‘Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?’ or How Rudolph Bultmann is killing the city of Detroit

So Ross Douthat thinks the Episcopalians are doomed and that “liberal” Christianity in general is doomed.

If you want to use up one of your few monthly no-paywall tokens at The New York Times, you can read it here: “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?

That headline, like Douthat’s theme, is familiar territory for anyone who’s read anything about mainline Protestantism over the past 40 or so years, and Douthat isn’t breaking any new ground here. (He even starts out with the standard Spong-as-bogeyman maneuver.)

Diana Butler Bass offers a good summary of Douthat’s basic argument. Actually, Bass offers a good summary of Dean Kelley’s argument from 40 years ago, when Kelley was arguing the same thing as Douthat, except in 1972, when it was still possible to argue this with a spark of originality:

Douthat insists that any denomination committed to contemporary liberalism will ultimately collapse. According to him, the Episcopal Church and its allegedly trendy faith, a faith that varies from a more worthy form of classical liberalism, is facing imminent death.

His argument, however, is neither particularly original nor true. It follows a thesis first set out in a 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing by Dean Kelley. Drawing on Kelley’s argument, Douthat believes that in the 1960s liberal Christianity overly accommodated to the culture and loosened its ties to tradition. This rendered the church irrelevant and led to a membership hemorrhage. Over the years, critics of liberal churches used numerical decline not only as a sign of churchgoer dissatisfaction but of divine displeasure. To those who subscribe to Kelley’s analysis, liberal Christianity long ago lost its soul — and the state of Protestant denominations is a theological morality tale confirmed by dwindling attendance.

Yes, the Episcopal Church and its cousins in mainline Protestantism ruined themselves in the 1960s by becoming “overly accommodated to the culture” and loosening their “ties to tradition.”

The remarkable thing about Kelley’s argument is that he didn’t simply mean those phrases as elaborate euphemisms for “welcomed black people” and “stopped hating on women.”

I mean, that is what those murky, muddled phrases have to mean, if we’re talking about American mainline Protestant churches in the 1960s. Those were the big changes that began at that time: the civil rights movement and the embrace of women’s equality. But those changes aren’t the focus of Kelley’s argument.

From Kelley to Douthat, the conservative critique has been that mainline Protestantism is in decline due to “liberal theology” and to liberal liberality and to being a bunch of liberal-ish McLiberalingtons.

But this is anachronistic. The “liberal theology” these critics blame as the cause of this decline was around for many decades before the decline began. If you want to argue that mainline Protestant decline began in the 1960s, then you have to trace it to a cause that also began in the 1960s — you have to look at what changed in the 1960s. And what changed was that white mainline Protestant churches began to embrace the civil rights struggle begun earlier in the black church, and that mainline Protestantism began questioning the presumed secondary status of women.

Those like Douthat who are determined to see membership declines as evidence of apostasy tend to ignore another huge change in American society, one that is also closely related to the civil rights movement: America has become far more suburban.

In 1950, cities were the centers of population, political power and resources, and the biggest and most influential churches were located there. Over the following half-century, population, political power and resources have left those cities behind, moving out to the suburbs. One consequence of that flight to the ‘burbs is that the churches based in those cities, like the cities themselves, have become smaller and less influential.

That must be because of liberal theology. Just like liberal theology is the likeliest explanation for the declining population in places like Philadelphia and Detroit.

In 1950, Detroit had a population of 1.8 million. Today it’s less than half of that — 714,000. Obviously, this is due to liberal theology. Rudolph Bultmann and John Shelby Spong are slowly killing Detroit.

Diana Butler Bass skewers Douthat et. al. for using differing weights and measures:

Douthat points out that the Episcopal Church has declined 23 percent in the last decade, identifying the loss as a sign of its theological infidelity. In the last decade, however, as conservative denominations lost members, their leaders have not equated the loss with unfaithfulness. Instead, they refer to declines as demographic “blips,” waning evangelism, or the impact of secular culture.

So when “liberal” churches decline, it’s due to their sinful liberal theology. When conservative churches decline, it’s due to a sinful culture turning its back on the truth. Heads I win, tails you lose.

It’s clear from that double standard that if the Episcopal Church were to grow 23 percent in the next decade, we would then see a Ross Douthat column condemning this growth as further evidence that Episcopalians are “overly accommodated” to a sinful culture.

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  • Turcano

    According to him, the Episcopal Church and its allegedly trendy faith, a faith that varies from a more worthy form of classical liberalism, is facing imminent death.

    Yeah, because when I think trendy, I think of the Episcopal Church.

  • Phil_Malthus
  • hamletta

    Yes, just like us Lutherans, always gettin’ with the ancient liturgy and the reverence for the Most Precious Body and Blood Of Our Lord and Savior. 

    So trendy! I hear the hipsters in Brooklyn are already over it.

