The evangelical-mainline shell-game

Ellen Painter Dollar extends an invitation to young evangelicals exhausted and frustrated by their community:

While I am sympathetic to those who wish to bring reforms, of feminist and other natures, to the evangelical movement, I also want to remind those who are fed up with how women and their voices are welcomed (or not) in evangelical churches, publications, and conversations that there are many churches (that is, movements, denominations, and congregations) where women and other marginalized groups (such as LGBT Christians) don’t have to fight for respect, equality, and a voice. I think many frustrated evangelicals would be amazed (and breathe some huge sighs of relief) to discover that issues that are hot within their circles are non-issues for many other dedicated Christians. And that Christians of an evangelical bent can find a home alongside those other dedicated Christians, even in communities that don’t define themselves overtly as “evangelical.”

But if these young evangelicals have grown up within the evangelical subculture, then they’ve learned what “everybody knows” in that subculture. Everybody knows that evangelical churches are more theologically conservative and orthodox. And everybody knows that mainline Protestant denominations are liberal and heterodox.

Photo by Tim Wilson via Wikimedia.

Everybody knows this, but is it true?

Well, no. We don’t “know” this because it’s true, we think we know this because we’ve been hearing the claim for decades.

It goes something like this:

1: Find the most liberal theologians you can from mainline Protestant denominations — Tillich! Spong! — and then sketch caricatures of them that make them seem as outrageously liberal as possible.

2. Make these caricatures the avatars for mainline Protestant churches, always suggesting that they are typical, hugely popular and influential.

3. Cite this outrageous theological liberalism as the cause of mainline “decline.”

4. Contrast this mainline liberalism with the orthodoxy of evangelical churches.

5. Cite evangelical orthodoxy as the cause of the rapid growth of evangelicalism.

6. Lather, rinse, repeat. For years and years and years.

This is propaganda. It’s the shell-game that we evangelicals have been playing for decades now. And it’s a shifty, dishonest trick.

It’s a sleight-of-hand game of heads-I-win, tails-you-lose. The trick is an inconsistent, self-serving, cherry-picking approach to who counts as “mainline Protestant” and who counts as “evangelical.”

Consider Anglicans and Episcopalians. These are liberal mainliners — boo, hiss! Their reprobate liberal theology can’t hold a candle to that of good, solid evangelical theologians like, say, N.T. Wright.

But wait, isn’t Wright an Anglican bishop? Doesn’t matter. If he seems to fit our ideas of “conservative” theology and orthodoxy, then he counts as one of Us and not one of Them. So it doesn’t matter if Wright is Anglican, we’ll count him as an “evangelical” instead. And we’ll count Eugene Peterson as an evangelical, too, even though he’s part of the mainline PCUSA. Clearly we can’t consider him Presbyterian, because everybody knows that all Presbyterians are post-Christian liberals.

And so on.

All of the thousands of orthodox pastors, scholars and theologians among the mainline denominations are disregarded. They don’t count. And all of the millions of mainline Protestant laypeople who share their views don’t count either. They may constitute the majority, but we refuse to regard them as typical. According to the shell-game, the majority of mainline Protestants are an aberration.

We pull the same trick in the opposite direction when we’re trying to prove that evangelical theology is more orthodox and conservative. Thus someone like John Stott or Richard Mouw counts as a “real” evangelical, and as evidence that evangelical theology is orthodox.

But we do not count Joel Osteen, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Tim LaHaye, Ken Ham, Bob Larson, Bryan Fischer, John Hagee, Jim Garlow, Rick Joyner or Cindy Jacobs because including any one of those people would destroy the pretense of evangelicals’ theological “conservatism.”

According to the shell-game, the most popular and influential evangelical leaders, the authors of the best-selling evangelical books and the voices of the most pervasive evangelical media, do not really count as evangelical. They may constitute the vast majority, but we refuse to regard them as typical. According to the shell-game, the majority of evangelicals are an aberration.

