Thursday, April 10, 2008
Everything Must Change Tour recap
Like I mentioned, I was at Brian McLaren's Everything Must Change Tour this past weekend here in Chicago. As with any of these sorts of events, the primary value for me is simply in making connections with new and old friends. In fact, to be honest, Brian presented very little content that I hadn't heard before. The conference was essentially a review of his book (albeit with more time to reflect and react to it with others). I think this was good for what seemed to be the majority of audience members who hadn't read it yet anyway. As for me, I always enjoy hearing Brian speak, even if it's not new content, and I certainly found new ways to apply the ideas to my own thinking anyway.

As the main coordinator for the Chicago area Emergent cohort, up/rooted, and as a member of the National Cohorts Team, I was one of the primary behind-the-scenes volunteers for the event, rounding up a dozen or so other volunteers to help with driving Brian and his team around Chicagoland, and staffing the bookstore. This meant that I got to show up early on Friday about 6 hours before the conference started and just hang out and pitch in as needed. This gave me plenty of time to chat with friends like Rebecca and meet some interesting new people like Tommy from Cafe Justo, a developer of Fair Trade coffee co-ops in Mexico and Haiti.

Once the conference got under way that evening I was able to connect with many more friends, so many it was hard to keep up: Sarah and Ryan Notton from the Indianapolis cohort, who were our partners in pulling off the Midwest Emergent Gathering this past summer; Chad Farrand from the Mid-Michigan Emergent cohort; Helen Mildenhall, a blog and conference buddy who lives here in Chicago; Bill Yaccino from Catalyst and Wedding Pastors USA; Linnea and Jo, Brian's tour coordinators whom I've been working with for months now, but only just met in person this weekend; even a couple of friends from my old conservative Baptist church, one of whom used to be in my youth group (I guess I corrupted him ;-)! I was also glad that several people from my own church were able to be there, even though Oak Park was a good hour and a half from Yorkville during rush hour.

Another highlight of the conference for me was the Saturday morning Q&A session with Brian that he did specifically for cohort people and church planters (though given that over 50 people showed up, most of whom I didn't recognize, I'm doubtful that this limitation was sufficiently communicated). Brian answered a wide range of questions, including why institutions aren't all bad, how evangelicals effectively use labels like "liberal" to marginalize voices like Brian's and why the decline of mainline denominations has more to do with increased college attendance rates and less to do with their "liberal" theology or "dead ritualism".

The sessions on Saturday were great, especially the point when Brian responded directly to comments made by Mark Driscoll (though Brian didn't name names) about Jesus being a "prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed." In contrast Brian shows how the New Testament presents Jesus as bringing peace and salvation not through the sword but through a commitment to let his own blood be shed. Whereas Driscoll says "I cannot worship a guy I can beat up", Brian reminded us that Jesus did let us beat him up, and that it was precisely though this non-violent act of love that the character of God's Kingdom was fully demonstrated.

Brian also had an excellent panel discussion later that morning with some local Chicagoans who were involved in various ministries connected to the issues Brian was addressing this weekend. I was especially impressed with Lynne Hybels, wife of Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. She just told her story, and it turns out that she had gone through a very similar process of questioning and re-evaluating her faith that many of us emergent folks have, and was helped by Brian's books in the same way that many of us have as well. She described finding renewal of her faith by meeting Jesus in two new ways: 1) as a lover/resting place for her soul, and 2) as a social revolutionary. This combination of both the contemplative/mystical, and social activism is a common stream for many people, and it's encouraging to know that the leaders of one of the most influential churches in the nation are moving in this direction and consider people like Brian a friend and major influence.

Throughout the weekend we were also given opportunities to meditate and reflect on an artistic interpretation of the poetry of Denise Levertov entitled Nude Truths (done by the sisters Mary Ylvisaker Nilsen and Kristi Ylvisaker). I found this to be an excellent way to process some of the things we were hearing and thinking during the conference. I appreciated that Brian and Linnea took time to incorporate these sorts of experiences into what was ultimately a very short event, rather than just cramming it full of content.