  • Lori

    So Ross Douthat thinks the Episcopalians are doomed and that “liberal” Christianity in general is doomed. 

    And Liberal Christians everywhere breath a sigh of relief. If Douthat thinks their views are doomed then it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re fine and will continue to be fine. Douthat’s track record is dismal, even by the very low standards of the NYT OpEd page.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    And Liberal Christians everywhere breath a sigh of relief. If Douthat
    thinks their views are doomed then it’s a pretty safe bet that they’re
    fine and will continue to be fine. Douthat’s track record is dismal,
    even by the very low standards of the NYT OpEd page.


    Dr. Douthat: “Mrs. Smith, I… I don’t know how to tell you this. We just got these test results back, and… I’m afraid you only have two months to live.”

    Patient: “Hallelujah! I’m gonna live forever!”


     Existence was written by David Brin

    So… does that mean that David Brin is God?

  • Lori

     I wouldn’t assume that I’m going to live forever but given Douchehat’s record if he told me that I was dying I’d ask for a second opinion and probably a third. The man is not the sharpest tool in the shed and he has real problems seeing the world as it is, instead of how he’d like it to be. As a result his commentary is generally good for not much more than bird cage liner. Or a laugh if you have a little streak of masochism.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    David Brin is also the author/creator of “Earth”. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    I thought that was Slartibartfast.

  • Tricksterson

    And the “Uplift” series.

  • ounbbl

     Not just liberal denominations, but all the religions, yeah they will prosper as humanity degenerates as we see now much clearly thanks to information age.
    It is decreed, though, they shall be doomed.

    P.S. Don’t confuse Christianity with religion.

  • hapax

    “‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
    Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

  • Xian-x

    For a more insightful critique of liberal Christianity, see Chris Hedges’s, The Death of the Liberal Class. Hedges recently interviewed retired Episcopal bishop George Packard, and quoted Packard as saying, “The spirit is calling us now into the streets, calling us to reject the old institutional orders. There is no going back. You can’t sit anymore in churches… Churches are museums with floorshows. They are a caricature of what Jesus intended… It is only outside the church that you will find the spirit of God.”

  • Daughter

    It’s possible. I attended an emergent Episcopalian church for a while in Boston. They used praise and worship singing and hands-on, participatory church services.


    Fred, did you happen to see this link in the comments section of Bass’ article? http://faithcommunitiestoday.org/press-release-2010

    It’s the results of a study of “11,077 randomly sampled congregations of all faith traditions in the United States.”  The person who commented on it was noting this point: “One unexpected finding is that spiritual vitality rises considerably higher at the liberal end of the theological continuum than the very conservative end.”

    However, I want to highlight this point: “There has been a dramatic increase in racial/ethnic congregations, many for immigrant groups. In 2010, three in ten congregations reported that more than 50 percent of their members were members of minority groups, up from two in ten in 2000. One clear impact of the increase in minority congregations is that they inject a strong dose of growth and vitality into American religious life.”

    It hasn’t been my imagination when I’ve pointed out that most of the churches I visit are integrated, and that “11 AM Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America” isn’t true anymore.

  • ounbbl

     “They used praise and worship singing and hands-on, participatory church services.”
    Yeah. What then? They come out being happy and emotionally satisfied. But is God being glorified from all these, or they were successful to be entertained in the name of religion?

  • Xclamation

    Few of the outraged critiques of the Vatican’s investigation of
    progressive nuns mentioned the fact that Rome had intervened because otherwise the orders in question were likely to disappear in a generation.

    Two points:

    A) Thank you, Mr. Douthat, for acknowledging that all those silly little women would be lost if they didn’t have a big, powerful and protective Pontiff looking out for them and their best interests.

    B) Is anyone else surprised to learn that a membership in a group shrinks when it is alternately ignored or attacked by its parent organization?

  • AnonymousSam

    Reminds me of the discussion I had with someone here… “Good” Christians don’t reproduce their faith as readily as “bad” Christians because they use means which, by definition, aren’t coercive or self-serving. “Bad” Christians, on the other hand, draw lines in the sand and create “us or them” mentalities which tend to attract bad people and repel others.

    I still don’t have a solution for that…

  • Jurgan

    Liberals have the same problem politically- by being devoted to good government, they’re less likely to embrace the “win at all costs” mentality that conservatives are all to happy to take up.

  • GDwarf


    me of the discussion I had with someone here… “Good” Christians don’t
    reproduce their faith as readily as “bad” Christians because they use
    means which, by definition, aren’t coercive or self-serving. “Bad”
    Christians, on the other hand, draw lines in the sand and create “us or
    them” mentalities which tend to attract bad people and repel others.

    I still don’t have a solution for that…

    I’ve just finished reading the excellent Sci-Fi story Existence, which rather reflects on this.

