At Christianity Today we often speak of the summer months as the “church report season,” as many denominations hold their annual meeting or conference during this time of the year. The two words most often used to describe mainline Protestantism in North America are “crisis” and “decline,” both of which seem justified in light of recent trends.
The recent article by Ross Douthat in the New York Times, “Can Liberal Christianity be Saved?” offers an insightful analysis of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) whose House of Bishops last week approved an official liturgy to bless same-sex unions. This is the same communion which counts among its great champions of the past the likes of Thomas Cranmer, John Wesley, and William Wilberforce, and of which George Washington was a member. Meanwhile, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) very narrowly turned back a proposal to redefine marriage. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (TEC) has already adopted what is euphemistically called a “more inclusive” policy in sexual ethics. This has resulted in denominational fracturing and the emergence of several distinct Lutheran renewal groups. Similar struggles have long been present in the United Methodist Church. But this church body which holds one significant advantage over other mainline denominations: the UMC General Conference allows voting members from outside North America. Largely with the support of African delegates, the UMC defeated the latest effort to “reform” (i.e. abandon) its historic commitment to biblical standards. There are flashes of light amidst the shadows.
What are evangelicals to make of these developments? Here are three lessons.