Sunday, September 10, 2017

All Are Welcome, Really

One article headline caught my attention several months ago in the Christian Science Monitor: "Church revival? More liberals are filling Protestant pews". It was a jarring headline because it countered what everyone knew: Mainline Protestant Churches like the Episcopal and the Presbyterians were once associated with the Protestant Work Ethic, the Republican Party at Prayer, and the WASP establishment. After the 1970's, those churches took a leftward turn in theology and outreach, religious non-affiliation increased, and church membership declined.

Coincidentally, church-goers were returning to tradition: Jews turning to orthodoxy, Evangelicals embracing sacraments, and Catholics saying old prayers. Church attendance has become correlated with conservative views, a Pew Research poll will tell you. This may be a result of decades of culture wars, with Evangelicalism as the loudspeaker and Catholicism as the library; the pastoral aspects of Christian life, though always present, falling to the background. Talk Radio and ballot boxes made being a "good" Christian easy; Pope Francis made a few Catholics uncomfortable when he reminded us about the importance of charitable work. It was not specifically a call to increase the 2.5% quarter-tithe American citizens give to charity, on average; but a call to open one's heart, showing a bit more compassion in the ruthless world.

So what is the appeal of a progressive, liberal church to the "Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving"(1)  demographic? You may have heard of the "Third Place" idea; a place you spend time away from home and work. Starbucks wants you to make their stores your "Third Place" and many people do.
But people need a sense of community in addition to a sense of belonging in a "Third Place", and this community is what draws some people to those churches that hang rainbow flags and "Black Lives Matter" signs.

While traditional churches tended to focus on spiritual matters over earthly ones; progressive churches talk to issues that matter to progressives. With the new administration in the White House, some fear a return to the politically alienating days of corporate welfare and moral Pharisees. There is a bit of racial strife, and this year there are geopolitical crises that force people out of effete complacency. North Korea's nuclear missile program. Human rights violations in Syria.
Inclement weather from fires in the Western States to hurricane flooding in the tax havens of Texas and Florida. The need for a feeling of togetherness in these times might compel some progressives to take their Sunday morning coffee in the parish hall instead of Starbucks.

(1) Credits to Geoffrey Nunberg