    **Spoilers ahead**

    The plot mainly focuses on crystal probes/eggs/virtual worlds that humans find. They contain computer-simulations of aliens which offer their knowledge in exchange for humanity promising to create copies of the crystal and send it out to the stars. With an added simulated human on-board, of course. The eggs insist that this is the only way to have working interstellar travel; that all intelligent civilizations eventually self-destruct and the only way to save any of it is by this method.

    Humans quickly realize that these are, essentially, viruses. They appear, infect people with the idea of creating more of them, and use that to spread to other civilizations. But they also wonder if they aren’t right: We have no signs of other civilizations out there. Is that because they do, inevitably, self-destruct? Does re-tuning their entire economy to produce as many of these crystals as possible maybe contribute to that? Is there any solution but doing as the crystals say?

    Some people speculate that the original probes were probably supposed to be true arks of knowledge, with an attempt to encapsulate all aspects of their original civilization in them for posterity. Unfortunately, selection pressure kicked in, and the ones programmed to be pushier and to insist on more copies being made thrived, out-competing other ones, until you end up with nothing but the sales pitch.

    **/End Spoilers**

    It seems that the ideas most likely to grow and thrive are those that are petty and self-interested, because any idea that focuses on spreading and its own survival will out-compete those that are ambivalent about those same facts. You need believers who want to evangelize, otherwise the preachers will out-compete. It’s incredibly frustrating, but does seem to be how it works.

  • Jay

    to GDwarf: Congratulations, you now understand evolution.  No, really.  You described  how it really works.  It works the same way with biological organisms, which is why so few people are indifferent about sex.

  • Tricksterson

    Who wrote this?

  • GDwarf

     Existence was written by David Brin

  • http://www.aqualgidus.org/ Michael Chui

    The book he’s summarizing (I didn’t read the spoilers he posted) is by David Brin.

  • hamletta

    When you draw a line in the sand, you’ll always find Christ on the other side. 

  • Loki100

    And here we have the article, and chart that completely disproves these ridiculous claims about liberal Christianity.

    Mainline protestants are about evenly gaining and losing members to Evangelicals and Catholics at even rates, and have a significantly smaller loss to the No Religious Affiliation group than either Catholics or Evangelicals.

    Which means that it is not about people converting over their lifetimes, but rather about deathrates. The Mainline protestants hit a generational wall about ten to twenty years ago and haven’t recovered. Right now, the Evangelicals are currently hitting their generational wall as the Baby Boomers start to die off.

    In truth both groups have been shrinking since the 1960s, the Evangelicals were able to give the appearance that they weren’t by aggressively poaching from the Catholics and working incredibly hard to transform themselves from a religious movement into a political movement.

  • Tricksterson

    Slight correction:  Mainline Protestants haven’t swapped evenly with Catholics according to the article, they’ve gained about twice what they lost.  I’d be willing to bet that bishoply assharredbess will only increase this tendency in the near future.

    On a sidenote did that flow chart bring to mind alien tentacle monsters to anyone else?

  • Loki100

    Oh, yeah. I was so focused on Evangelicals vs. Mainline Protestants, I forgot that the Catholics were in free fall.

    The bulk of growth for pretty much every sect of Christianity has been poaching former Catholics.

  • AndrewSshi

    I’m (shockingly!) going to disagree with Our Gracious Host…

    The theological liberalism that Douthat’s talking about, the belief that the supernatural aspects of the Christian faith are a bunch of horseshit, started taking hold of the mainline seminaries well before the 1960s.  It wasn’t until the 50s and 60s, however, that the first generation of clergy trained in the say-the-Creed-with-your-fingers-crossed-behind-your-back “theology” really started making their influence felt.  If someone says that the Gospel account of the resurrection is a spiritual truth that Jesus lives in us all if we do good, there’s a good chance that s/he’s a boomer who got Sunday school in the early 60s.  So when someone says that it was in the sixties that the mainline churches started “accommodating themselves to the culture,” it basically means that it was in the sixties that the clergy trained under liberal theology first made themselves felt as a group.

    What Douthat misses, of course, is that the real arguments going on over, say Romans 1:26-7 or Revelation 20:10 are generally between groups of Christians who believe in the supernatural elements of Christianity.  The atheists in chasubles are mostly retired and dying of old age–the Church will have sloughed them off in another couple of decades, but the arguments between supernaturalists will remain.

  • AnonymousSam

    If atheists-in-robes are on the decline, I’d like to see these megachurches with millionaire ministers who are as far from Christ as humanly possible start to disappear. <.<

  • hamletta

    And where does this apostasy take place? In your fevered brain? Because it sure ain’t the line at my downtown ELCA parish. 

  • Tonio

    I don’t know if this is Douthat’s assumption or the something inherent in the theology, but the argument implies that the larger “secular” culture is foreign or alien, something from with churches and believers must maintain a degree of separation or purity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30319652 Tim Lehnerer

    I tend to say the same thing whenever church attendance figures are mentioned, but here we go again:  Pretty much everyone who gets on TV to speak for Christianity might as well been hand-picked for the job by Satan. They don’t make it very attractive and they won’t attract new converts.

