Culture, Current Events, Faith, Theology — July 16, 2012 9:31 am

Is Liberal Christianity dying?

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In a recent New York Times piece by Ross Douthat, he offers a scathing but spot on critique of the current state of the liberal church. In it he walks through the decline of the Episcopal Church and it’s seemingly indifferent attitude to trying to turn this around.

Both religious and secular liberals have been loath to recognize this crisis. Leaders of liberal churches have alternated between a Monty Python-esque “it’s just a flesh wound!” bravado and a weird self-righteousness about their looming extinction.

But, what makes this article most fascinating and worth a read is how accurate his social critique of the liberal movement is. According to Douthat the church liberal movement has lost its way. The church at one point was able to participate in more cultural defining moments and have clear voice.

But if liberals need to come to terms with these failures, religious conservatives should not be smug about them. The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.

Finally, he ends with the conclusion that liberal church (Really the church in general) is changing, needs to change and it still probably won’t survive.

Read the full article here.

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6 Comments

  • Interesting NY Times read. I hate to say it but it makes sense that the pews of the most theologically and politically liberal enclaves of Christianity are emptying out, despite an increase in liberalism and tolerance. If I want to feel accepted no matter way and free to live as I want, I don’t really need church for that. I’ll just watch GIRLS, or something. But the conservative church on the other hand…it plays to these moral consciences, these insecurities we have. We need a place that confronts them and plays into our guilt. Maybe it’s less that the liberal church is dying and that Western Christianity’s, Augustine-driven paralyzing moral strongholds are fading away, and we need church (proper) less. Thank God.

    • To kind of go off on a tangent, Janna, have you ever read any of Peter Rollins’ thoughts on church being like a night of drunkenness (or crack house), where we use it to make ourselves feel better, but sink back into some sort of depression when we leave. He argues that church ought make us confront our brokenness and in that way we release ourselves from pain by dealing with it. Maybe this is the kind of change churches need to make. Your comment about needing church less made me think of Rollins.

      Here’s a link: http://peterrollins.net/?p=3578

      • I’ve not read it–checking it out now. Interesting concept–I think I could be on board. Thanks, Bills.

      • yes, indeed. i do like this very much:

        “My concern is that most of the actually existing church acts as a type of drug den with the leaders being like the nicest, most sincere, drug dealers. What we pay for are songs, sermons and prayers that help us avoid our suffering. These drugs are very appealing because of the quick fix and powerful high they offer, hence the success of such communities. However they do not help us face up to, speak out and work through our pain.
        In contrast we need collectives that are more like the professional mourners who cry for us, the stand-up comedians who talk about the pain of being human or the poets singing about life at local pubs.

        In other words, what if the church could be a place where we found a liturgical structure that would not treat God as a product that would make us whole but as the mystery that enables us to live abundantly in the midst of life’s difficulties…”

  • nteresting NY Times read. I hate to say it but it makes sense that the pews of the most theologically and politically liberal enclaves of Christianity are emptying out, despite an increase in liberalism and tolerance. If I want to feel accepted no matter way and free to live as I want, I don’t really need church for that. I’ll just watch GIRLS, or something. But the conservative church on the other hand…it plays to these moral consciences, these insecurities we have. We need a place that confronts them and plays into our guilt. Maybe it’s less that the liberal church is dying and more that Western Christianity’s, Augustine-driven paralyzing moral strongholds are fading away, and we need church (proper) less. Thank God.

  • Probably liberal religions are the only ones which will survive because they can co-exist with science and evolution, and can tolerate other religions.

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