That being said, I was rather disappointed that more time wasn't spent focusing on specific ways that we can bring about the kind of change that is necessary in the world. Because the panel discussion ran long, Brian was left with only about 20 minutes to run through seven diverse and complex ways that we can help change the world, which was not nearly enough time to let it really sink in or to engage with the possibilities. Personally I would have devoted at least an entire session to the question.

Hopefully we'll make up for it though in the upcoming weeks as our up/rooted cohort meets in several different places around the city to follow up on the ideas presented at the conference and to talk about how to actually put them into practical action. We had an overwhelming response at our cohort sign-up table this weekend. Over 40 people signed up for more info about up/rooted, and I think we'll also be able to help start a Southeast Wisconsin Cohort and an Evanston branch of up/rooted as well (not to mention re-starting our up/rooted.south branch down in the Joliet-Mokena-Tinley Park area.) As the official Emergent Village rep, I got to do a short presentation on cohorts during one of the conference sessions as well as host a lunch discussion about cohorts for those interested, and probably the best part of the whole conference for me was simply chatting and connecting with all those new people who were excited to meet others in their area who have been thinking in similar ways about their faith recently. As we repeated many times during the conference, "you're not the only crazy one out there!"

If you haven't yet attended the Tour, and can make it to Seattle this weekend, or Kansas City, New York City, or Goshen IN in the next month, I'd definitely recommend signing-up.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 3:14 PM | Permalink |


At 4/11/2008 01:12:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

Mike, how did Brian relate decreased mainline church attendance to increased college attendance rates? I've never heard that one before.


At 4/11/2008 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Brian was citing a sociological study done (by Robert Wuthnow maybe?) which showed that the decline of mainline denominations began around the same time that their rates of college attendance increased. Whenever people leave home to go to school, a certain percentage of them will not find a new church. And then when the move again 4 years later, another percentage will drop out of church. Plus college educated people statistically delay marriage and having children, which is another factor in people not returning to church. Apparently this study showed that these statistical losses due to people going off to college and not returning home afterwards, and then also delaying marriage and children were more than enough to account for the losses seen by mainline churches in the past 30-40 years.

Interestingly, this same study also pointed out that evangelical college attendance rates are just now at the same level that mainline churches were 30 years ago when their decline began. If those trends hold it will be interesting to see if the same thing happens to them.


At 4/11/2008 03:44:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

OK, that must have come from Wuthnow's recent book on post-Boomer generations and American religion. Wuthnow does make some observations to that effect, among others.

Having spent time in both evangelicalism and the mainline, I'd venture to say that there's a lot more going on with regard to the mainline's decline than greater college attendance, lower birth rates and later marriage ages though. It's not as simplistic as some evangelicals would like it to be, but neither do I think it is just a matter of demographics as Wuthnow borders on suggesting.

I'm sure the mainline folks are ecstatic at those parts of Wuthnow's book. While I was in the mainline it was part and parcel of every large regional gathering to hear reassurances that declining membership and attendance figures, constant budget shortfalls and staffing and program cutbacks, had nothing whatsoever to do with the denomination's theological and political direction. They will be thrilled to have further ammo to argue that in fact those things have happened precisely BECAUSE they are smarter, better educated, and more right, than evangelicals.


At 4/11/2008 09:26:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Karl, I think you heard those things at the conferences you attended because those are exactly the accusations that evangelicals like to level at the mainline to explain their decline. I remember hearing it in my conservative evangelical churches growing up, even before I had a clear idea of the differences between mainline and evangelicals. The narrative they liked to put forward was that "those mainliners" went liberal in their theology, and started caring about social justice, and oh yeah, they were also tied to dead ritualism, and that was why they were declining. That was the story that got told, whether they had any proof of it or not. So I can see why mainliners might be a little defensive about it.