    As an atheist, this pleases me immensely.

  • TheFaithfulStone

    But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to
    sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity
    with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of
    secular political causes.

    Holy heaping helpings of horse-shit, Batman.

    I don’t really get that easily offended by people insulting my religion
    or whatever, but saying that the Episcopal church downplays theology
    requires a mind-boggling amount of ignorance.  It would be like saying
    the Jewish faith downplays scholarship, or that Catholics downplay
    ritual, or that Baptists downplay experience and tribal identity.

    I get the joke about them changing the end of the collect to “whatever and ever, amen” – but I think that misses the point.  Douthat, and people who criticize the Episcopal church for being squishy miss the main point (for me at least) of BEING an Episcopalian, which is that they never ask you to believe something you know isn’t true.  They’re ALWAYS thinking about it.

    They get all up in arms about Sprong, and miss  Rowan William’s response.   I don’t always agree with the Archbishop on everything.  (I don’t have to, another nice part of not being Catholic.) but that’s pretty good.  The TL;DR version of Williams is “Wait, haven’t we been talking about this for like the last 500 years?”

    I mean, I think Sprong raises some pretty valid points, but they’re not really points against Anglican theology, they’re points against what people outside of Anglican theology imagine Anglican theology to be.  Yes, it’s complicated and messy, and it’s not easily distilled into exclusionary soundbites like the “theology” of all these “non-denominational” churches / cults – but that’s  FAR FREAKIN’ CRY from “downplaying theology.”

    If Episcopalians have a theological problem, it’s the problem of the expert who doesn’t want to engage the masses (and that’s a pretty big problem) – they’re running up an contradiction in terms and an inadequacy of language.  For me to explain the subtle distinction between all the different forms of panentheism and pantheism to somebody whose mental structure of “God” begins and ends at Sky-Daddy is just going to exhaust us both.  There is a reason you have to take a six-week course before the Episcopal Church will confirm you.

    I think that’s problematic – but if you start your sales pitch with “Well, it’s like this… or actually it’s more like this…” or a distinction between Truth and truth, it’s a lot harder to get people to listen than if you start with “Godman die, now you no burn for eternity, be polite and convert!”  For my money, that’s the reason that mainline Christianity is “in decline” and that Democrats lose, and all manner of other bad outcomes.

    It’s harder to sell the complicated and messy truth, than the neat, well-packaged lie.

  • ReverendRef

    So we’ve taken a hit lately — or several  hits.  The article by Mr. Douthat in the NYT and the one over in the WSJ by Jay Akasie came directly on the heels of our General Convention in Indianapolis where the Episcopal Church (TEC) passed legislation authorizing rites for gay marriage and participated in bacchanalia-type orgies of food and drink.

    And all this is because the liberal EC has caved to the powers of world and Satan by working to include everyone while refusing to stand for what’s godly and right.  Or something like that.

    Is TEC experiencing a decline in numbers?  Yes.  Is it critical?  It depends on whom you ask.  Is it a crisis?  Again, it depends on who is asked.

    I see the people screaming most about the decline as the same people who are in fits about the decline of the influence of Christianity in general.  For them, things started going downhill after the Scopes trial when evolution was allowed to be taught in schools.  It got worse when the Supreme Court removed prayer from schools.  And now, LOOK!, TEC is losing members because they don’t have a strong faith (it’s all feel-good stuff) and are letting those gay people and that uppity woman bishop take over.

    The reality, I think, is that those people fail to understand that Jesus didn’t come to establish a new kind of theocracy.  Jesus came to show people what the kingdom of God looks like here on earth.  My interpretation of that kingdom includes feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, loving your neighbor, welcoming the outsider and stranger, and realizing that in the eyes of God there is no longer slave or free, male or female, straight or gay.

    Is TEC losing members?  Yes.  But as I heard one priest recently say, “Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep – not count them.”  So, despite all the cries of how badly the sky is falling, or how awful TEC has become, I will simply go about my business of being a priest, caring alike for young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor.

    I’m a priest, not a CEO.  And if you are more concerned with the numbers of the church than with it’s mission, you’ve got the wrong priority.

  • reynard61

    “(…)came directly on the heels of our General Convention in Indianapolis(…)”

    Well dang, ReverendRef! If I’d known that you were in Indy I would have bought you a coffee (or the beverage of your choice) and cake — without the Death, of course… ;-)

    (Please tell me that you at least got to visit Christ Church Cathedral and heard the two organs.)

  • ReverendRef

     I was not actually in Indy.  1) I wasn’t a deputy, so I didn’t have any reason to be there.  2) I have an aversion to large crowds.  Moving from a diocese with something like 75 clergy to one with well over 200 has made diocesan conventions a little . . . stressful . . . for me.

