Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Catholic News Agency: Liberal Christianity is disintegrating, says Catholic columnist

Washington DC, Jul. 11, 2006 (CNA) - Liberal Christianity is disintegrating and it is evident in the accelerated fragmentation of the Episcopal Church USA, says Charlotte Allen, author and Catholicism editor of Beliefnet.

“All the mainline churches and movements within churches that have blurred doctrine and softened moral precepts are demographically declining and, in the case of the Episcopal Church, disintegrating,” says Allen in a July 9th, editorial.

The breakdown of the Anglican Church in the United States isn't simply about homosexual bishops, same-sex unions or the election of a woman as presiding bishop, she says.

Rather, she argues, it indicates the near-end to an almost 40-year movement within all mainline Protestant denominations that has presented liberal Christianity as the future of the Christian church.

“When a church doesn't take itself seriously, neither do its members,” she states.

Allen points to the demographics as evidence. In 1960, members of mainline churches - Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Lutherans - accounted for 40 percent of all American Protestants. Today, this demographic is down to 12 percent or 17 million people.

More specifically, there were 3.4 million Episcopalians in 1965; now, there are 2.3 million. The number of Presbyterians fell from 4.3 million in 1965 to 2.5 million today.

While some of the decline is due to lower birthrates, “it also is clear that millions of mainline adherents, and especially their children, have simply walked out of the pews never to return,” Allen states.

Allen also refers to the work of sociologist Rodney Stark and historian Philip Jenkins. Both contend that the more demands that a faith places upon its adherents, the deeper the adherents' commitment to that faith. These types of churches are growing robustly, both in the United States and around the world, Allen states.

As an example, Allen points to the Southern Baptist church, which currently numbers 16 million members.

Allen also noted the 21-year-old Christ Church Episcopal in Plano, Texas, which is one of the largest Episcopal churches in the country, averaging 2,200 Sunday worshipers weekly. Christ Church broke its ties with the more liberal national Episcopal Church USA, desiring instead, to stick to its traditional gospel values. Now, Christ Church is one of the few Episcopal churches in the country which is growing.

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