The rub for many progressive Christians, though, is that Jesus' radical inclusion didn't stop with the marginalized, but also extended to the privileged. Zacchaeus, for instance, had no shortage of wealth and power. He was a tax collector and a collaborator with the Roman Empire, and therefore lived quite a privileged life. Jesus went to his house, not preaching condemnation, but offering grace. Zacchaeus's response was to give away half of his money and pay back those whom he had defrauded fourfold, but this wasn't transactional. The forgiveness was preemptive. Those of us who would argue for radical inclusivity must wrestle with that part of Jesus' challenge as well: to deal compassionately and lovingly with those who find it hard to empathize with the marginalized, as Jesus modeled for us. It may well be that this kind of faithfulness will continue to convince and convert skeptics on both sides of the contentious issues facing contemporary mainline churches, and even outside of them.
And what is the other alternative? If churches address the third concern listed by Mr. Smith -- the limited demographic that describes mainline Protestantism -- if we reach out and broaden our definitions of "us," then those trends may reverse. In the end, though, it is not the numbers that most concern me. The work of the church is not to be big, but to be faithful.
Read more articles on the future of the mainline Protestant church here.
David LaMotte is the Associate for Peace at the North Carolina Council of Churches. He has performed 2000 concerts worldwide as a singer/songwriter, and is also a speaker, workshop leader, children's book author, and founder of PEG Partners, a non-profit that funds building and educational projects at schools and libraries in Guatemala. He holds a master's degree in International Relations, Peace and Conflict Resolution from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, where he studied as a Rotary World Peace Fellow, and a B.A. in Psychology from James Madison University, which named him a ‘Madison World Changer.'
www.nccouncilofchurches.org (NC Council)