However, even if there is any truth in it, it seems to me that the decline of the mainline and concurrent growth of evangelicalism could just be an example of people following whatever their "itching ears" want to hear. What's more appealing to people? A social gospel that implies that you might actually have to change you lifestyle and dedicate yourself to fighting against enormous systems of injustice? Or an emotional-high, Jesus-as-my-boyfriend, pray a prayer and get a free ticket into Heaven when you die religion? And what is easier for the average church-goer to handle, a nuanced, non-literalistic, and historically contextualized reading of scripture? Or a "God said, I believe it, that settles it" approach?

It may be condescending for mainliners to claim that they've declined because "they are smarter, better educated, and more right, than evangelicals", but that doesn't mean it isn't true.


At 4/14/2008 10:05:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

Wow Mike, talk about setting up a straw man. I realize that in this case the straw man actually exists - that there are some evangelicals who would articulate it that way and you probably did hear it that way growing up. But you aren't engaging with the best evangelical critiques of the mainline.

IMO, someone with your level of education should be dealing with the best and most thoughtful of what evangelicalism has to offer on this topic when contrasting evangelicalism with the views of scholars favorable to the mainline. If you want to trash evangelicalism, critique not just the Baptist pastor down the road or the church in which you grew up, but Alister McGrath and John Stott, Mark Noll and Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. I don't think any of them would own the opinions that you just attributed to evangelicals, but they'd all be critical of mainline theology, in varying degrees.

My observation of the mainline denomination I lived in for 5+ years was that its leadershp's narrative was too tepid and relativistic to make much of a claim on anyone. The criteria for being a good mainliner were indistinguishable from those of being a good member of any local volunteer social service organization like the Kiwanis, but it took a lot more time and expense because you had to maintain all the trappings of a religion around it. The problem wasn't the addition (or reclamation) of social action as an essential part of Christian commitment, devotion and mission; it was the reduction of Christian commitment, devotion and mission to solely social action. We just exchanged one set of problems and arrogances and self-righteousnesses for another.

Anecdotally, I know many evangelical college students and 20 somethings are leaving the evangelical church. But almost all evangelical churches I've interacted with have SOME college students and SOME college educated 20-something singles or college educated young couples w/o kids. Not nearly as many as they'd like to have, but at least some. In the mainline churches I encountered there were often none or nearly none in those demographics who attended regularly. So while Evangelicalism is subject to the same demographic trends, the mainline seems even more vulnerable to them. There's something going on beyond the mere demographics.


At 4/14/2008 03:19:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Karl, I'm not interacting with the so-called "best" of evangelicalism because frankly that's not what we're talking about here. It's all well and good for you to whip out Willard, McGrath, Noll, or whoever (all of whom I still have serious disagreements with) but what percentage of the average evangelical church goer has any clue about those guys? How many evangelical churches do you suppose actually reflect that sort of evangelicalism? In my experience your "best" of evangelicalism is the exception in evangelical churches and even among evangelical pastors and leader, not the rule. My point was about broad trends among the average evangelical churchgoer, not about that small, isolated handful that have read the more thoughtful evangelical scholars. If I had characterized the mainstream of evangelicalism as being at all similar to the kind reflected by Foster or Stott or the rest, it would have been highly inaccurate. Like it or not, the average evangelical churchgoer as far as I can tell (and I'm pretty sure the stats per Barna or whoever would back me up on this) is more or less as I've described.

At any rate, I'm sure there are lots of reasons for the decline of the mainline churches and it can't just be reduced to one factor, however, on the other hand I don't think it's really as a bad thing as you apparently do that they've focused more intently on social action as a way of living out the gospel. Frankly, I'd love to be in a church (besides the one I've created myself) where that was even part of the discussion.