Part of the trick here involves using different weights and measures depending on whether we’re on Step 4 or Step 5. When evangelicals are arguing that we represent the more orthodox and conservative theology, then it suits our argument to pretend that many branches of Pentecostal and charismatic evangelicalism do not exist. (Pat Robertson and Benny Hinn? Who are they? Rick Joyner? Never heard of him.) But when evangelicals are citing explosive church growth as evidence of the rightness of our theology, then the argument doesn’t work without counting every furthest fringe of the Pentecostal and charismatic world — including every faith-healer, prosperity-gospeler or self-proclaimed prophet who ever advertised a conference in the back pages Charisma magazine.

Now, by any meaningful measure, people like Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn cannot be called theologically “conservative.” Nor can Tim LaHaye, Ken Ham, Bob Larson, Bryan Fischer or Cindy Jacobs. But guess what? They’re all evangelicals. We can’t pretend they’re mainliners, that’s for sure.

The truth is that the mainline = liberal, evangelical = conservative framework is hogwash.

The truth is that both strains of American Protestantism include a huge diversity of theological views, with both strains including many people who can aptly be described as “theologically conservative” and both strains including many people who can aptly be described as — well, some are liberal, but even more are just kind of wildly idiosyncratic, Gnostic or freakishly freaky in their theology.

Ellen Painter Dollar is right:

I think many frustrated evangelicals would be amazed (and breathe some huge sighs of relief) to discover that issues that are hot within their circles are non-issues for many other dedicated Christians. And that Christians of an evangelical bent can find a home alongside those other dedicated Christians, even in communities that don’t define themselves overtly as “evangelical.”

  • Robyrt

    This is why I like labeling “Reformed”, “Evangelical” and “Pentecostal” (or “Charismatic”) as three distinct branches of American Protestantism. It’s not just the theological distinctions that Fred points out, it’s the cultural signifiers that are different – the pipe organ vs. drum kit vs. acoustic piano divide, for instance.

  • The_L1985

     I don’t know, I’ve seen pipe organs, drum kits, djembes, and acoustic pianos in Catholic churches, and that’s one denomination.  Sometimes all in the same church.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if that were true of some Protestant denominations as well. ;)

  • Lori

    And don’t forget the a cappella only folks. 

  • Kirala

    I would like the distinction, but attending as I do a PCA church (theologically Reformed, culturally Evangelical, varying degrees of each), I’m not sure how well it applies.

    Although given the examples of PCA members lately highlighted by Fred, I’m not sure I want to admit to my church’s denomination.

  • http://mostboringradical.tumblr.com/ Lori

    From Painter:

    “I think many frustrated evangelicals would be amazed (and breathe some huge sighs of relief) to discover that issues that are hot within their circles are non-issues for many other dedicated Christians. ”

    I was having this discussion with some friends of mine over brunch the other day, two of whom are out, happy LGBT people who attend an evangelical church where the official church teaching is anti-gay.

    I was asking them about this, and why they didn’t, for example, go to an Episcopal Church, where they would be fully, enthusiastically included into church life, as they were?  And their answer was basically, “The music.”  Seriously.  At first I thought it was silly, but who knows?  If music is a way people connect with God, who am I to say that it isn’t a valid consideration in choosing a church?

    I think a lot of people just don’t choose churches based on theology.  They choose them because they like the music, or they like the worship style, or they like the people, or they like the demographic make up of the congregation, or they like the location, or they like the children’s program, or they like the coffee.  

    So I’m just not sure you will convince many liberal-leaning young evangelicals to join mainline denominations, not because they have a theological problem with those denominations, but because they are probably in an evangelical church in the first place because there are specific things they like there–especially contemporary music and worship and a younger demographic–that they probably won’t find in many mainline churches.

  • cminus

    Where do sects like the Quakers, Amish, or Mennonites fit in this schema?  My local Quaker meeting does without pipe organ, drum kit, acoustic piano, or, frequently, sound.

