From Pine View Farm

Changing Religions 1

A couple of weeks ago, there was a big furor about a report on American religious leanings. Radio Times devoted an hour to it. From the website:

America’s changing religious landscape. We talk with GREG SMITH one of the principal authors of the latest “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Some of the trends it found include: Protestants are becoming a minority, Catholicism is becoming heavily Hispanic, and more people are saying they’re not affiliated with any religion.

(To hear the show, go to the website and search for the February 28, 2008, show or listen here.)

On top of that, the local rag–not the one I subscribe to, because I want a paper with more than five minutes of content; the other one–had a story today about persons looking for compatible churches.

There are certainly big changes in the religious make-up of the United States, big changes driven by demographic changes.

Nevertheless, I believe that the much of the fuss was overdone. Much was said about members of Protestant denominations changing from one denomination to another. That is really No Big Deal.

I was raised a Southern Baptist. Leaving aside that the Sourthern Baptist Convention has, in recent years, abandoned one of its core tenets (freedom of religion) and fallen into the hands of the Pharisees, when I was looking for a new church in this part of the world, I really didn’t care what denomination it might be. The doctrinal differences among the main line Protestant denominations are really very very minor.

What I looked for was a congregation in which I could feel comfortable. The congregation I found happened to be Methodist.

The fact that Methodists believe in infant baptism and Baptists believe in baptism of the believer upon profession of faith really is not a deal breaker. (Since infants are incapable of professing faith, infant baptism, is, well, how should I put this? scripturally insupportable.)

Baptists also believe in priesthood of the believer, which means I can attend this Methodist church and discount those tenets of Methodism which, as a good Baptist, I find not to have a solid theological basis.

Here’s my point.

It’s really no big deal when Protestants move between denominations. It’s not worth making up trends and theories. Such movement is likely to have more to do with the atmosphere of the local congregation than it is to have to do with doctrinal disagreements, since, frankly, most Protestants don’t know much of anything about doctrine (If they did, the Donald Wildmons of the world would never get traction, but that’s another story). That’s just the way it is.

It’s a little bigger deal when Protestants become Catholics or Ukrainian Orthodox or vice versa, but only a little bigger. It’s still the same tent.

As far as I am concerned, the findings of the report in question were grossly overbown.


1 comment

  1. Opie

    March 17, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    A few observations from my experiences:

    1. If someone disagrees deeply with what is said from the pulpit, they will leave. This includes, but is not confined to, theology.

    2. If their disagreement is only moderate, they will stay for a number of other reasons. Theological issues take a pretty low priority in how Americans these days choose their churches. Worship style ranks much higher. So do the programs and activities that occur outside the sanctuary.

    3. What you believe theologically, and what church you go to, is most heavily influenced by what church you were in as a child, if you were in one at all.

    4. What church you were in as a child is predicted mostly reliably by your ethnic background. Italians are mostly Catholic. Germans are heavily Lutheran. Dutch are Reformed.

    5. The real story is that the denominations we do have are probably not forever etched in stone. The two big facets of this are the rise of the non-denominational megachurch and the "emergent church" movement.

    Question: Is the lifestyle that a church calls its people to a theological issue?