Karl, you're obviously still a big fan of evangelicalism, and that's fine; but personally I too was immersed in your so-called "best" and it still wasn't enough for me. I read Stott and Noll and McGrath and Foster and Willard and all the rest, and frankly if that was really the best Christianity had to offer then I honestly don't think I could have stuck with Christianity much past college. But surely you felt a little bit of that too? You must have seen something of value in the mainline churches that you weren't finding in evangelicalism if you existed there for 5 years? So why only trash them all the time as you do here on my blog, and then also constantly try to defend evangelicalism and look at it only through the rose-colored glasses of your so-called "best"?


At 4/14/2008 09:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

Good comments here Mike. I'm glad you posted your thoughts - similar in many ways to how I felt about the Dallas stop. I'm especially glad you had such a great response of people who are interested in the cohorts.


At 4/15/2008 04:41:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

Mike I'll take your previous requests for dialogue from those who disagree with you at face value and respond as if you really are posing those questions as invitations to conversation. But that means this'll be another long post. What I'm saying is that I found the on the ground reality of the American mainline to be every bit as messy and ugly and sinful and truncated and reductionistic and coercive and marginalizing of disagreement, and just flat out harmfully wrong on some really important things, as the on the ground reality of evangelicalism, if not more so. Just in different ways. I also witnessed firsthand the flight (and near-total absence) of teens and twenty-somethings from the mainline church to a degree that I'd never seen in evangelicalism.

Further, I guess I'm saying that I found I'll take the articulated ideal picture of evangelical faith and practice as set forth by McGrath, Stott, Willard, Richard Foster et al. over the articulated ideal of mainline faith and practice as set forth by mainline leadership. I'd follow John Stott or Alister McGrath or N.T. Wright or Richard Foster before I'd follow bishop Jefferts-Schori (her being a woman has nothing to do with it) or John Spong.

I left evangelicalism for a time not for primarily theoretical or theological reasons (though there were a few of those around the edges), but for the failure of evangelicalism as I was experiencing it to live up to its ideals. The mainline was attractive to me because I was reacting against the deficiencies and abuses of my particular evangelical church and (to a lesser extent) of most of American evangelicalism as you've described it, and found the absence of those things (and the presence of some things I was longing for) to be refreshing.

What I found though, was that no movement or organization lives up to its ideals so it's better to pick the one with the ideals that most match your understanding of scripture and go with it, even if it's doing a not so great job of living it out.

I'd still have a hard time being in a doctrinaire evangelical church that defined everything doctrinally to the nth degree, or that didn't make social action/outreach an important part of its ministry. If I was forced to choose between that kind of church and a typical mainline church honestly I'd probably just stay home or start a church like you did. I'm in an evangelical Anglican church whose parent church left the mainline some years back. We left the ECUSA church we were in to come here. It isn't perfect. But it's a good blend of many of the things I was hungering for, even if there are some people, even in leadership, who have blind spots typical of evangelicals.

You've made abundantly clear that you have disagreement bordering on disdain for even the best that evangelicalism has to offer and wouldn't be a part of evangelicalism even if it looked exactly as John Stott, Dallas Willard or Alister McGrath would articulate it. That's fine; I'm not trying to convince you to be evangelical even if I push from (and occasionally for) an evangelical point of view. It's valid for you to criticize evangelical practice on the ground, too. But when comparing evangelicalism to an articulated, theoretical ideal, then to be intellectually honest you have to compare like to like. Compare evangelicalism's articulated theoretical ideal to yours. You are certainly equipped to do that, and have done it well at times. For example, when you posted about Keller's comments and where you were encouraged by his words and where you disagreed.


At 4/24/2008 05:29:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Karl, sorry it's taken me so long to reply to your comment. Thanks for sharing a bit of your history with me. It was an honest question.

"Further, I guess I'm saying that I found I'll take the articulated ideal picture of evangelical faith and practice as set forth by McGrath, Stott, Willard, Richard Foster et al. over the articulated ideal of mainline faith and practice as set forth by mainline leadership. I'd follow John Stott or Alister McGrath or N.T. Wright or Richard Foster before I'd follow bishop Jefferts-Schori (her being a woman has nothing to do with it) or John Spong."