  • PurpleAardvaark

    In this respect, mainline conservative evangelical denominations and congregations are totally in line with Islamic fundamentalists on the need for utter submission to the doctrine as presented by the vest(ment)ed elders.

  • AndrewSshi

     Thanks for this, Fred.

    As another illustration of the fact that the mainline/evangelical distinction doesn’t necessarily hold: I was in a church the other day–Church of Christ no less!–and saw that
    a person had, posted on his office door, a sticker that said “Love
    wins.”  And this Church of Christ was in South mothereffing Carolina.

    I want to throw out something else as well.  I’ve noted that among Anglican and Episcopalian clergy, I’ve encountered what’s often demonized as mainline protestant–”There was nothing supernatural about Jesus and although he died, he lives in us all if we’re working towards social justice and love each other”–among clergy (and laity!) in their fifties, sixties, and seventies. Whereas most Anglican clergy in their thirties and forties generally believe in the Triune God as He appears in the Nicene Creed. 

    And likewise, back in the 70s and 80s, you could still find Southern Baptists who didn’t believe that the life sciences are a Satanic hoax and who were willing to acknowledge that the Pentateuch had composite authorship.

  • http://campuskritik.blogspot.com/ Malte

    John Stott got into hot water for being an annihilationist, though.

  • The_L1985

     It honestly depends, though.  Sometimes the music style is very different between 2 churches of the same denomination in the same town or county.

    Sometimes your job requires you to move into an area that does have the church you want.  If I hadn’t moved down here, I never would have heard of the UU Church, and it really is better for me than the particular brand of Catholicism that I’m used to.

  • The_L1985

    I can understand “Guy delivers sermon without music,” or “Guy delivers sermon without use of sound system,” but…surely there are some sounds?

  • Jim Roberts

    Not necessarily at a Quaker meeting. I’m not completely up on the organization of these meetings, but there isn’t necessarily a leader or pastor present, and there isn’t necessarily any order of events for the meeting. The one meeting I attended, a guy came with a guitar and wanted to show everyone that he’d almost – almost – figured out how to play, “How Sweet The Father’s Love.” Then we all bowed our heads for a bit. Someone spoke from Isaiah for a bit. Someone stood up and sang. Someone read John Donne. Other stuff happened (like me getting introduced).

    There was one guy in the room that everyone sort of looked at towards the end and eventually he stood up, quoted a few verses from Galatians, said a quick prayer and we were out.

    It felt like no time had passed, but it turned out I’d been there for two hours. I have to say, it was quite lovely.

  • Robyrt

     Yeah, I see that more often in the larger, more organized denominations like Catholic and Anglican. Probably due to sorting people geographically as opposed to the standard “pick wherever you feel comfortable” evangelical model.

  • cminus

    I think your confusion began at “Guy delivers sermon…”

    Our local Meeting for Worship follows the practice of Silent Meeting.  Not only is there no music, there’s no sermon.  There’s also no liturgy, and with no sermon and no liturgy there’s no need for clergy either.

    Instead, attendees show up and sit in quiet contemplation.  If someone feels inspired to share something, they are encouraged to do so, but then they sit down and quiet resumes.  Usually over the course of an hour a few people will feel moved to speak, typically for about a minute or two each.  It’s quite possible for an entire meeting to go by in total silence, however, and it’s not considered a problem when that happens.  God doesn’t have to have a public message for the meeting every week.

    I know this practice often sounds strange to outsiders, despite Jesus’s encouragement of silent prayer in Matthew, but among Quakers it’s quite orthodox.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ JarredH

    I’ve never been to a Quaker meeting, but I’ve been fascinated by the communal practice of quiet contemplation ever since I learned about it.

    It’s funny.  I grew up in a Baptist church.  Since becoming a Pagan, the expressions of Christianity that fascinate me are either those who place a greater emphasis on liturgy or those Quakers whose meetings are even less structured.

