Mainline blues

Pastordan, good UCC clergy that he is, laments the ARIS news on shrinking Mainline Protestantism. This is hardly new news, but there has been an acceleration in the shrinkage during this decade–down from 17.2 percent of the adult population in 2001 to 12.9 percent today. The good pastor stresses the importance of the Mainline maintaining and strengthening its distinctive vision of progressive morality (leave us not say moralism). The latest Mainline Protestant clergy survey, released a few days ago by Public Religion Research, shows a modest liberalizing trend among this already pretty liberal group. The question is whether they became just the voices of a few crying in the wilderness–whether there will be enough fannies in the pews to make anyone else pay attention.

Frozen Chosen

Steve Waldman poses a question that has been gnawing at those of us who spend way too much of our time poring over exit polls by religious category; namely: Why didn’t any more white mainline Protestants vote for Barack Obama? Like Steve, I expected Obama to make real inroads among his co-religionists, a onetime heartland Republican constituency that had been trending Democratic in recent elections. In the event, they voted (according to Pew’s account), 55-44 for McCain (as opposed to 56-44 for George Bush in 2004.) Meanwhile, Obama reduced the Republican margin among white evangelicals, whom he wasn’t supposed to be making headway with, by a full 11 points. What gives? Here’s the best I can manage by way of an answer, based on currently available data.


It’s hard to imagine that Mainline Protestantism, however exactly conceived, won’t have more of a talking presence in and around the Obama administration than it has had during the Bush dispensation. Barack Obama’s own religious beliefs and values seem to me to be as mainline as they come. In this regard, the Christian Century uses a somewhat odd locution in reporting the good wishes extended to Obama from mainline denominations:Continued pastoral support to the Obama family was offered by the top executive of the United Church of Christ, a denomination that the Illinois senator was aligned with until he broke with Chicago’s Trinity UCC over inflammatory remarks by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Isn’t Trinity UCC part of the UCC? And didn’t Obama belong to that church for most of his adult life?


Steve Waldman had a good post yesterday on how, for all the endless chatter about evangelicals, it’s with mainline Protestants that Obama is really making hay. All I’d add directly to what he says is that mainliners have been trending in a Democratic direction for a few election cycles now–and, indeed, it does seem directly related to evangelicals. The more evangelical the GOP seems–as in the selection of Sarah Palin–the more they head in the other direction. They’re kind of like Jews that way. More generally, it does seem to me that there’s been a good deal too much attention devoted to taking the partisan temperature of evangelicals this election cycle.