Now this is a much better fit for my odd desire to bring Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition into everything: Charlotte Allen has written a very nasty opinion piece on the sins of the liberal Christianity. Here is a sip from her KoolAid glass:
You want to have gay sex? Be a female bishop? Change God's name to Sophia? Go ahead. The just-elected Episcopal presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, is a one-woman combination of all these things, having voted for Robinson, blessed same-sex couples in her Nevada diocese, prayed to a female Jesus at the Columbus convention and invited former Newark, N.J., bishop John Shelby Spong, famous for denying Christ's divinity, to address her priests.
When a church doesn't take itself seriously, neither do its members. It is hard to believe that as recently as 1960, members of mainline churches — Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and the like — accounted for 40% of all American Protestants. Today, it's more like 12% (17 million out of 135 million). Some of the precipitous decline is due to lower birthrates among the generally blue-state mainliners, but it also is clear that millions of mainline adherents (and especially their children) have simply walked out of the pews never to return. According to the Hartford Institute for Religious Research, in 1965, there were 3.4 million Episcopalians; now, there are 2.3 million. The number of Presbyterians fell from 4.3 million in 1965 to 2.5 million today. Compare that with 16 million members reported by the Southern Baptists.
When your religion says "whatever" on doctrinal matters, regards Jesus as just another wise teacher, refuses on principle to evangelize and lets you do pretty much what you want, it's a short step to deciding that one of the things you don't want to do is get up on Sunday morning and go to church.
It doesn't help matters that the mainline churches were pioneers in ordaining women to the clergy, to the point that 25% of all Episcopal priests these days are female, as are 29% of all Presbyterian pastors, according to the two churches. A causal connection between a critical mass of female clergy and a mass exodus from the churches, especially among men, would be difficult to establish, but is it entirely a coincidence? Sociologist Rodney Stark ("The Rise of Christianity") and historian Philip Jenkins ("The Next Christendom") contend that the more demands, ethical and doctrinal, that a faith places upon its adherents, the deeper the adherents' commitment to that faith. Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, which preach biblical morality, have no trouble saying that Jesus is Lord, and they generally eschew women's ordination. The churches are growing robustly, both in the United States and around the world.
This is very nasty. I want to point that out, because before I learned about the radical religious clerics in this country I used to think that believing Christians were very kind people.
Allen makes two arguments. The first one is that liberal churches are failing and that conservative churches are thriving. The implication is that people are moving from the gay-loving henpecked churches into the scourging and male-dominated ones. And the second argument is that this is happening because what people really want from religion is male priests and strict rules and fundamentalism.
I found the last paragraph in the above quote very funny. Take out the two sentences of interest and see how they read to you:
A causal connection between a critical mass of female clergy and a mass exodus from the churches, especially among men, would be difficult to establish, but is it entirely a coincidence? Sociologist Rodney Stark ("The Rise of Christianity") and historian Philip Jenkins ("The Next Christendom") contend that the more demands, ethical and doctrinal, that a faith places upon its adherents, the deeper the adherents' commitment to that faith.
It makes no sense that way. She is pretty much saying that guys don't want women to be ministers so they leave. And this is somehow a sign of the leaving reflecting greater demands of faith? Sounds like the other way round to me.
Charlotte Allen is a Roman Catholic herself. So it's interesting that she doesn't quote figures for the Catholic church or doesn't point out how the Catholic church is growing due to its valiant refusal to allow female clergy. I got curious about this omission, because it was so very odd. And so I did a little research on these numbers Allen reports.
I found out that the Southern Baptists are famous for lying about the size of their church:
In the South, it is said, there are more Baptists than people. Besides a bit of humor about how numerous they are, the saying is a sly reference to the well-known Baptist practice of padding the church roll, yielding a larger total in the local Baptist association than there is in the census.
But far from being a provincial denomination of rural churches, the Southern Baptist Convention has evolved into an organization that asserts its political clout and claims its prominence as the largest Protestant denomination, with 15.7 million members.
Now convention leaders admit that figure is inflated by as much as a third. And since more reliable figures show that membership has remained flat throughout the '90s, they are searching for ways to start the church growing again.
Hmm. This is how you do demanding religion, I guess.
And what about the Catholic church adherents? Note that almost all immigration into the United States is from predominantly Catholic countries, and that the Latinos have the highest birth rates. Given this, shouldn't we find that the Catholic church is growing very, very rapidly? As Charlotte points out, it offers all those goodies that faithfuls need: no women in authority, loathing of the gays and such.
Why is she all silent about her own church? The answer is probably that the Catholic church is losing members, too, but that this loss is hidden by the new immigrant numbers:
The U.S. Catholic population at the start of 2004, according to the directory, was 67,259,768 -- an increase of some 850,000 over the 66,407,702 reported in 2003. Catholics continue to make up 23 percent of the total U.S. population.
I am unimpressed. Figuring out the sizes of churches is notoriously difficult to do, of course, and I'm no expert in the field of figuring out how to do it. Still, I found very different figures from those that Allen cited at this website. (I wanted to include a table but Blogger won't let me do pictures today, so scroll down and check the figures yourself.)
Two more things to add to Allen's view of religion. If you want to get a different explanation of what liberal churches think, check out pastordan's diary on Kos. And then you might ask yourself where all the adherents of Wicca, Buddhism and even atheism come from if the liberal churches are emptying because everybody has turned into a fundamentalist Christian.