  • Carstonio

    While Fred obviously knows far more than me about the theological distinctions within evangelism, I suspect the problem is that the L and C labels are political and not theological. Or at least they’re understood that way. Catholicism confounds that categorization because its stance on gender relations is politically conservative while its stance on social and economic issues is politically liberal.

  • Mark Z.

    I attended a Quaker meeting for about a year, and it was run pretty much like that. The only “structured” elements were that we’d sing a few hymns at the beginning, and one guy would close the meeting by shaking his neighbor’s hand, who would then shake their neighbor’s hand, and so on. Most of the meeting was silent, though.

  • Daughter

    I understand the music complaint. I have visited a lot of mainline churches, and honestly, I often find the music boring and the organ too overpowering. The worst part is that because of the slow speed, the pitch, and the organ, I don’t feel like I can join in and sing, which does limit my ability to feel connected to the worship.

    The other problem mainline churches have is a lack of programming for children above the age of, say, five. If your kids don’t want to go to church as children, it’s going to be hard to keep them involved as teens and young adults.

  • Lori

    I was in a church the other day–Church of Christ no less!–and saw that a person had, posted on his office door, a sticker that said “Love
    wins.”  And this Church of Christ was in South mothereffing Carolina.   

    My eyebrows are all the way up in my hairline. Do you think the guy knew what the sticker meant? Could he have been making a general statement of the rather bland “yea love!” variety, rather than supporting the book? Because IME (which includes time in SC) Church of Christ folk are very, very firm believers in hell. Or was it a United Church of Christ?

    Really, I can’t wrap my head around the idea of a Church of Christ that wouldn’t run you out on a rail for supporting Love Wins.

  • Kaoru Negisa

    Ok, I’m a little confused here, so can somebody please explain a distinction to me?

    Fred categorizes people like Pat Robertson and Cindy Jacobs as not “theologically conservative”. Now, as a liberal and an atheist, I’ve always considered their theology to be “conservative” in the sense that it matches with their politics and political conservatives tend to believe their particular brand of nonsense. Is “conservative theology” different and, presumably, polar opposite from conservative politics? I would think the opposite of conservative theology is “radical”, rather than “liberal” theology, but some confirmation or correction would be appreciated.

    It’s not often that I lose the thread of one of Fred’s arguments, but that distinction threw me entirely off.

  • AndrewSshi

     I’m not actually sure–It was the Bell typeface, of that there’s no doubt.  It’s labeled as a Church of Christ, but then, I don’t know the ins and outs because it’s basically folks letting us use the sanctuary for another reason, so I have no idea whose office it is, what motivated him to put the sticker up, etc.  Just an odd sort of data point from the heart of the Bible Belt.

  • The_L1985

    Er…I thought “There’s nothing supernatural about Jesus” was considered heretical by Christianity in general, given that both the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds specifically call Jesus “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.”

    The other things are generally accepted, but the basic tenets of the Creeds have been central to Christianity since the Council of Nicaea.

  • Daughter

     Pentecostals differ from other evangelicals in that they believe the gifts of the Spirit described in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 still exist, whereas a lot of evangelicals believe they died out with the apostles. One of those gifts is prophecy, or letting God speak through you. Thus, if God can still speak through you in the same way God did through the people in the Bible, God might give you a new revelation that’s not in the Bible. As a result, many Pentecostal denominations have some practices and teachings that are pretty far removed from traditional Christianity.

    That doesn’t mean they’re not conservative politically — most Pentecostals are.

