Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's Official: Mainline Protestantism is Dead

The Associated Press: Obama defends choice of pastor for invocation

The selection of Pastor Rick Warren brought objections from gay rights advocates, who strongly supported Obama during the election campaign. The advocates are angry over Warren's backing of a California ballot initiative banning gay marriage. That measure was approved by voters last month. But Obama told reporters in Chicago that America needs to "come together," even when there's disagreement on social issues. "That dialogue is part of what my campaign is all about," he said.

Who is supposed to be "coming together" here? Presumably the secular urban-coastal elite and the megachurch trailer trash. This pick establishes non-denominational fundamentalism as our semi-official state church. The assumption is that for Americans who are religious at all, this is the industry standard. Mainline churches are marginal and their members are invisible--to few to count for political purposes.

Granted, there are many times more of these "evangelicals," non-denominational or otherwise, in the US than Episcopalians, who now represent fewer than 1% of the population. But it isn't size that matters. It's inclusiveness--the difference between a gathered church or sect, where participation assumes commitment, and a civic religion.

Civic religions are public institutions like libraries, schools and parks. There is no expectation that people who use the facilities will buy in. You can visit a church as a tourist or go to cathedral Evensong as a concert-goer, and that is perfectly ok. No one expects you to progress to membership.

But even soft-core evangelical megachurches like Warren's are quite a different thing. They aren't public facilities citizens use on their own terms. If you go to a service, or "concert," the expectation, even if it is not always met, is that you are a "seeker" soon to become a "fully devoted follower" who will join one of the many cell groups and, if gay, will join a group devoted to changing your sexual orientation.

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