The study details new statistics on religion in America and exposes the shifts taking place in the U.S. religious landscape.
One of the findings was this; mainline Protestantism is declining.
This means the numbers of Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptists are shrinking.
The White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) era is coming to a close.
Taking its place in the intellectual/cultural landscape is a rising population of Evangelical churches. These folks have a far different vision for America than we enjoyed from Protestantism.
A few of the differences:
- Governance: Mainline Protestants are governed by Bishops, Presbyters, Regional Ministers and Supervisors. Evangelical churches, while “in communion” with each other, are independent in theology and practice.
- Professional Scrutiny: Mainline clergy (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist etc.) are regularly held accountable for their theology and practice. Evangelical leaders, due to the absence of governance, practice under the scrutiny of their congregational leaders and members.
- Standards: Since they enjoy no denominational scrutiny, Evangelical churches are not governed by standards, best practices or monitoring, as are mainline Protestant churches.
- Theology: Protestants are trinitarians – seeing God in three articles of faith – the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Evangelicals focus upon Jesus and theological interpretations of the sacrifice of the Christ.
- MORE Theology: Protestant theology provides room for mystery, questioning of authority and the practice of conscience. Evangelicals seek answers to the hard, religious questions of our times and require adherence to agreed-upon principles.
- The End Times: Evangelicals believe salvation comes through submission to the authority of Jesus Christ. Without submission the believer is damned. They believe the end of the age is near and the reign of Christ is imminent. Protestants vary in their approach to eschatology, and stress living each day aligned with the principles of the faith.
- Women, Gays, Lesbians, Single Folks and Sexuality: Evangelicals believe in the sanity of heterosexual marriage, the importance of traditional family values and the central ideals inherent in male-led households. Protestants ordain women, minister to single families, Some denominations allow the celebration of civil wedding ceremonies for gays and lesbians.
- Separation of Church and State: Evangelicals seek inroads to government influence and welcome state sanction for their practices. They are the instigators of the faith-based initiatives funded first by the Bush administration and now by the Obama administration. Protestants adhere to the separation principles of the United States Constitution. Fiercely independent, mainline Protestant churches have a history of shielding their theologies and practices from government interference and support.
So, do you care about this?
You should. Sociologist and cultural historian Max Weber identified Protestantism as a critical to our national personality in his 1905 text, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Weber’s analysis connected the dots between the Protestant theology emphasis on hard work, the steady rise of capital and the growth of our nation.
In essence, WASPS created the American dream, pushed capitalism to its limits, and created the society we currently enjoy.
Love them or hate them, the WASPS have changed the world.
So – what now?
Will the Evangelical influence continue on the same path? Will Evangelicals create an American committed to compassion, freedom, forgiveness and generosity? How will the next stage of capitalism be influenced by the Evangelical theologies? And will a nation, dominated by Evangelical belief systems make us a better people?
What do you think?