  • http://mostboringradical.tumblr.com/ Lori

    I’ve been singing that “mainline churches don’t have sufficient children’s programming” song for a long time.  I understand that resources are limited and that you need, many times, a critical mass of young families before you can actually have the programs, but it does seem–with a lot of exceptions, obviously–that in general evangelical churches have more programs geared toward children and young families than mainline churches.  And that will trump theology/politics for many people.  I can get my atheist-leaning husband to go to services at an evangelical church our friends attend with me, because there’s a nursery for the little ones and Sunday school for the oldest, but he would never go to my liberal liturgical church, because the kids sit with us the whole time.  He’d go anywhere with 90 minutes of free babysitting. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/gndwyn Urthman

    I think in this context, “conservative” means traditional Christian theology without wacky new innovations.    Pat Robertson’s teaching about the end times, his interpretations what he calls “prophecy” in the Bible, his teachings about miracles — a lot of that is not traditional, invented within the last hundred years or so.

  • The_L1985

     Wow.  I’m so used to the traditional order of things in churches* with hymns and recitation of Holy Writ and sermons and the like, that it honestly never occurred to me how much you can diverge from that and still have a non-anarchical church service.  I’ll have to sit in on a Meeting of Friends some time.

    You’d think that a Wiccan, what with the whole “Everyone is a priest/ess” thing, would know better.  I guess this has been my self-humbling exercise for the day! :)

    * And the places of worship of other religions as well–there’s generally  a set formula, and while not everybody adheres slavishly to that order, most folks at least give it lip service.

  • The_L1985

     As I said before, I’m so used to structured worship even among non-organized religions, that I was blind to my own assumptions.  Thank you. :)

  • The_L1985

     Er, there’s a bit of both, at least among Catholics.  My dad has gone to churches based on (but not limited to) the following:

    - Architecture at the other church wasn’t impressive or old-fashioned enough (Dad’s not a fan of modern architecture; I happen to like both Gothic cathedrals and some of the cooler modern stuff)

    - Other church was too liberal (Dad is pre-V2 and very Republican)

    - This church is closer than the other one

    - They don’t play any old hymns (Dad doesn’t mind a mix of classic and contemporary hymns, but by George, there’d better be a “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” or the occasional bit of Latin at least once in a while, or he eventually starts the church-hunt again)

    When the family moved to their current home, we literally spent 2 months going to church after church until we found one that met all of Dad’s criteria.

  • The_L1985

    I really do think that if more churches had a mix of traditional and contemporary stuff in every church service, you’d see a lot more inter-generational mingling.  THAT would keep young folks in church a lot better than the “Youth Service” garbage I keep seeing.

    It’s one thing to say, “On this particular week of the year, the Youth Group is going to pick hymns to sing and do the readings,” and quite another to say “9:00 Traditional, 11:00 Contemporary.”

  • The_L1985

    It’s weird to me that mainline Protestant churches don’t seem to get the whole “Children’s Church” thing.  While teens and older adults should be able to have the same church service, little ones tend to need something a wee bit more relate-able.

    Even Catholic churches at least have cry rooms with stuff for the tiny tots to keep busy with.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Of course, this shell game is not unique to evangelical theology. Political progressives do it to emphasize the gulf between them and political conservatives; conservatives do it to emphasize the gulf between them and liberals; etc. etc. etc. It’s a pretty basic tribal game. I suspect our ancestors were doing some version of this before we developed language to do it with.

    Some of us seem to fear that if we even once allowed ourselves to recognize that the things that unite us are far far more significant than the things we divide us, we would be forevermore changed.

    Which is baseless, of course. For the most part we’re perfectly capable of returning to our habitual patterns, even after that sort of revelation.

  • mud man

    There are plenty of progressive Evangelical theologians, but I don’t know how much that reaches down to local practice. As a post-liberal … oh noes, that’s already a recognized splinter group. Well, I don’t mean them, just mean been there, didn’t like it much, didn’t work for me. Ok for them that do, but I would like to find a progressive congregation that worships in a charismatic/pentecostal style, but so far it’s been Black Swans. (They exist somewhere, no doubt, but not around here.)

  • Hawker40

    “I’ve seen pipe organs, drum kits, djembes, and acoustic pianos in Catholic churches, and that’s one denomination.  Sometimes all in the same church.”

    At the same time?

