At his Spiritual Politics blog, Mark Silk engages Ross Douthat's argument that liberal churches are withering on the vine--and his presumed contention that, by contrast, right-wing churches like his Catholic church under the last two papacies are thriving. I blogged yesterday about Douthat's latest statement in this vein.
As I did, Silk notes that "old-time religion-stickers" like the Catholic church (and, Silk adds, the Southern Baptist Convention) are also not doing very well at all in the numbers game of late. Silk points to good, accurate analysis of the data demonstrating this by Greg Burke at Religion News Service yesterday.
As Silk notes, a succession of American Religious Identification surveys shows that the "nones" are growing all across the spectrum of American churches today, from the old-time religion-sticker end of the spectrum to the liberal end on whose membership decline Ross and other conservatives want to focus without mentioning the dramatic bleeding of members by the Catholic church of late. In fact, as he points out, white Catholics, in particular, are increasingly apt to tell pollsters that their religious identification is now "none."
Young people are also walking away from churches across the spectrum, and there are strong indicators that a key factor in their disaffiliation is their disenchantment with many churches' alliance with right-wing political groups--and, in particular, with groups making homophobia a precondition for group membership.
As Silk also points out, the one growth area within American churches is in the generic "Christian" churches that shy away from traditional denominational (and credal) designations. Silk writes,
In fact, the only sizable portion of the American Christian population that is growing at all these days turns out to be the one whose members simply identify themselves as "Christians" or "non-denominational Christians." They go to megachurches and smaller places specializing in a generic style of evangelical faith. When it comes to belief, they tend to be neither too hot nor too cold. You might call them lukewarm.
Why are the lukewarm churches growing? I'd like to see Douthat try his hand at that one.
Something tells me Douthat isn't going to be writing about those particular matters (e.g., the rise of the "lukewarm churches" much at all in the future. His threadbare parable about the obsolescence of liberal Episcopalians and the triumph of right-wing Catholics is still too convenient for his neo-conservative ilk.
Even if it is entirely devoid of any basis in real-life numbers. Or in facts, for that matter.