Missing half of America’s changing ecumenical landscape

A long, long, long time ago I covered a press conference featuring leaders of the various bodies linked to the Colorado Council of Churches. The key was that the organization — in support of an essentially liberal political cause of some kind — was claiming that it spoke for the vast majority of the state’s churches.

The problem was that, by the 1980s, the conversion of the Colorado Front Range into an evangelical hotbed (including evangelicals in many oldline Protestant bodies) was well on its way. Also, a more doctrinally conservative Catholic archbishop had arrived in town, one anxious to advocate for Catholic teachings on public issues on both sides of the political spectrum (think opposition to death penalty and to abortion).

Still, it was an important press conference that helped document one side of a religious debate in the state.

Near the end of the session, I asked what I thought was a logical question: Other than the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, did any of the CCC leaders present represent a church that had more members at that moment than during any of the previous two or three decades?

The church leaders in attendance were not amused.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the state, there were budding signs of increased talks between Southern Baptists, Catholics, charismatic Episcopalians, African-American Pentecostals, Latino evangelicals and, from time to time, Orthodox Jews and Mormons.

I kept telling my editors that this was a new development in ecumenical and interfaith work. This was news — the other half of an important state story. One key editor kept saying, “But this is not part of the Colorado Council of Churches, right?”

Now, if you look at the membership of the CCC these days you will see many of those old familiar church names, a pretty solid vision of the progressive Protestant left. What you will not see — no surprise — is the name of the Catholic archdiocese.

I described both sides of that journalism parable to say that — decades later — this same story continues to unfold across the nation. Take, for example, the Washington Post story that ran under the headline, “Interfaith movement struggles to adapt to changing religious landscape.” The lede will surprise few readers who have been watching demographic trends in American religion.

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