  • Kaoru Negisa

    I suppose that sort of makes sense. I admit, I’m seeing it through the view of the social beliefs which I thought were pretty traditional (at least a few hundred years old). The prophecy stuff makes sense, though, in being pretty newfangled.

  • VCarlson

    Just to add to the general level of confusion about Quakers, while your experience of hymn singing at the beginning, followed by a period of unstructured silent worship is what my local Meeting does and is what many people think of when they think “Quakers,” that’s not the only flavor. There’s a branch that has ministers, and another that is explicitly Evangelical. All of them are “real” Quakers.

  • Tricksterson

    Yeah, if i was going to be a Christian it would probably be Quaker.  Then again I’ve met Quagans too, pagans who follow the Quaker ethos.

  • The_L1985

    Not all played at the same time, but definitely all present in the sanctuary at once.

    My parents’ current church has:

    - An electric organ (probably would be a pipe organ if the church were old enough)
    - A drum kit
    - A piano
    - A choir (which, admittedly, could use more men)

    And occasionally the following are brought in:
    - Electric guitar (on Teen Choir days)
    - Acoustic guitars
    - Flute
    - Violin

  • Tricksterson

    Which seems to be leading to a rift within the Church itself between those factions who feel that one or the other should be more important.

  • AndrewSshi

     Well, that can be a double-edged sword. Southern Christianity is so very, very natalist and family-oriented that in this part of the world even the Episcopal Church is very, very focused on family and children with all kinds of stuff for parents and their kids. 

    Now then, I’m childless and so my Episcopal church here doesn’t really have anything for someone my age who doesn’t have 2.5 apple-cheeked children. And I suspect that lots of folks who don’t fit the natalist model don’t really feel welcome in a Church that has that as the assumed default.

  • VCarlson

    If your definition of “Christian” is “follower/signatory to the Nicene Creed,” I suppose that’s true. If your definition of “Christian” is “follower of the teachings of Christ,” it’s not necessarily true that one must believe in the divinity of Christ to be a Christian.

  • Kaoru Negisa

    Gotcha. That sort of makes sense. At least I now have a better idea of what Fred is talking about. Thank you.

  • Ben English

     The conservatiove evangelicals’ virtual silence on charismatic hucksters has always confused me. Here we have vile, vicious, evil men like Pat Robertson and Benny Hinn who get broadcasted into millions of homes worldwide, yet in my experience pastors by and large don’t speak out against them. Even in churches whose conservative politics makes them fair-weather allies, the basic facts remains that these people teach basically the opposite of evangelical orthodoxy: Christians are not destined to be persecuted, but to be blessed, awarded by God with RICHES and SUCCESS for saying the right magic words.

    That’s not even remotely compatible with the sotierology and exegesis of Southern Baptists.

  • Lunch Meat

    Now then, I’m childless and so my Episcopal church here doesn’t really
    have anything for someone my age who doesn’t have 2.5 apple-cheeked
    children. And I suspect that lots of folks who don’t fit the natalist
    model don’t really feel welcome in a Church that has that as the assumed
    default.

    Oh yes. The church we attend has maybe 700-800 people. There are four young-ish married couples with no kids, and we all came from the same college and the same church in that college town. It’s very difficult to connect with people there, since even if they’re the same age they’re in a different stage of life. Not only that, but basically all of the church programs are about kids. Unfortunately, the only other church of our denomination nearby is extremely conservative (although the music’s much better IMO) and my husband is not as open as I am to changing denominations.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZJOV5K2ZXCJRHWALX3I6CT2U6U Toujoursdan

    Most of the mainline decline is attributed to demographics. Mainline Christians historically tended to be well educated and urban and were the first to adopt birth control in large numbers.  A recent analysis on the Episcopal Church website pegged the fertility rate for Episcopalians and Presbyterians at 1.3 per couple – way below replacement rate. Evangelical birthrates are now starting to match the mainlines, so it’s expected that the same ageing and membership decline will affect evangelicals in the decades ahead.