I'm not sure it's accurate to identify Jefferts-Schori or especially Spong as the "articulated ideal" of the mainline church. Spong especially seems to be on the far fringes even for the mainline. Besides which, I've come to learn that there is just as much diversity within the mainline as there is within evangelicalism. It's not fair, as McLaren puts it, to compare your side's "best" with the other side's "worst". For instance, the Archbishop of Canterbury himself has come out in pretty strong disagreement with Spong. Why not claim him as reflective of the "articulated ideal" of Anglicanism? He would seem a more natural choice than Spong.

"What I found though, was that no movement or organization lives up to its ideals so it's better to pick the one with the ideals that most match your understanding of scripture and go with it, even if it's doing a not so great job of living it out."

Yes, I pretty much agree, which is why I can't be a part of an evangelical church anymore. Even among the so-called "best", I still find that their understanding of scripture and of gospel does not really fit well with mine much anymore.

"But when comparing evangelicalism to an articulated, theoretical ideal, then to be intellectually honest you have to compare like to like. Compare evangelicalism's articulated theoretical ideal to yours."

I usually do. But again, that's not what was being compared here. I wasn't comparing the "ideal" of either side. I was comparing broad sociological trends. I was comparing why large numbers of people were leaving the mainline compared to why large numbers had been attracted to evangelicalism. And I think it's pretty hard to make the case that evangelicalism is attracting so many people because of the influence of its "best" representatives. I think it's far more likely that people are being attracted by consumer impulses like the desire for a good children's or youth ministry or a contemporary worship band, and also by the simple and individualistic message of personal salvation from sin and hell, which will naturally appeal to an individualistic and consumeristic society.

I also don't think we can discount the influence of social conservatism. We may have a chicken and egg dilemma here (did the rise of evangelicalism lead to the rise of social conservatism, or was it vice versa), but nonetheless, I think it makes sense that in an era of intense cultural change like the 1960's & '70s people who oppose that change would flock to churches that reinforce that opposition and abandon those that are trying to adapt to the times. For instance, the church of my childhood switched to the Baptist General Conference from the American Baptist Convention because most of the people in the church disagreed with the progressive social and political positions the ABC was taking. Likewise, how many southern white mainliners do you suppose left their churches for the SBC when the mainline churches started supporting Civil Rights? America on the whole is a fairly conservative society (as evidenced by the political successes of the Religious Right over the past few decades) so it doesn't surprise me that politically conservative churches would have been on the rise, while progressive churches will have diminished.


At 4/30/2008 10:08:00 AM, Anonymous Karl

Mike you make a lot of good points. I'm sure there are sociological factors and a bit of "they're saying what I want to hear - giving the blessing of the church and scripture to my already-held prejudices" at play in both evangelical and mainline attendance numbers. I'm just not convinced those are the only things at play, just like I think sociological factors and "they're saying what I want to hear" have played a role in the growth of the emerging movement, but there's more than that going on as well.

You're right, my view of evangelicalism probably is a little too positive at times. I've seen it at its worst too, but I tend to call "fundamentalist" much of what you would probably call "conservative evangelical." The line between the two gets blurry and groups that might have once proudly worn the label fundamentalist now choose to use evangelical simply because fundamentalist has so many negative connotations (Falwell was one such example). So sometimes we are probably envisioning very different things when we use the term. More on why it may be that way for me below.