    However, if I ever find myself in that part of the country, I’ll be sure to try and get to the cathedral.

  • reynard61

    “However, if I ever find myself in that part of the country, I’ll be sure to try and get to the cathedral.”

    Well, my beverage-and-cake offer is always open if you give me a heads-up! *gleefully cackles and rubs hands together in anticipation of meeting a fellow slacktivite*

  • ReverendRef

     And I’ll reciprocate if you ever find yourself within 3 hours of southern Oregon out here on the left coast.

  • Tricksterson

    I think your numbers might grow if you spread the word about those bacchanalia of food and drink.

  • ReverendRef

     I tell everyone, “Come to church . . . free wine on Sunday!”

    I’m not sure that’s a good evangelism tool, however.

  • nirrti

    “….participated in bacchanalia-type orgies of food and drink.”

    Where were these “orgies of food and drink” and why didn’t I get my invitation in the mail?

  • ReverendRef

     Where were these “orgies of food and drink” and why didn’t I get my invitation in the mail?

    As I understand, that’s everybody’s question who, you know, actually attended G.C.

  • Lori

    I still think the primary reason mainline churches lose members is demographics.  The old members are dying, and young people aren’t joining.

    My biggest gripe with mainline churches: absent or underdeveloped children’s programs.  The idea of children being welcomed into the sanctuary is a nice one, if you’ve got one relatively well-behaved kid.  But, if you’ve got a few kids, or a kid with special needs, then suddenly Sunday services become this huge, difficult chore, especially because these are not services that have much appeal to children.

    My husband is an atheist-leaning agnostic, and even he will come to church with me when I attend a church that has a nursery and a children’s church, because he doesn’t care where he is if, for 90 minutes or so, we get free babysitting.  He would rather ingest hot coals, though, than go to a service where the kids stay with us the whole time.

    Seriously, I think the #1 recruitment tool churches can have is nurseries and Sunday school for kids during the church service.  

    FWIW, as a Detroiter, we’re growing, a little bit.  We’re one of the few cities, IIRC, that actually saw a small population increase.  And, maybe there’s a good parallel here.  Because the population declined, and it has led to kind of amazing things, like a whole culture of urban agriculture and really close neighborhoods and people working together to improve the city.  We have less people, but a lot of the people here really love the city and are invested in it, in a way that I’m guessing people might not be in areas that are thriving.

  • Dan Audy

    That’s a very good point Lori.  It also helps because a lot of parents rediscover or reinvest in their faith (or find a new one) when they have children and begin to consider how they want to raise their child religiously.  By the time most children can reliably sit through a service (I’d say around 8) that desire to reinvest will usually have passed if they aren’t active in their faith as they’ve done fairly well for the last number of years and life is full of distractions and other important things.  Beyond the parents Sunday school programs provide a major foundation for many Christians faith and even amongst atheists and agnostics who were raised in the church if you start singing one of those songs many can still recite the words.

  • Amelia

    The article raises important questions that should be
    considered by Protestant Christians. Surely it is a false dichotomy in which we
    find ourselves with the need to need to choose between a faith paradigm that is
    socially narrow in scope but at least initially addresses the individual as
    someone uniquely called by God or one that has incorporated a wider more
    inclusive breadth in its outlook but is directed primarily toward action via
    social programs at the expense of and as a substitute for a valuation and
    facilitation of a path for development of the sacred inner life of the
    individual.  Both can capture the
    ideals of youth and provide an initial paradigm for spiritual life.  But both are limited in their ability
    to assist the individual in the second half of life to develop and articulate a
    more profound spirituality that is able to grapple with the challenges to one’s
    personal sense of calling, and meaning that accompany mid-life with its
    heightened consciousness of finiteness. Rather than a spirituality that tends
    to be simplified so that it will dovetail with the family values paradigm or
    with the social programs of the church it needs to be treated in a way that
    reflects a complexity that can apply to the callings and paths of individuals
    at all stages of life.  It is
    psychology that has taken over the language of the inner life of the individual
    and this has been invaluable within our culture but people still want to
    develop individually within the context of a shared journey as part of a sacred
    community and a personal relationship with God, and providing a venue for this
    seems to be the challenge of the church.  

  • LogicGuru

    You need to distinguish ethics from theology. When it comes to ethics, liberals believe that same-sex relationships are ok, that the state should provide social services and social safety nets, etc. I support that and I suspect most other Episcopalians do to. But theology is another matter. Since taking religious studies courses as an undergraduate I’ve been banged over the head with endless harangues about the stupidity of believing in the supernatural, in God in any ordinary sense. “I believe in God” is supposed to mean “I am committed to an agapistic way of life” or whatever. And of course in the doctrine that church is garbage: every grain of incense is bread from the mouths of the poor. Churches should sell of their buildings and meet in homes to have simple agape meals and plan the next round of social activism. And I am f*ing sick of it. I’m all for liberal ethics–but not liberal/radical theology.

