(Christian Century) Amy Frykholm—David Hollinger on what the mainline achieved

Posted by Kendall Harmon

We’ve become so accustomed to the narrative of “mainline decline” that it is difficult to get our minds around a more nuanced version of this story. How do you tell this story?
The ecumenical leaders achieved much more than they and their successors give them credit for. They led millions of American Protestants in directions demanded by the changing circumstances of the times and by their own theological tradition. These ecumenical leaders took a series of risks, asking their constituency to follow them in antiracist, anti-imperialist, feminist and multicultural directions that were understandably resisted by large segments of the white public, especially in the Protestant-intensive southern states.

It is true that the so-called mainstream lost numbers to churches that stood apart from or even opposed these initiatives, and ecumenical leaders simultaneously failed to persuade many of their own progeny that churches remained essential institutions in the advancement of these values.

But the fact remains that the public life of the United States moved farther in the directions advocated in 1960 by the Christian Century than in the directions then advocated by Christianity Today. It might be hyperbolic to say that ecumenists experienced a cultural victory and an organizational defeat, but there is something to that view. Ecumenists yielded much of the symbolic capital of Christianity to evangelicals, which is a significant loss. But ecumenists won much of the U.S. There are trade-offs.
Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)* Christian Life / Church LifeChurch History* Culture-WatchHistoryReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAmerica/U.S.A.* Religion News & CommentaryEcumenical RelationsOther ChurchesEvangelicalsLutheranMethodistPresbyterianUnited Church of Christ

Posted August 8, 2012 at 4:00 pm

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The URL for this article is http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/44332/

1. driver8 wrote:

1. There’s a certain bravado in identifying Bishop Pike as a model of successful, faithful Christian leadership.

2. If one’s criterion of success is coherence with the changing mores of society then the mainline Protestant keenness for eugenics up to the 1930s might look to be amongst their significant triumphs of the twentieth century. Surprising not to see it mentioned in the article…

August 8, 7:34 pm | [comment link]
2. Paula Loughlin wrote:

From the article. “Ecumenical Protestants were way ahead of the evangelicals in accepting a role for sex beyond procreation and in supporting an expanded role for women in society.”

The role of sex beyond procreation was not a new concept.  What was new was the acceptance that the separation of the unitive and procreative natures of sex through the use of contraceptives could be done within a Christian moral framework.

It is, in my opinion, the acceptance of this that lead ti “Ecumenical Protestant” churches accepting abortion and homosexual unions. 


August 9, 9:20 am | [comment link]
3. Albany+ wrote:

Another aging hippie who can’t see the writing on the wall or own the damage caused by his generation’s using of the “institutional church” like a wash rag.

August 9, 10:41 am | [comment link]
4. Terry Tee wrote:

Driver8 I was fascinated by your second example of which I was unaware.  Could you briefly give examples?

August 9, 12:09 pm | [comment link]
5. Terry Tee wrote:

# 1 my apologies for my confusing double usage of the word example.  I simply meant to ask if you could give me some more information.

August 9, 12:11 pm | [comment link]
6. driver8 wrote:

“Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement” by Christine Rosen.

August 9, 1:12 pm | [comment link]
7. High_Church wrote:

This might be one of the smuggest and delusional pieces I read in quite a while.
“They led millions of American Protestants in directions demanded by the changing circumstances of the times and by their own theological tradition.”
Retranslated: “They led millions of American Protestants into heresy and hell, folding to the pressure of the world and abandoning their theological tradition.”
I think someone should mail David Hollinger a millstone so he can get started on hanging it around his neck and jumping into the sea.
I also love this line as well: “It is true that the so-called mainstream lost numbers to churches that stood apart from or even opposed these initiatives.”  In light of the fact that his first “initiative” was antiracism, I suppose that means that the flight to evangelical Christ-centered churches was, at least in part, motivated by racism? 
I have no delusions that this probably happened in some cases, but to assert this as a substantive cause is unbelievably absurd.

August 9, 2:59 pm | [comment link]

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