As far as the Archbishop of Canterbury representing the ideal of the Anglican church, that's an interesting question. Rowan Williams is a brilliant and devout man, and a bit of an enigma to many including me. N.T. Wright (who would probably be my chosen best representative of Anglicanism as I'd wish it to be) disagrees strongly with Williams about many important things, but respects him greatly and speaks highly of him. But the Archbishop of Canterbury who preceded Williams and stepped down just a few years ago was an evangelical, more in the Stott mode of Anglicanism. So you can't just look to the Archbishop's office and say whoever's there is the center. Jefferts-Schori is theologically to the left of Rowan Williams and in that regard is very similar to her predecessor, Frank Griswold, and to the majority of American bishops. Even if Williams IS the center or articulated ideal of British Anglicanism, Jefferts-Schori more fairly represents where the American Episcopal church is and wants to go. Worldwide, the number of Anglicans in the 3rd World absolutely dwarfs the number of Anglicans in Britain and North America. The Anglicans in those Global South countries are very conservative theologically so if you're looking for a "worldwide average" as the center of Anglicanism, it would look pretty conservative actually. But that doesn't make much difference on the ground in the American branch of that family.

You're right about Spong being an extreme, but I've heard a priest here locally preach a sermon taken right from one of Spong's books, talking about the foolishness of belief in actual miracles, that of course there was no bodily resurrection or virgin birth, etc. After the sermon he then stood and recited the Nicene Creed along with the rest of us. Our bishop, who called on the carpet any priest (and there were only a couple) who didn't toe his line on certain liberal issues, had nothing to say about that sermon. So, just like you might see a direct line from an outspoken extremist like Falwell to a "nicer" conservative evangelical leader with similar beliefs, there are many "nice" mainline leaders who sound moderate and would avoid making controversial public statements but are a lot more like Spong than they'd let on. If forced to make a choice when appointing a priest, they'd take Spong over a fundamentalist (the term they would use) like Alister McGrath or John Stott.

Of course here I'm talking about mainline leadership. The vast majority I encountered in the pews couldn't articulate the difference between any of those folks, and if you tried to articulate it for them they still might not get it. "What's all the fuss about?" Can't we all just get along and agree to disagree? You believe Jesus actually rose from the dead, so teach that. He believes the resurrection is a metaphor invented by the disciples and anyone who believes it actually happened is foolish, so let him teach that. You believe it's a problem that the priest left his wife and moved in with his girlfriend but many of us don't think that has any bearing on his spiritual leadership - he's just following Love, which is the highest law" etc.

I was burned by leadership (and laity) in the mainline in something of a similar way emotionally to how it sounds you were burned in your previous evangelical church. So in talking about the mainline I may come across similar to how you come across talking about evangelicalism - a little bitter. I agree there's lots of diversity there, just as there is in evangelicalism. And lots of good, just as there is in evangelicalism too. But just as you are probably quick to bridle at an overly rosy take on evangelicalism, I am quick to do the same at what seems to me to be a naive or idealistic take on the mainline.

I'm also affected in my view of the mainline by the fact that I grew up in a mainline denomination. Our pastor was a moderate evangelical theologically (conservative for that mainline denomination, moderate/progressive by overall evangelical standards) and our church was one of those "best" types of evangelical churches in many ways - intellectually and socially aware/engaged, high value placed on aesthetics and the arts, the membership was diverse politically rather than homogenously republican, etc. But even in the 70's and 80's I was aware of the undercurrents and theological direction within the denomination's national leadership which finally led that church to leave the denomination a couple of years ago, after decades of trying to stay in.

I'm much more comfortable self-identifying as a Christian than as an evangelical, as I'm not certain I am one anymore at least by some people's definitionn, although that's probably stiill the closest spot on the map for me and I happen to attend an evangelical church. I just don't have the rancor anymore toward evangelicalism that I once did, even if fundamentalists and Truly Reformed zealots still send me quietly out the back door when I see them coming. I jumped ship, saw what the other side was like and returned a bit chastened even though many of my old objections to evangelical spirituality and theology remain.


At 4/30/2008 11:56:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Well Karl, you obviously have a lot more experience in the mainline church than I do. And it sounds like you've had more negative exposure to the extremes than I've had.