    Self-righteous, self-serving clerics would love to believe that we lay people are dropping out because we aren’t reject their enlightened ethical views, about sexuality, social justice, or whatever–as Douthat and other conservatives suggest. Not so. The problem, I suggest, is the Church’s embarrassment about RELIGION, about the supernatural and believe in a supernatural God and post-mortem survival, their refusal to give us the liturgy we enjoy, and their failure support mysticism and religious experience.

  • Tapetum

    Huh – I guess our Episcopal church needs to get with Mr. Douthat’s program. Except that we’re starting to grow very nicely with our new priest, who is noticeably more liberal than either of our last two. Also, he’s gay with a partner.

    Or maybe Mr. Douthat is just full of it. I think I’ll go with that one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     But how big is your congregation though? According to Douthat, you must be down to, what, 5 people? And 2 of them are just there for the airconditioning.

  • Steve

    I have not read Dean Kelley’s book in about 20 years, so I may be mistaken.  But… I do not see him as a conservative and I believe that his major point was separation of church and state.  Mainline churches were declining and would continue to do so because of ties to political causes.  This point could be argued even to apply to Southern Baptists. Their growth has slowed and now is in decline as they became more political.

  • cdenison

    This is a very shrill, defensive response.  Wallowing in the 60’s is NOT going to create the liberal church of tomorrow.  There is a hope for the future, but we need to be about creating that hope, and not still reacting to a  book from 1972.  C’mon!

  • BaseDeltaZero

    to GDwarf: Congratulations, you now understand evolution.  No, really.  You described  how it really works.  It works the same way with biological organisms, which is why so few people are indifferent about sex.

    Yes.  That was the point.

  • Scott

    Good exchange.  I particularly like the messy description.  I left a more rigid denomination half a century ago and eventually became an Episcopalian and even more eventually, a priest.  I love the messiness of engagement and, yes, struggle with Scripture, theology, and the world.  I love the messiness of seeking truth and hungering for the holy — and falling sort over and over again, but the effort is the thing.  Of course, I don’t always agree with GC –it is a human institution made up of fallible humans like me.  But I must say the master;ly the Presiding redirected the budget toward mission away from structure is appealing and I look forward to the messiness of seeing how it plays out.

  • newenglandsun

    “Those were the big changes that began at that time: the civil rights movement and the embrace of women’s equality.”

    Not if it is a Catholic talking about them. Catholic acceptance of civil rights has long since dated back to the ages. Goodness, how long ago? I mean, when a Catholic generally talks about Catholicism, they’re generally talking about more than just Roman Catholicism. There’s Syriac Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Greek Catholics, Chaldean Catholics, etc.

    Then there was the Catholic Worker Movement of Dorothy Day’s. You find Catholics of all nationalities and ethnicities from all various different parts of the world. Then you have the cultural accommodations made for the Franciscans, Jesuits, Benedictines, etc.

    Dean Kelley was a United Methodist. They ordained two black men in the late 18th century. So it apparently wasn’t the blacks being allowed in church that caused conservative churches to grow. And since 1956, they’ve allowed ordination of women (not that I consider that a women’s rights issue unless you’re a Protestant where the priesthood IS essentially a power-grab).

    So apparently isn’t talking about that either. Douthat, as a Catholic, will be referencing issues predominantly in Catholicism and won’t care about conservative Protestant denominations just to let you know for future references.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I wasn’t aware that there were any Catholic Churches that ordained women.

  • AlexSeanchai

    Depends how you define ‘Catholic’. I know some have, but promptly got penalized possibly to include eviction from the Church (I don’t recall the details, sorry).

  • newenglandsun

    There aren’t. At least not any Catholic Churches in communion with the Holy See (there’s the Liberal Catholic Church which might and the Eastern Orthodox Church considers itself Catholic and has thought about ordaining women but only as deaconesses). You may have misread. I was commenting on Dean Kelley when I mentioned ordaining women.

    The Catholic Churches in communion with the Holy See (Maronite, Armenian, Chaldean, Greek, Coptic, Roman, etc.) don’t ordain women because the priest represents Christ at the liturgy in the same way the bread represents the body of Christ. As such, they’ll never ordain a woman for the reason that a man represents Christ better since Christ was a man and Dorito’s will never be used at the Eucharist because bread represents Christ better than Dorito’s.

    My point though when I said “not that I consider that a women’s rights issue unless you’re a Protestant where the priesthood IS essentially a power-grab” is that I believe that sola scriptura Protestantism, where everything is based on what one interprets the Bible to mean, ordaining women makes sense as a women’s rights issues. In more traditional and historically based variations of Christianity (such as Catholicism) ordaining women doesn’t make sense since A) no one can change the official doctrine any way, B) a priest primarily serves and C) women have constantly contributed to the theology of the Church as nuns and as mystics so its not like the priest has the “be all say all” in the Catholic faith.

