We close the week with an interesting-looking new book from Columbia University Press on one of the most noteworthy changes in American religious culture in recent decades: the collapse of the mainline churches. Once the dominant group in American religious life, mainline Protestant churches experienced a dramatic decline in the last generation. Why has this occurred? The new book, The Future of Mainline Protestantism in America, edited by historian James Hudnut-Beumler (Vanderbilt) and religion scholar Mark Silk (Trinity College) attempts to explain. Unlike most treatments, this volume apparently is optimistic, in a way, about the mainline’s future. Here’s the description from the Columbia website:
As recently as the 1960s, more than half of all American adults belonged to just a handful of mainline Protestant denominations—Presbyterian, UCC, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and American Baptist. Presidents, congressmen, judges, business leaders, and other members of the elite overwhelmingly came from such backgrounds. But by 2010, fewer than 13 percent of adults belonged to a mainline Protestant church. What does the twenty-first century hold for this once-hegemonic religious group?
In this volume, experts in American religious history and the sociology of religion examine the extraordinary decline of mainline Protestantism over the past half century and assess its future. Contributors discuss the demographics of mainline Protestants; their beliefs, practices, and modes of worship; their political views and partisan affiliations; and the social and moral questions that unite and divide Protestant communities. Other chapters examine Protestant institutions, including providers of health care and education; analyze churches’ public voice; and probe what will come from a diminished role relative to other groups in society, especially the ascendant evangelicals. Far from going extinct, the book argues, the mainline Protestant movement will continue to be a vital remnant in an American religious culture torn between the contending forces of secularism and evangelicalism.