Weeks ago, The Religion Guy discussed the perpetual media problem of handling religious holidays and highlighted a godsend (so to speak) for Holy Week 2017, Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge’s “The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ.”
Alas, a quick Google check finds no coverage of her or her blockbuster.
The New York Times, whose top editor recently confessed that “media powerhouses ... don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives,” proved that point with the sort of potshot at tradition one often gets from the mainstream news media during holy seasons. Molly Worthen’s Good Friday piece looked askance at evangelical conservatives’ biblical beliefs and “natural human aversion to unwelcome facts.”
Then came Easter and a contrasting, surprising Ross Douthat column that meditated on U.S. “mainline” Protestant slippage.
Complaints about religious conservatives are the oldest of old news, so Douthat’s opus was by far the more interesting. In this case a political conservative was preaching to “this newspaper’s secular liberal readers,” and a staunch Catholic was telling cultural Protestants to shape up. The column was part of his mordant “implausible proposals” series, which mingles wry fantasy with sincerity.
Douthat took an overly familiar theme in a new and unexpected direction. It’s well-known that times are tough for America’s seven ecumenically allied (the "Seven Sisters" camp) and predominantly white “mainline” Protestant denominations known for theological flexibility. Over the past four decades their combined memberships have shrunk 30 percent, from 28,160,000 to 19,590,000. Nothing like this has happened previously in American religion.
(Yes, I am aware that those “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches” data are out of date because the National Council of Churches was unable to compile its standard annual the past five years -- a sign of mainline disarray.)