Ross Douthat is out with an opinion piece in the NYT asking if liberal Christianity can be saved:
Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. 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.
But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance.
Douthat makes some good points, especially when he points out the unwillingness of many religious and secular liberals to recognize the dwindling numbers. I wonder, though, whether liberal Christianity needs saving.
Douthat thinks that liberal Christians
should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.
It seems to me that numbers is not the end-all-be-all of liberal Christianity and that it has much to offer the world as it is now. Anyway, I’m still wrapping my head around all of this and contemplating just how much saving liberal Christianity actually needs. Sam and I will be discussing this very topic on our next episode of ThinkingReligion, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.