Sunday select

The loss of Christendom

The loss of Christendom gives us a joyous opportunity to reclaim the freedom to proclaim the gospel in a way in which we cannot when the main social task of the church is to serve as one among many helpful props for the state.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens. Hauerwas is one of a handful of Protestants who can still stir my Orthodox soul.

Evangelicals who by some accounts (see below) are grieving their loss of political power should take heart at this, too. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Make a virtue of necessity.

Futile persuasion

… you can’t fact-check, plead, or argue a person out of a conspiracy, because you’re trying to fact-check, plead, and argue them out of their community.

David French, Lost Friendships Break Hearts and Nations

The great Evangelical collapse

Why

This is something I never thought I’d say. According to this landscape report, there are more Americans who are white mainline protestants (16%) than there are Americans who are white evangelicals (14%).

What accounts for this? There is no new big influx into the mainline churches. Most of their gain seems to be coming from those who had left the mainline community for the evangelical community years ago, but who are simply returning to the church of their upbringing.

The decline of white evangelicals seems mostly to result from the larger changing demographics of America. This is obvious. There is an irreversible change from a white majority to a plurality of ethnicities in the country. This is happening no matter what one thinks about immigration or voting policies.

But there is another factor that has contributed to the decline. When Dean Kelly wrote his book in 1972, the evangelical community was focussed upon concrete “Biblical lifestyle issues.” Since then, the focus has broadened to involvement in political, partisan issues and the “culture wars” — the very sort of involvement that Kelly had blamed for mainline decline 50 years before.

Now it seems that the chickens have come home to roost. The Pew report of 2019 observed that it was just because of explicit political partisanship that many young adults are leaving the evangelical community, most likely landing squarely in the “unaffiliated” category.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias, the cost of partisanship

Wherefore

In addition to shrinking as a share of the population, white evangelicals were also the oldest religious group in the United States, with a median age of 56. “It’s not just that they are dying off, but it is that they’re losing younger members,” Jones told me. As the group has become older and smaller, Jones said, “a real visceral sense of loss of cultural dominance” has set in.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”

… white evangelicals probably aren’t wrong to fear that their children are getting away from them. As their numbers have shrunk and as they’ve grown more at odds with younger Americans, said Jones, “that has led to this bigger sense of being under attack, a kind of visceral defensive posture, that we saw President Trump really leveraging.”

I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so. It didn’t take long for the cocky optimism of Generation Joshua to give way to the nihilism of the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.

Michelle Goldberg, ‌The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It

I wouldn’t bet too much on Goldberg’s construal of QAnon, but she may have gotten into it (for professional reasons only) more deeply than I.

Hymns, east and west

As I approached the Orthodox Church almost 25 year ago, I was astonished at how different it was in “feel” from anything I’d previously encountered. Timothy (Now Bishop Kallistos) Ware provides a glimpse:

Orthodox feel thoroughly at home in the language of the great Latin hymn by Venantius Fortunatus (530 – 609), Pange lingua, which hails the Cross as an emblem of victory: Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle, Sing the ending of the fray; Now above the Cross, our trophy, Sound the loud triumphal lay: Tell how Christ, the world’s redeemer, As a victim won the day. They feel equally at home in that other hymn by Fortunatus, Vexilla regis: Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old: Among the nations God, said he, Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree. But Orthodox feel less happy about compositions of the later Middle Ages such as Stabat Mater: For His people’s sins, in anguish, There she saw the victim languish, Bleed in torments, bleed and die: Saw the Lord’s anointed taken; Saw her Child in death forsaken; Heard His last expiring cry.

The Orthodox Church

Expounding that glimpse is above my pay grade, but I’m pretty confident that it reflects a non-Anselmian view of atonement by us Orthodox (which is also a reason why most Protestant writers on religion leave me cold).


You can read most of my more impromptu stuff at here. It should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly, should you want to make a habit of it.

UPDATE: A premier sociologist of religion is not buying that mainline Protestants now outnumber Evangelicals. He explains why here.

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