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Very interesting commentary on the future of Christianity February 8, 2010

Posted by Tantumblogo in General Catholic, Society.

I found this article at First Things  to be very thought-provoking, and I agree with some of the suppositions presented.   As I have often related, I come from a protestant background.  Episcopalian, to be exact.  My parents are still in the Episcopal church, and it has pained them, and me, to see the ongoing dissolution of that fabled American church.   The First Things author, Mary Eberstadt, sees something more substantial happening:

Even so, it is the still longer run of Christian history whose outlines may now be most interesting and unexpected of all. Looking even further out to the horizon from our present moment—at a vista of centuries, rather than mere decades, ahead of us—we may well begin to wonder something else. That is, whether what we are witnessing now is not only the beginning of the end of the Anglican Communion but indeed the end of something even larger: the phenomenon of Christianity Lite itself.
By this I mean the multifaceted institutional experiment, beginning but not ending with the Anglican Communion, of attempting to preserve Christianity while simultaneously jettisoning certain of its traditional teachings—specifically, those regarding sexual morality. Surveying the record to date of what has happened to the churches dedicated to this long-running modern religious experiment, a large historical question now appears: whether the various exercises in this specific kind of dissent from traditional teaching turn out to contain the seeds of their own destruction. The evidence—preliminary but already abundant—suggests that the answer is yes.
If this is so, then the implications for the future of Christianity itself are likely to be profound. If it is Christianity Lite, rather than Christianity proper, that is fatally flawed and ultimately unable to sustain itself, then a rewriting of much of contemporary thought, religious and secular, appears in order. It means that secularization itself may be fundamentally misunderstood. It means that the most unwanted and unfashionable traditional teaching of Christianity, its sexual moral code, demands of the modern mind a new and respectful look. As a strategic matter, it also means that the current battle within the Catholic Church between traditionalists and dissenters must go to the traditionalists, lest the dissenters or cafeteria Catholics take the same path that the churches of Christianity Lite have followed: down, down, down.

First, I don’t know if ‘Christianity Lite’ is the term I would have chosen – it has some negative connotations and I’m not sure it captures the difference in opinion between those of a more progressive mindset, and those who are more traditional.  However, the author has some salient points.  Christian Churches are today divided by questions of sexual morals more than perhaps any issue.  And, within the Catholic Church, there is probably more division based on issues like the impossibility of ordaining women, the inherent evil of abortion and contraception, and the problem of divorce than on any other issues.  From debating fellow Catholics, I know the issues that really stir the blood of the progressives are not theories of justification and transubstantiation, but issues of sexual ethics. 

I think it fair to say that the recent history of the ‘mainline’ protestant churches has not been a happy one.  While they continue to embrace a more and more liberal view of sexual morality, they are bleeding to death.  The only churches which have suffered a greater loss of membership than the Catholic Church, percentage-wise, are the mainline protestant churches.  The United Methodists have fallen from almost 11 million in 1970 to less than 8 million today – a 30% decline.   The Episcopal Church peaked at about 3.7 million in 1966 and has fallen to less than 2 million today – almost a 50% decline.  The Presbyterians, Lutherans, and others have all recorded similar declines.  In some of these churches, including the Episcopal and Lutherans, much of the most recent loss in membership is due to more conservative ecclesial communities breaking away from their parent church due to disagreement over the liberal sexual views of that church.  The Anglicans are certainly the most well known example of this, but the breakaways are happening in almost every ‘mainline’ protestant denomination.

But this doesn’t explain all the loss.   As Ms. Eberstadt describes in great detail, once a Church gives way on one issue of sexual morality (take your pick), the ability to hold the line on any other issue rapidly disintegrates.  As has been demonstrated historically, it is a very short walk from allowing contraception in extreme cases (lack of money, too many kids, etc) to having significant portions of your church pushing for, indeed making a claim for a veritable charitable Christian insistence upon, gays being allowed to marry.   And this jettisoning of traditional Christian thought hardly ends there – many of the most progressive supporters of abortion and gay marriage and similar sexual issues have also announced that they no longer believe in Jesus, or in the Trinity, or in God Himself.  This has two profound effects on the Church membership – it convinces some that all that other high minded talk about Jesus and salvation is just that: talk.  So they leave.  Or, it actively encourages some of the faithful to go and engage in some of that previously illicit behavior, which leads to a general collapse of moral thought, and they leave again.  Either way, it’s not good for your Church.

I know some who feel that we are witnessing the middle stages of the general dissolution of the great protestant heresy.  That may well be the case.  But, this is also a warning for Catholics.  There are many Catholics, lay and ordained alike, who would like to see the Roman Catholic Church follow the example of the Episcopalians and the Methodists, down a line of complete acceptance of all sexual immoralities taught infallibly by the Church.   That they have left their belief  in the Church behind long ago is without question.  But those of us who see the dread danger that lies in such immoral acceptance must always fight against these elements.  We must heed the warnings of the death of mainline protestantism.  We must now allow our Church to become hideously degraded by moral license.  And we must fight for the conversion of all those confused souls who have chosen the world over the Truth of Christ’s Body.

There’s tons more to address from that article, way more than I can cover in a blog post.  Please go read it.

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