Wednesday, July 26, 2006

How to fight the right

Your blogstress has a new essay posted at The American Prospect Online that offers a suggestion for how to do just that.


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Religious left: still here

Reader Steve Bartin asks:

How does the religious left overcome the fact that it has lost over half its' membership since 1980? While the RR has grown? What went wrong with the RL?
Well, √Čtienne, mon ami, your blogstress must dispute your analysis that "religious left" has lost half its membership since 1980. A certain group of churches -- mostly mainline Protestant denominations -- may have lost a number of congregants, but to contend that they make up the whole of the "religious left" is a mistake. And they have lost no where near to half.

Because of the querant's lack of specificity, your cybertrix presumes that he refers to the much-vaunted membership drop in the mainline Protestant churches, a group comprising the Episcopal Church USA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA.

While all but the Presbyterians have suffered losses, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives, the losses suffered by the others since 1989 range between 4 and 20 percent:
Episcopal Church USA

1980 2,786,004

2000 2,333,327

Loss: 452,677

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

1980 5,384,271*

2001 5,099,877

Loss: 284,294

*Comprising Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, Lutheran Chruch in America and the American Lutheran Church, which merged in 1988 to the present-day Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Presbyterian Church USA

1980 3,262,086**

2001 3,455,952

Increase: 193,866

**Comprising United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and Presbyterian Church in the US, which merged in 1983.

United Methodist Church

1980 9,519,407

2001 8,298,145

Loss: 1,221,262

United Church of Christ

1980 1,736,244

2001 1,359,105

Loss: 377,139

Although it is fashionable to attribute these drop-offs to the liberal actions of the main church bodies (with regard to acceptance of gay and lesbian people, ordination of women, support for affirmative action, immigrant rights and a woman's right to choose), a greater use of birth control among women in the liberal congregations when compared to their conservative and right-wing counterparts seems to have had the most profound effect on membership numbers in the mainline churches, where populations are showing their age.

The rest, I believe, can be chalked up to the fact that we live in a time of great change and great fear, and the mainline churches rarely offer the worshipper a visceral experience of the divine in the same way that evangelical and Pentecostal churches do. Nor do they offer scapegoats -- gays, immigrants, blacks, uppity women -- on which to hang those fears.

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