Dana Carvey as Church Lady on Saturday Night Live.

Take your pick: Give mainline Protestants a new name

Dana Carvey as Church Lady on Saturday Night Live.

Dana Carvey as Church Lady on Saturday Night Live.

Could re-branding rouse the dwindling mainline Protestant troops?

The dozen church groups under the mainline umbrella — including United Methodists, Episcopalians, Evangelical Lutherans, Presbyterians (USA) and American Baptists — have been flagging for years. Mainline Protestants  made up 18 percent of U.S. adults in 2008. Fifty years ago, its members were the church of the Establishment.

Scholar and Presbyterian pastor Carol Merritt recently suggested a new name might stem the slide, especially if it conveys the Mainline’s rising diversity and social justice leadership:

"I, for one, am tired of pretending that we want to hang out at the Country Club and eat cucumber sandwiches in fancy hats. We are not some sort of upper-crust elite society."

So we wondered what a new name might be.

We have some ideas. Vote for your pick or tell us your suggestion below.

    If you tell us your suggestion, be original – "sidelined" and "deadlined" are already tired slurs, says scholar Diana Butler Bass, who sees plenty of vitality under the good old Mainline name.


  1. I would recommend “The Refined Church”. The term plays off of “Reformed” but suggests a church that has been “through the fire.” It also suggests a sense of establishment in the best sense of the word; tried and tested and resistant to fads.

  2. The best name and most accurate, would be “The Mainline Formerly Known As Christians.” This isn’t even pejorative. It’s demonstrably true. These were churches that used to hold to a serious belief in the orthodox creeds of the Christian faith, the Scriptures, a serious belief in the supernatural, the higher and eternal life, and personal conversion and salvation through Christ. As a group, they no longer believe these things. They have taught that the Scriptures are the faulty writings of men, that obedience to those thing contained therein is not required, and that if there is a heaven, all one must do to get there is to die. They offer no salvation, they busy themselves with progressive/socialist politics, bizarre sexuality and gender fixations (they have neutered Jesus) and comfort people in their sin (which is an anachronism to them anyway). They have syncretized their practice with Buddhism, Hinduism, Unitarianism, Universalism and Paganism. They are not recognizably Christian anymore in anything but a nominal resemblance.

  3. And it has the added benefit of not sounding at all elitist.

  4. You have summed it up, Michelle. The Apostate Church is a suitable name. They have departed from “the faith ONCE delivered to the saints”. (Jude 1:3) Biblical Christianity does not change:
    “I am the Lord, I change not”. (Malachi 3:6)
    “Jesus Christ the SAME yesterday, and today and for ever”. (Hebrews 13:8)
    Jesus said, “Thy word is TRUTH”. (John 17:17) They don’t believe that.

  5. Let’s stick to the true intention oif the church. After all there is no Social Justice just “Justice For All”…

    “A Church Of Our Lord Jesus Christ”……….

    Keep it simple and to the point….

    Jim Eckland

  6. “Mainline protestant”? Most definitely a name change is in order. They have flat out rejected every one of the 5 solas of protestantism which are the very doctrines that defined protestantism. The blood of the martyrs cries out for a name change. Michelle and EB hit the nail squarely on the head. Thank you for telling it like it is. Please allow me to be bold here in my attempt to rename MP in hopes of causing someone to get back to the Scriptures “to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). How about “The Deceived Deceiving Others” or “Perpetrators of the False Gospel”? (Gal. 1:6-9) This is so sad it breaks your heart. Please prayerfully read your Bibles looking for the Truth which is found only in the Lord Jesus Christ because He IS Truth and His Word IS Truth. John 1:1-18 would be a good place to start.

  7. I’m sticking with Mainline. It identifies a social location in American communities — a religious tradition that takes a broad view of its responsibilities to the community at large — that continues to serve as meaningful shorthand.

  8. Yes, “Mainline” identifies a social location. However, “Mainline” and “Protest-ant” don’t live easily with one anther. Might one make a case for “Main Protest Line”?

