This book review in the Christian Century hits on something that I believe has hamstrung not only the oldline protestant churches, but also the evangelical movment.Â The polarization of the institutional oldline churches against many of their own members is epitomized my the fact that churches such as The Episcopal Church and the United Methodist Church are affiliated with the Religious Coalitition for Reproductive Choice despite the oppositon of many of their members and the fact that–at least in the case of the Episcopal Church–aspects of the RCRC’s agenda blatantly clash with General Convention Resolutions on abortion.Â The fact that mainline churche maintain lobbying offices is a situation that I’ve found profoundly disturbing since I became aware of it.Â The fact that these lobbying offices often support legislation that many church members oppose is simply another way that our institutions are furthering alienation vs. reconcilliation.Â If the oldline is ever going to be able to reform itself–or to birth a separate renewal movment that will offer hope to those in the evangelical wilderness without becoming part of that wilderness itself–then it is going to have to address these sorts of unnecessary means of fragmentation and alienation.
Tipton’s study proves my point. It tells the story of the “institutional ecology” of the public sphere in which the denominations operate: In the 1960s and 1970s the mainline churches’ leadership moved from a centrist or mildly conservative position to a frankly progressive one, while their congregations were far more mixed. The institutional consolidation of a progressive agenda was secure by 1980; one sign of this was the emergence then of parachurch groupsâ€”such as the Institute on Religion and Democracyâ€”that protested the consolidation. These groups complained about the “leftist” and “Marxist” captivity of the mainline leadership and initially seemed interested in offering the laity a big-tent alternative to the official line of the churches, purportedly to preserve the traditional faith against the elite’s woolly liberationism. But by the 1990s these parachurch groups had begun to focus their efforts on simply attacking the other side. While members of the official church hierarchies didn’t fixate so totally on their enemies, they became ever more resistant to ceding them any intellectual or theoretical ground. This polarization left the vast middle underserved. And that is our condition today.