Future of Mainline Protestantism
Seeding the Future Church: Progressive Christians with Fresh Ideas
In my role as the associate dean of religious life at a university, I see the future as students pay me visits for conversation or counseling. In line with Pew Forum's statistics, fewer are identifying with a particular religion, and more are "spiritual but not religious." One striking development I've witnessed is that more and more gay and lesbian students are coming out of the closet and staying in their evangelical churches. When I first got involved in religious programming on college campuses, such students would drop out of their churches, convinced they'd never feel welcome. But now, many of them tell me they are staying. They have found ways to reconcile their sexual identities with their understanding of scripture. They feel enough support behind them to challenge their pastors on the subject, citing Bible verses to back their arguments.
I predict that further such challenges to conventional authority in conservative churches will happen as progressive Christian spirituality spreads virally. There will be more and more Bishop Carlton Pearsons who discover another way to practice the faith without leaving common sense and compassion in the church parking lot before going to worship. Progressive Christians and their churches will provide the seed corn and the fertilizer for this harvest of change.
Over the past decade of my active involvement in the national progressive Christian movement, I have heard the same response from my readers and hearers, over and over again: "I have felt this way for many years, but never known the words to express it until now." As people discover they are not alone in their desire for a Christian faith that doesn't contradict scientific discovery and social progress, they will demand change from within their churches, or they will form new congregations. The future face of progressive Christianity will look a lot different than it appears in the progressive churches of today. And for that, I say hallelujah!
Jim Burklo is an ordained United Church of Christ pastor who serves as the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Birdlike and Barnless: Meditations, Prayers, and Songs for Progressive Christians (2008) and Open Christianity: Home By Another Road (2000). Jim's blog Musings appears at The Center for Progressive Christianity.