  9. I think Mr. Silk has it right. Stick with Mainline. It denotes both social location and history. It also denotes theological location, perhaps this is its greatest virtue. Further, it’s a term that is well understood. I see no reason to abandon it. “Mainline” doesn’t scream country club, cucumber sandwiches or fancy hats to me. Nor does it suggest “upper-crust elite society” to me, either.

  10. I suggest Red Letter Christian Church.

    We focus much more on Jesus Christ himself, and his words in the Gospels, than other theological groups. We put Jesus before any creeds, dogma, doctrine, etc. We believe that such documents, created by people, do not carry the same weight as Jesus. Jesus before habits; Jesus before traditions; Jesus before broadly accepted customs; Jesus first, last, and always.

  11. Perhaps not all of the mainline Protestants, but for those committed to social justice – why not frontline?

  12. How about Dana Carvey Christians? The DCCs for short.

  13. Try calling yourselves Christian-followers are Christ and do they work. PREACH THE GOSPEL

  14. So, the inerrant deity of the fundamentalist Christian raises its head one more time. Isn’t this the god that doesn’t have to say “I’m sorry” or “I have no regrets”? That image is a lot of phony baloney. The bible is loaded with the “lord” being sorry and regretting. How can this “inerran”t deity be a model for people, or believed to provide guidance for human well-being? If the supernatural small tribal mountain deity of the Christians does this in the bible, why not allow people to discuss the possible meanings of the “holy books” and work out some compromises that allow them to live reasonable lives, even if they want to call themselves “Christians”? They would be unencumbered with the dogma of ancient texts. Here are some examples of the Christian god’s sorrow and regrets:
    1. Exodus 32:9-14 – The lord of the Israelites decides to kill all his own people; is entreated by Moses to not do so, changes its mind, and repents its evil intentions.
    2. Deuteronomy 32:36 – When the Israelites start to worship another deity, their original god repents for them, and becomes, once again, their main guy.
    3. 1 Samuel 15:11 – The god of the Israelites regrets setting up Saul to be king, because Saul didn’t murder all the right people and permitted sacrifice instead.
    4. Jeramiah 26:3 – The deity of the Israelites admits that its intentions are evil, but indicates that it will repent, and not destroy a given population, if the people will worship the deity.

  15. Do we really need partisan labels?
    I think pollsters like them so they can divide us demographically and try to predict how we might vote. But the church shouldn’t be divided into parties–why can’t we just call ourselves Christian?

  16. There is so much that you say that is questionable, judgmental or wrong. Each of these so-called “Mainline Protestants” has it’s own brand of orthodoxy. They
    split off from the Catholic Church in “protest” of Catholic dogma and orthodoxy. The splits just kept on happening. There is no one “Mainline Protestant” orthodoxy.

    As far as that goes, there is no one Catholic orthodoxy. There’s Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, Russian Orthodoxy, Armenian Orthodoxy, and a number of others.

    The Bible is not the inerrant word of God; neither the Old Testament or the New Testament. The New Testament, for example, was written by people who never knew Jesus, were not disciples, wrote anonymously or pseudonymously over a period of 100+/- years after Jesus’ death. Over time, scribes modified much of what was originally written in order to combat religious beliefs that the Catholic Church identified as heretical. Scholars can compare various versions of the different books written at different times and see where the changes were made. Then, there are many, many translations of the Bible. Are all of them inerrant, or which one is?

    I would hope that one could recognize Christians by their following the golden rule and their loving-kindness to all people.

  17. You have cherry-picked verses from the Bible to make your point, but the rest is not represented. God was not the same throughout Jewish history and the Jews were not always exclusively worshippers of a monotheistic God.

    Originally, God was a weather God. That’s why one went to the mountain to meet him. In the early parts of the Old Testament, God’s name is “Elohim” which is plural, referencing polytheistic Gods. There was a time when the Jewish God, had a female companion, Asherah. At other times, Asherah was considered to be the feminine aspect of God. Later, God becomes YHWH (Jehovah), the supposedly monotheistic God. There are a number of references in the Old Testament to Jewish worship of other Gods: the golden calf, worship of Gods in the temple under Solomon and David, household Gods, etc. If this is not so, why does God keep losing his temper with them?

