There's no doubt that religion in America is a fascinating topic of study, what with its cycles and its larger-than-life personalities. The time we're in right now is, as it has been, both the same and different.
In 2005, two congregations left the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). In 2006, three churches departed.
But the floodgates have lifted since then as decades-old tensions between liberals and conservatives have reached breaking points.
The goal of following Jesus has never been the kind of growth that satisfies the ecclesiastical bean counters anyway; it's about doing what you believe -- were he to find himself in the same position -- Jesus might do.
If mainline denominations have taken a nosedive in membership, money, and influence (which they have), and if you want a chance to figure out why (which I do), it seems like a good thing to start looking at the age demographic where the losses have been heaviest.
Six years ago at the AAR/SBL it amazed me that no one was talking about declining participation in American Christianity. Now I feel like we are part of a larger conversation about how the church can reach a new generation.
What is in store for the Mainline Protestant churches, as well as for the more evangelical, fundamentalist, and/or charismatic Protestant denominations and independent churches? Reason might suggest that both groups should move a little to the religious middle.
Bell doesn't have to call himself a liberal or anything else, short of lover of Jesus. But it might be wise to reach out in a new way to people who have been his partners even before he preached his first sermon.
Christianity often forgets that our main man was a single, 30-something-year-old man. While his family was still a part of his life, his central support system was his friends and followers. So why is there such a large disconnect between single young adults and Mainline Protestantism?
I've always felt we religiously unaffiliated "Nones" were a tiny minority. But here we are, surging in an America that's been steeped in religious dogma, where Republican politics has been overrun by zealots hellbent on controlling women's bodies and discriminating against gays.
We talk a lot about the power of the religious right to negatively influence the fate of LGBT civil rights, but we are talking about the wrong religious right there. What LGBT people need now is not more of the religious right.
The U.S. religious landscape is shifting, and no one may be more thankful than GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney. The spread of Latter-day Saints across the nation has paved the way for a Romney run.
The point is not that Televangelists are scoundrels, or that many Christian pastors are hypocrites, but that these grand ministry failures represent examples of what many mainstream churches have, in desperation, come to believe is relevant.
The future is uncertain, but I'm convinced that there is a future for the essence of mainline Christianity -- a healthy, meaningful future that will continue to play a role both in society and in the hearts and minds of individuals.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has worked on the behalf of the poverty issues, civil rights, elderly rights, environmental causes, and feminist issues. Now, that yarn is rainbow colored, and we intend to prevail in this struggle as well.
It seems that once the issue of gay clergy has been resolved, usually after decades of wrangling, the denominations (or what's left of them, anyway) begin to experience a new freedom and energy to pursue their mission.