead-pipe cinch they will be. To greater and lesser extents, the matter of ordination of women has also been battered and banged around, although more so in the “evangelical” groups such as the Baptists.

In the process of this wrangling, which disposes more and more toward an almost “anything goes” solution, these denominations have lost membership exponentially. Consider the Episcopal Church. After years of struggling with the divisive matter of homosexuality, the church allowed a practicing homosexual to be elected bishop for New Hampshire three years ago. Local churches have been slowly “falling away” since then. Recently, the newly elected head of the church in this country publicly affirmed her approval of the ordination of practicing homosexuals and also of same-sex marriage…so that may be the final straw for a greatly accelerated “falling away.” Not surprisingly, the denomination has lost 33% of its membership since 1960, seven percent in the last 10 years alone.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) provides another example. Also caught up in the homosexual/same-sex-marriage quandary, it has frittered away years with the problem, probably causing its doctrinal founder, John Calvin, to flip in his grave. In the church’s national assembly recently in Birmingham, Ala., it was decided that the centuries-long concept of the Trinity, the virtual foundation of the faith – “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” – apparently was not gender-inclusive enough (never mind that God and Christ are always mentioned in scripture in the masculine), so churches were given the go-ahead to use new terminology in its liturgy such as “Mother, Child, and Womb;” “Rock, Redeemer, and Friend;” “Lover, Beloved, and Love;” “Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier;” and “King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love.” It’s unclear how the latter got into the picture. Also not surprisingly, the church has lost 21% of its membership since 1960, 12% in just the last ten years.

In 1960, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) had 1,801,000 members. At the end of 2005, that number was down by an unbelievable 57% to 770,793, a loss of 18% in just the last ten years. It has been driven by the same arguments, with the added insistence by enough folks to make a difference that church terminology was somehow simply too masculine. Though a number of denominations have indulged themselves in rewriting hymns, dishonestly in large part, by people long dead to remove anything smacking of the masculine, the DoC has probably done the most editing during about the last 25 years. The pattern of feminizing the faith is obvious with respect to all these denominations, driven purely and simply by political correctness, notwithstanding the assertions to the contrary by those who have brought this about. The United Methodist denomination has struggled with the same issues and problems, and in the process it lost 24% of its membership between 1960 and 2005. Between 1960 and 2004, the population of the U.S.A. increased by 64%.

With nearly 16.5 million members, second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church, into which members are born almost exclusively rather than voluntarily engaged, the Southern Baptist Convention has avoided entirely the homosexual and same-sex-marriage problems by not even recognizing them as worthy of the slightest consideration. While it has gained membership by 69% since 1960, it has plateaued recently, gaining only five percent in the last ten years. Beginning a bit over 25 years ago, a small group of movers and shakers (since labeled “fundamentalists”) within the SBC thought they recognized the same sort of “modernism” creeping into the SBC as has been shaking the mainliners and began a methodical takeover attempt that by the middle 90s was almost completely successful.

This effort (sort of politically conducted) was so successful that it didn’t encounter much opposition, but in the minds of many went too far – for instance, in barring women from ordination as a convention/denominational matter (as in the case of the Roman Catholics), though realizing that individual churches could do as they pleased. It is not a hierarchal organization, unlike most of the mainliners and the RCC. Schism has not resulted, though thousands of members and many churches are dually aligned with other Baptist groups or have pulled out altogether, but not in numbers enough to be disruptive. In its recent convention in Greensboro, N.C., the SBC did not elect a moderate to its presidency and necessarily change direction, but did elect a president who will take the hard edge off the infighting that has been going on for quite a while.

So…there are the examples of people of faith who have genuflected at the throne of political correctness – going against their own centuries-old doctrines – accruing to what seems to be the pressure of social expediency. Then, there are the Baptists and the Catholics who will not bend, but who sometimes should be more flexible. It’s easy to see, statistically at least, which approach is productive, at least in large part. Those who stand for essentially nothing will fall for anything.