Although church liberals love to insist their policies appeal to the rising generation, all of the available evidence indicates just the opposite. Liberalizing churches don’t attract young people, who, even if themselves liberal, tend to flock to churches they respect for not pandering to them. The same is true for racial minorities, who largely avoid liberal Mainline Protestantism in favor of ethnic or Evangelical churches.
At one point during this week’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the hundreds of delegates, known as commissioners, gleefully bounced scores of red balloons in the air. At another point, they collectively broke into dance, confirming that most Protestants, especially if they’re old, white and Anglo, don’t look so great wiggling around. (Here’s a video, for mature viewers only.)
Mainline Protestantism, at least in its official curia, has been liberal for nearly 100 years. But for most of that century it was a thoughtful, dignified liberalism that still roughly adhered to historic Christianity’s moral architecture, even if it no longer upheld the core doctrine. But the yonder years of stately Protestantism, at least in the old Mainline, are largely over. And this week, the 1.7 million member PCUSA suffered a meltdown, authorizing clergy to conduct same sex unions, reaffirming its commitment to largely unrestricted abortion rights, and voting to divest from three firms doing business with Israel.
The church’s redefinition of marriage, by a 71-29 percent vote, got the most attention, although it was anticlimactic. Sexual liberalism captured the denomination in 2010, when the PCUSA voted to abandon its expectation of monogamy in marriage and celibacy in singleness for its clergy. Since then, hundreds of congregations have quit, organized conservative resistance largely stopped, and the 2012 General Assembly was expected to authorize same sex unions but fell short. In just the last two years, the PCUSA lost nearly 200,000 members, a rate, which if continued, would mean no more PCUSA in less than 20 years.
In fact, the exodus from the PCUSA after the marriage vote may increase for congregations and individuals. Many exiting PCUSA churches have joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, while others helped create a new denomination called the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Despite the impact on denominational finances, PCUSA elites, committed more to the Left than to the church’s health, seem mostly indifferent.
Those elites mostly backed divesting from three firms doing business with Israel, namely Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar, and Motorola, which ostensibly facilitate Israel’s “occupation.” The PCUSA has voted for anti-Israel divestment before, in 2004, which created such controversy, internally and externally, that it revoked its stance in 2006. Anti-Israel zealots inside and outside the church were relentless, and in 2012 divestment fell short by only two votes. This week, it passed by only seven votes, a remarkable margin, given the ongoing exodus of conservative church members. Some prominent liberal Presbyterians spoke against it, but their pleas were insufficient.
[Editor’s note: Some of the original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid, so the links have been removed.]