The reports of our death are greatly exaggerated

Writing for USA Today, Oliver Thomas: sees signs of life in mainline Protestant churches:

As I survey the religious landscape (for more than a dozen years I served as counsel to some of America’s largest Protestant groups), I sense a growing energy — if not membership rolls — among these more liberal Protestant churches. Part of that energy could be because Protestants are developing an identity that jibes with what matters to young people. Take the issue of gay rights, for example. Lutherans, Episcopalians and the United Church of Christ have broken down the barriers for openly gay and lesbian clergy.Presbyterians and Methodists are likely to follow suit. This willingness to reject the authority of biblical passages condemning homosexuality — as Protestant churches did with similar passages on slavery and the role of women — will appeal to a younger generation who see gay marriage as a non-issue and accept their gay and lesbian classmates for who they are — not what some Christians want them to be.

A similar point can be made about Protestants’ growing commitment to global stewardship. Young people care about the environment. It’s where they have to live after we gray-heads catch the glory train. The biblical call for responsible global stewardship is also likely to draw young people back into the fold. Then, there’s the fact that these churches seem to get the connection between peacemaking and poverty. Remember Micah, the Old Testament prophet who foretold a time when nations would “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks”? That happens, says Micah, when each person shall sit under his own vine and fig tree. In other words, there can be no lasting peace until each person has the opportunity to partake in the world’s prosperity.

Teenagers get this. They line up at my church to volunteer to build Habitat houses, serve meals and go on all sorts of mission trips. The churches that can help members tap into the joy that comes from service to others are churches with a future.

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One Comment
  1. Excellent. But we need to do much more in this area, including the greening of all our churches in a public and deliberate way. Start with small steps – a Blessing of the Compost Heap, a Festival of Compact Fluorescence, including public education, vendors and kids’ activities – and take it from there. How about Do-It-Yourself Water Conservation Workshops?

    Why, a diocese could even declare Paint Your Church Doors Green for Trinity Sunday; that would generate a lot of talk in the neighborhood. Make a video, invite the media…

    Do not leave the public portrayal of Christianity to the loudmouths.

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