    I think both groups  are finding it hard to communicate the Christian message to the unchurched, who I have found take a hyper-literal view of the Bible -  ignoring the different genres of the book or the nature of myth. They view God as an angry, vengeful, capricious, genocidal being; are unable to make sense of either the pre-scientific worldview or the context of the Hebrew moral code, and then throw the baby out with the bathwater. The mainlines don’t seem to provide much guidance on these questions at all, and the conservative evangelicals expect people not to ask such questions. The troubling thing is that as  cultural literacy continues to decline – churched and unchurched people have fewer touchstones in common on which to start a conversation. Until they can overcome this barrier, both mainlines and evangelicals risk  fading away.

  • Christine Rogalsky

     I’ve seen them with the same choir, does that count? Not all the instruments get used every song. (And the folk choirs don’t normally use the organ, the traditional choirs don’t normally use anything but organ, piano, violin, flute).

  • Christine Rogalsky

     Does pipe organ, piano and brass ensemble at the same time count for anything? My husband is Mennonite, and the Easter services are amazing. (I mean, as a Catholic, the music is always intimidating, but Easter is just a knock-your-socks-off service)

  • http://twitter.com/rebelsquirrel Not That Thena

    I think both groups  are finding it hard to communicate the Christian message to the unchurched, who I have found take a hyper-literal view of the Bible -  ignoring the different genres of scripture, or the nature of how myth works. They view God as an angry, vengeful, capricious, genocidal being; are unable to make sense of either the pre-scientific worldview or the context of the Hebrew moral code, and then throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    At the risk of pointing out the obvious, one of the places the unchurched pick that stuff up is from the fundamentalish loudmouths that have taken for themselves the megaphone of public Christianity.

    I have to admit that one of the reasons I starting hanging out here is that Our Host is both an evangelical Christian and a politically progressive decent person, and I was curious as to how this could possibly happen without his head exploding all over the internet.  (Thank you, Fred, for existing in an inconvenient manner, and forcing me to re-examine some long-held assumptions.) 

  • Ellen Painter Dollar

    Thanks for sharing my post, Fred. The comments here are all very interesting as well. A couple of minor points:

    - Music is obviously a significant consideration for some people in choosing their church. My Episcopal church has a very highly regarded music program and there are some people who come to the church first because they hear about the music. Even with such a quality music program, as someone with experience in less liturgical evangelical congregations, I sometimes pine for less structured and formal music…for some good guitar-strumming praise music. That said, I think it’s reasonable to expect that someone who cares about theology and what theology has to say about human relationships and society will make THAT a more important consideration than what kind of music their church has. I have a hard time understanding why someone who considers herself a feminist, for example, would continue attending a church with a strong complementarian marriage stance  largely because she prefers contemporary praise music to organ-accompanied hymns. I think it’s reasonable to expect our fellow Christians to get their priorities straight. (And it’s actually possible to find mainline congregations that mix it up a bit when it comes to music.)

    - I find some of the blanket comments about mainline churches to be a little absurd. Mainline churches don’t do kids’ ministry well? What? There are an awful lot of mainline churches, and each of them does some things well and other things not so well. One of the big reasons we attend the particular Episcopal church we do is that it provides top-notch Christian education from nursery through high school graduation. It does a far better job with kids’ ministry than the nontraditional, progressive evangelical congregation that we attended before joining the Episcopal Church.

  • J-

    Sunday mornings I go out to shoot wild pigs. Mmm, game-bacon.

    Sunday afternoons are D&D.

  • PJ Evans

    I often find the music boring and the organ too overpowering.

    Having grown up in a Methodist church where after a few years we got an organist who was a professional, we no longer had that kind of problem. Consider Old 100 sung to ‘Hernando’s Hideaway’…. (Some of the best hymns are stand-up-and-belt-it numbers. If they’re slow and draggy, ‘UR DOIN IT RONG’.)


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