    Now, the Pope is the one that gives decrees on what is in bounds to believe but a lot of doctrines that the Pope has approved of (especially regarding Mary) have actually been drawn out by women and men.

  • AlexSeanchai

    And nonsense like this is why they say Christ came as a man because men wouldn’t listen to women. How about you, sir, listen to the women who are telling you that ordaining Catholic women IS a women’s rights issue?

  • newenglandsun

    Because it’s not a women’s rights issue. I find their arguments bogus. And I have no issue whatsoever listening to women. Something that you would have gotten if you had actually bothered to read what I wrote.

    Seriously, why would it be a women’s rights issue? Because it gives a women power in the Church? No. St. Theresa of Avila, St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Mary Queen of Heaven, these women weren’t ordained. Because a women can now change what the Church says? No. The Church runs on a historical tradition. If a women were to be ordained, she couldn’t give a theological opinion that Mary wasn’t the Mother of God or that the Trinity wasn’t real. She also couldn’t contend in favor of homosexuality either.

    “nonsense like this is why they say Christ came as a man”

    If it was “nonsense” why do they also tell us Christ was born of a virgin women who would be his mother? The only one speaking nonsense here is you. IDK now whether to laugh hysterically or slap myself on the face. You are bereft of any intelligence whatsoever. Are you an American or something?

  • AlexSeanchai

    Get your head out of your ass before your eyes turn brown.

    A female pope couldn’t change the church in any of the ways that male popes have historically been able to? Why, pray tell, is that? And how are we to achieve ‘female pope’ without first ‘female priest’?

    What does Mary’s hypothetical virginity have to do with the price of peas in Persopolis?

  • newenglandsun

    “A female pope”

    You do realize that the word “pope” means “Father”, right? Do you call your male parent “mother” and your female parent “father”?

    Sorry, ran out of breath LMAOing.

    Change the Church doctrinally? No. Missionally? No. As one ignostic once told me before I made the decision to enter into the Catholic Church, “Well, anyone who thought they could join the Church and change its doctrine must not know the structure or history of that institution.”

    Sorry, still laughing uncontrollably. You never did answer my question as to whether you were American, oh, wait…never mind, you did! Green Day time!

  • AlexSeanchai

    Why do you assume I have one male parent and one female parent? I refuse to confirm or deny.

    You do realize that historically the masculine term ‘mankind’ and the gender-neutral term ‘humanity’ have been synonymous, and that historically the masculine pronoun ‘he’ has been used whenever someone needs a gender-not-specified pronoun, yes? Now, there are very good reasons why that’s a misogynist trend, but: Why should the masculine term ‘pope’ not also be gender-neutral at need?

    Pope Francis sure seems to be changing the Church. Not very fast, I admit–doesn’t help that when he says things like “atheists are also saved” everybody under him backpedals the statement in a hurry–but he’s certainly trying. Why are you so damn insistent that the glass ceiling preventing women from being in a position to change the Church must remain unbroken? And why are you so damn insistent that it’s not a women’s rights issue?

  • newenglandsun

    Haha What?!? Those things have always been apart of the Church’s teachings.


    The Church even emphasizes in the Catechism that there are people who are not Catholics who are in some partial communion with us and the Pope does contend that there is a catch to this.

    “Why are you so damn insistent that the glass ceiling preventing women from being in a position to change the Church must remain unbroken?”

    There isn’t a glass ceiling on this. There’s a glass ceiling on people turning the Church into a purely human institution. Changing it to kowtow to the demands of secular humanists would do just that. And don’t forget the women contributors to theology. St. Catherine of Sienna and St. Hildegard of Bingen are considered Doctors of the Church (which means they’ve contributed to the flow of the Church’s tradition). I wish more women would contribute honestly but it’ll more likely be an Eastern Catholic woman who does so again due to the dominant Western decline into anti-intellectualism. Someone like another Mother Theresa.

    “And why are you so damn insistent that it’s not a women’s rights issue?”

    Because it’s not. Re-read everything I have said and you will find why I don’t believe that.

    You want to hear something funny. My older sister (a very strong feminist) and I pretty much tore our relationship over the Summer because I was trying to be a committed feminist and failing. Now that I started attending a Greek Catholic parish, our relationship has actually gotten far better.

    One more thing before I gotta go…

    “Why should the masculine term ‘pope’ not also be gender-neutral at need?”

    Why? Because the Latin phrase for “mother” is “mater” and the Latin phrase for father is “papa” translated “Pope”.


    “You do realize that historically the masculine term ‘mankind’ and the gender-neutral term ‘humanity’ have been synonymous,”

    That depends what you mean by “man”. In Hebrew, there are two distinct Hebrew words that are translated as “man”. Adam is the gender neutral. Ish is not. These are basic grammatical rules.

    “that historically the masculine pronoun ‘he’ has been used whenever someone needs a gender-not-specified pronoun, yes?”