All I know is that for years I was told that all mainliners were as extreme as Bishop Spong and that they all denied the divinity of Christ, the reality of the Resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, etc., etc. And then when I finally started meeting some mainliners in real life, I found that wasn't actually the case at all. In fact, I have yet to actually meet first hand a mainliner who comes even remotely close to the Spongian extreme. Truth be told, many of the mainliners I meet are more conservative than me in some areas.

And I'm not just talking about lay people. I'm talking about the Bishop of the Metro Chicago ELCA Synod and associate pastors at the gay-friendly ELCA church in Wheaton, multiple PC-USA pastors, the local UCC congregation whose people are both politically progressive and are very passionate about serving their community, Anglican priests who are pulling their churches out of the ECUSA to join the AMIA churches as well as their very devout parishoners who are heartbroken and opposed to this move. In each of these encounters I was very surprised that none of my negative stereotypes of the mainline held true at all. They all loved Jesus, held the Bible in high regard, and didn't seem inclined to disavow talk of miracles.

Perhaps I would see more of the dark side if I was immersed in their churches on a regular basis, but at least on the conversational level I found that I had to give up my assumptions pretty fast.


At 4/30/2008 02:03:00 PM, Anonymous Karl

Mike I think your experience with "real, live" mainline folks is similar to the experience a person would have if she had grown up in a progressive mainline church and had been told over and over that all evangelicals were hate filled bigots like (her opinion of) Falwell, and then moved to NY and visited Tim Keller's Redeemer Pres, or Atlanta and visited Andy Stanley's North Point, or Wheaton (or even, believe it or not, Liberty University) and hung out with a group of students who had just returned from doing inner city ministry. "Hey, on the whole these people aren't the hateful damn-you-to-hell assholes I always thought they were. And even though we may disagree about the best means of alleviating suffering, they aren't as callous and unconcerned about suffering and injustice in the world as I thought, either..." We could all use our stereotypes being broken down a bit I think, and I'm glad you don't have a one-dimensional view of the mainline any more.

I had a similar reaction to yours after first "escaping" evangelicalism for the mainline. Oh, what a relief to be out from that oppressive conservative atmosphere. These mainline people are actually more like me in many ways than most of the doctrinaire jerks I just left behind - much more sophisticated and urbane in their tastes too, which is a plus and helps me feel even more superior to evangelicals. But in the end, at least in our diocese and church, there was one paradigm and one interpretation of scripture that was acceptable on certain issues - and it usually wasn't mine. And the hottest of those issues was pretty much forced upon us - uncovering all sorts of other, more core issues. Actually there was another alternative to agreeing with the majority, but the other alternative was to suck it up and pretend I thought those issues just didn't matter; agree to disagree but keep my mouth shut b/c my opinion was in the minority. Don't make waves. That was no more satisfactory for me than it was for you and Julie within evangelicalism. You and I differ enough theologically that I doubt you'd have that same experience in the mainline - but you might witness it happen to others. Your friend at the emerge-ish evangelical church you recently posted about, for example. If he preached the sermon you heard, he'd be treated in many mainline circles just as badly as you were ever treated in evangelicalism. Not everywhere. Maybe not in the Chicago area anymore, although while Frank Griswold was bishop over Chicago (the post he held prior to becoming archbishop) he'd have been called on the carpet for such a sermon, for sure. I know Griswold made life pretty difficult for some of the Chicago area Episcopal priests who didn't see things his way. I know parishioners in some of those same Chicagoland Episcopal and AMiA churches that you reference.

This whole group of comments by me sounds like mainline bashing and maybe it is. But I agree the mainline as a whole - or even one mainline denomination as a whole - isn't a monolith. There is diversity and nuance, and in some places there is room for good and respectful conversation on hot topics without oppression of those who hold differing views. There is good that is done. I also think the ELCA and even PCUSA tend to be a little less oppressive than the leadership of ECUSA has been although in any mainline church, as in any pocket of evangelicalism, YMMV.


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