23 Comments

"When people call the mainline 'liberal,' they must mean theologically. Because to say that the average mainline Protestant’s politics are left of center is empirically false."

I think liberal theology is correlated with politics, but not perfectly. I suspect there are a lot more people on the political right who are essentially liberal in their (admittedly fuzzy) personal theology than people on the political left who are essentially orthodox/conservative/traditional.

My understanding of the Mainline is that it gets more liberal as you go up the pyramid; the clergy are more theologically AND politically liberal than the congregation, and the denominational bureaucracy (and the seminaries) tend to be more theologically and politically liberal still.

The political gap between TEC and PCUSA/ELCA is curious. Particularly because the conservative alternatives to PCUSA/ELCA are much larger, in relative terms, than conservative Anglicanism is, so it's easier for conservatives to flee those denominations without much change in liturgy than to flee TEC.

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An important factor in this change is that the Democrat party used to be a very mixed party. Now it is overwhelmingly Left.

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". . .many individuals in these progressive congregations lack the capacity to actively participate in causes they believe in."

Can you elaborate on this sometime? Are you thinking of a lack of skills, funding, infrastructure, people, or all of the above?

Kudos on the article.

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Agrees with my experience. In the 50s and 60s you could safely assume that a Catholic was a Democrat. Protestants were more overlapping but mostly R.

These categories would look less complicated if the base variable is caste.

Before 1980, D was poor and R was rich. In the 80s the parties swapped castes. Religions are just labels attached to caste. The rich religions moved from R to D and the poor religions moved from D to R.

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I'm wondering if the United Church of Christ is too small to make the chart. I would guess we are closer to the Episcopal Church splits, maybe even more liberal. I would love to see this correlated with charts of growing vs. declining congregations. In the UCC, churches who lean into being open to GLBTQ seem to be growing. Those who stand for little are shrinking.

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Perhaps the Democrats over the last 50 years are a bit like Shakers who cannot reproduce themselves. At one time they could take new people in, and still can. In the 1950-2010 era this was done by sending people to college, moving them from the small towns to larger urban centers where those college graduates became what George Packer of The Atlantic termed Smart America, and by civil rights laws that expanded the franchise to people who didn't have it before. But once the in-migration stops, or at least stalls, the ability to generate political descendants internally becomes more important. To some extent the churches have been able to do this, though even there, membership in the church and loyalty of those members is more fragile than it once was, though they have transformed the churches as well. The litmus test is less faith, noble deeds, or generosity but loyalty to leadership and doctrine. When Stephen Covey published his 7 Habits in the 1980s, he devoted an opening chapter to where different types of people offer their personal focus. The worst outcomes fell to what Prof Covey termed Church Centered and Enemy Centered, people who basically ceded their autonomy to either what the authority told them to do or adapted their behavior to what their enemy was up to. You see some of that consequence as voting takes that form. There is a struggle for control of the government. Control of science, commerce, the arts, technological advancement, and pretty much anything else people go to college to acquire a seat at that table seems to be leaving religious loyalty behind and proceeding unimpeded as the tussle for control of political power becomes more of a sideshow.

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I think it is indeed a very interesting question- where can progressive movements draw inspiration from? It's true when you look at the Progressive Movement, Civil Rights Movement Mainline Protestantism was key, though also there were Jews and Catholics (Rabbis and Priests) that were also in the forefront. New Age has been long coopted into corporate culture, but people still need transcendence.

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Thank you for helping us navigate this changing landscape. As the categories of liberal and conservative seem increasingly unhelpful, I wonder what new vocabulary might support clarity. For example, I appreciate the Cardinal Newman Society's reference to "faithful" Catholic education: faithful to historic understanding of morality and committed to formation in practice. It would be nice to be able to distinguish between the politically conservative who go to church because it is socially expedient and those who (like the PhD students who identify as Evangelical that you wrote about recently) more likely engage in costly discipleship.

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Definition of "extinct" = no longer existing (Miriam Webster Dictionary)

vs.

"It wouldn't be surprising if the percentage of white Christian Democrats falls into the single digits within the next 10-15 years."

The data speaks for itself without the clickbait title...

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Thanks for the "like." I often wonder if I'm being too much of a social historian (MA in Am Soc and Cul History) and not theology based.

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I think this post points to a need for a church that works at being non-partisan politically. I think this happens on the Left and the Right, where there is an assumption of the kind of people (politically speaking) who go to this church. There is an assumption of belonging if you have share the not-so-thinly-veiled political leaning. Is it possible for a church to rise above the appearance of partisanship I wonder?

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I'm a social historian....so tend to hunt for context in whatever is happening.....that is the context (lens) through which I now look at (something I never really did) politics today.

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Obama in the primary made his "bitter clinggers" coment speaking to Democrats. He was talking about the Democrats he wanted the party free of.

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