    Like when Han Solo refers to the Millenium Falcon as a “her”, right? Sorry, laughing again.

    I’m getting tired of this debate right now and it really isn’t important so don’t expect me to respond any more. Maybe you could create an account on a Catholic forum or something and bring your questions there. I really would like to continue this conversation because you’re really funny and are giving me some good laughs but I really have to go now.

  • AlexSeanchai

    Which brings me back to my initial point very nicely: you only listen to women when you like the things they’re saying. Which is a fuckwitted position for a self-proclaimed feminist to be in.

    I do so hope you stick the flounce.

  • newenglandsun

    “Which brings me back to my initial point very nicely: you only listen to women when you like the things they’re saying.”

    Yeah, same way I treat men. If you’re an idiot, I’ll treat you as one. If you’re not, I won’t treat you as an idiot. Such a “fuckwitted position” I take indeed.

    “self-proclaimed feminist”

    *USED* to be. Glad I’m not any more. Now I’m only just opposed to having women’s genitals removed.

  • AlexSeanchai

    What happens when someone says something true but unlikable?

    How does one go from believing women are fully human to believing women are subhuman?

  • newenglandsun

    “What happens when someone says something true but unlikable?”

    We digest it and swallow the pill toughly. I’ve read feminist writings and they’re full of rants with very little truth.

    “How does one go from believing women are fully human to believing women are subhuman?”

    I still believe that they’re fully human. Just not in the same language that you want. I’m really unphased by feminist arguments seriously. They’re all rants and they aren’t convincing.

  • AlexSeanchai

    If you believed I’m fully human, you’d be a feminist. That’s what ‘feminist’ MEANS. Someone who holds the radical idea that women are people.
    You’re not, so clearly you don’t. Fuck you.

  • newenglandsun

    Oh, okay. Then I’m a feminist. Just not your variety obviously.

    I’ll be this type of feminist.


    You really think saying “fuck you” is going to phase my opinions or change it?

  • AlexSeanchai

    “Difference feminism”, asserting as it does that genitals are destiny, is an attempt to appropriate feminist terminology without admitting to feminist ideals. Fuck that.

    Nah, I’m just trying to express my feelings toward someone who thinks the fact that I possess a uterus overrules any other possible thing about me. Who, incidentally, is talking quite a fucking lot for someone who promised to leave. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

  • newenglandsun

    My final words before I go. You make me proud to be a difference feminist :)

  • AlexSeanchai

    Whereas you merely remind me of how depressingly far feminism has to go.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    What on God’s green Earth is a “difference feminist”?

  • AlexSeanchai

    Far’s I can tell, synonymous with ‘complementarian’.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Oh, one of those gender essentialists trying to hide the fact. Gotcha.

  • AlexSeanchai

    Oh, and points off for not sticking the flounce.

  • dpolicar

    “Maybe in order to understand mankind, we have to look at the word itself. Mankind. Basically, it’s made up of two separate words—‘mank’ and ‘ind’. What do these words mean It’s a mystery, and that’s why so is mankind.”

  • AlexSeanchai

    I dunno what you’re quoting but I think I like it.

  • dpolicar

    Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handey

  • AlexSeanchai

    I’ll check it out, thanks

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I remember those from the days back when I used to watch SNL. :D

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You do realize that the word “pope” means “Father”, right?

    You remind me a lot of another person who rolled on in using overliteral meanings of words to try and claim they were in the right on a matter.

  • newenglandsun

    You don’t call women “Mr.’s”.

  • P J Evans

    Mrs is the same as ‘mistress’. WTF do you think ‘mistress’ came from?

  • AlexSeanchai

    For some reason I’m reminded of Ani DiFranco lyrics. “I am not an angry girl, though it seems I’ve got everyone fooled. Every time I say something they find hard to hear, they chalk it up to my anger and never to their own fear.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That is a complete non sequitur, since the form of address isn’t even universal, it’s a linguistic and cultural convention. In French, it would be Monsieur (M.) or Mademoiselle (Mlle).

  • AlexSeanchai

    Or Madame, which I believe abbreviates to Mme.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Right, I forgot one. (bonks self on head)

  • Daniel

    Seriously? Calling a woman a male title makes you laugh uncontrollably? I’d advise you never to watch any Kenny Everett then. You might rupture something if you actually see a man dressed as a woman.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com/ Ross

    Sorry, still laughing uncontrollably.

    You should probably see someone about that. It sounds kinda pathological.

  • Daniel

    The other day I heard a kid accidentally call his mum “Dad”. I had to be chemically sedated eventually, it was hilarious.

  • Carstonio

    In the broad sense, no culture or ideology should define roles for people based on sexual identity. But in particular, making that identity a requirement for a leadership role is even worse. A voluntary organization has the right to set such a rule, but that doesn’t make the rule moral or just. The only real basis for the qualification is a cruel belief that one sex or gender is better than the other.