Over Duke’s Call & Response Blog, sociologist Mark Chaves has posted an interesting graph and some reflections on it. American politics has become more polarized of late, and sociologists attribute that not to a change a people’s viewpoints, but to the fact that the two political parties have placed hot button issues at the center of their agendas, thus forcing the electorate to once side or another.
Chaves wondered if, in the three mainline denominations dealing with homosexuality, the same thing was happening. And, sure enough, it is.
In short, it seems that in the Episcopal Church, the PC(USA), and the ELCA, churches that lean in the conservative direction on homosexuality may have been pushed by national developments within these denominations to declare themselves to be more theologically conservative, even though their views may not have become more conservative over the last decade. If people within a denomination now are more likely to sort themselves into congregations based on those congregations’ stand on homosexuality, this could produce fewer churches with theologically middle-of-the-road identities. If churches are forced to choose sides on an issue, people will be more likely to choose churches based on which side they are on.
For me, that produces some sadness. The church in which I was reared, and then served for seven years, was a yellow church. “We’re centrist,” I heard from the pulpit several times when I was a pastor there, “Not the mushy middle, but centered on Christ and not thrown off course by one theological topic or another.” And yet, I know that the pastor who preached that and the one who followed him were both asked the litmus test question, “What do you think about gays?” during the interview process.
That church is, once again, searching for a senior minister. And, if Chaves is right about there being less centrist mainline churches, I bet there are also less centrist clergy candidates from which to choose.