    In the New Testament, there are so many different aspects of Jesus that it’s hard to view him as one person. Was he peace loving or militant? Was he meant to be a Jewish Messiah that fought the Romans to free Jerusalem and rule it, or was his kingdom not of this world? Was he born in Bethlehem or Nazareth? He has two different genealogies. And so on and so on. If you need more examples or references from the New Testament, please respond.

  18. Resistant to fads? Surely this is satire. I can’t think of a single modern “fad” in the last 50 years that the so-called mainline churches have not followed. Is there a single position (fad) adopted by today’s secular society that the mainline churches have not adopted shortly thereafter?

  19. At the rate we’re going, VPCC, the Vanishing Progressive Christian , Church would probably capture it best. In the PC USA, for example, theological and political liberals have won their 40-year war to take over the denomination. (Carol Merritt’s church) Traditionalists are quietly heading for the exits–5% (100,000+) left last year. Before the end of this decade, the PCUSA will be a boutique, east coast/west coast/college town denomination, more a progressive political and social group than a traditional Christian church. Probably aligned into some new structure with the remnants of the other former Mainline denominations. By then, it will have dawned on some of them that the group they hoped to attract, other social and political liberals, are firm secularists, the nones, not interested in religion at all.

  20. Read “Christianity and Liberalism” by John Gresham Machen. It was written in the 1920’s, and in it he contends that the liberal mainline churches aren’t even Christian. They have abandoned the gospel in favor of a totally different set of beliefs, and it’s not a new phenomenon.

  21. I think we could call ourselves denominational, which would distinguish us from nondenominational. More importantly, I think since the evangelicals are now claiming majority, we should start calling them mainline! They could then bear the weight of being “established,” “establishment,” or at least all being tarred by the same brush when it comes to popular opinion that all the members of a group think alike.

  22. Legacy Denominations … like legacy airlines, carrying a lot of baggage from the past…
    But wait! I still have lots of miles to redeem!

  23. I recommend “Neo-Orthodox” churches because we aren’t just liberal. We are re-inventing the wheel.

  24. Forward Christians. I suggest this name because it is a designation not borrowed from the labels of politics.

    These denominations generally move forward as the meaning of Scripture unfolds through better scholarship, translation, and prayerful reflection on the essential humaneness of Christ. The name could also be seen as a constant moving forward from Pentecost to today and tomorrow, as the church opens itself more and more to the lovingkindness God has for all of humanity.

  25. Okay Jim, I’ll read John Gresham Machen, if you’ll read 1 Corinthians. Then I’ll fix us a pitcher of lemonade, and we can discus Mark 9:38-50.

  26. I offered Quixotic Quislings or Q2s. The American mainline churches of the 20&21st centuries have emerged as the finest flowering of bourgeois Christianity, as practiced in the ritualistic cheerleading for the status quo as any historic state religion. The one thing they can never contain is the Spirit, the helterskelter element of God, and as long as people keep being reinvigorated by it and turned on by Jesus there is always hope that its subversive lyrics and dances will overcome the maudlin melodies of pretentious polities. Come check out the underground church but you will have to get low and get some dirt under your fingernails…

  27. Excellent comment Plorlk —

    I would hope that one could recognize Christians by their following the golden rule and their loving-kindness to all people.

  28. The Great Divides — Because they multiply by division!!!

  29. This site is not only poorly informed but quite snobbish and bigoted.

  30. I choose Main Street or Landmark churches. These are the buildings, for the most part, that the congregations have lived in for generations. People often only know the church (instead of the people of the congregation) as “the church down town on Main” or as a major land mark in town, as in, “take a left at the old Presbyterian church and we are four blocks down on the right.” It still speaks to a social location and history but also talks about the lessening influence and social awareness or social interaction that is there.

Leave a Comment