In a recent piece for the New York Times, Ross Douthat made several interesting observations about the imminent death of liberal Christianity, specifically the Episcopal Church. He points out the rather counterintuitive—yet consistently proven—fact that the more concessions the Church has made to the social whims and fancies of political liberals (currently in the form of social justice and homosexual marriage), the more irrelevant it has become. Douthat writes:
Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.
I’m not sure why anyone is really surprised by this; perhaps Douthat is simply pretending to be for his (mostly) liberal New York Times audience. Liberalism, as a general rule, doesn’t create anything. Like a leech, liberalism—whether political, religious, or otherwise—feeds off of what is already in existence. Without a host, liberalism cannot survive on its own. Liberalism is negative in the sense that it is always declaring what it does not believe, but has a much more difficult time declaring what it does. Try this sometime: ask your politically or religious (they’re usually the same people anyway) liberal co-worker what he believes about any number of topics and before he completes his second sentence he will be bashing conservative ideals. In other words, he will flip the conversation from being one of discussing his own ideals to one of degrading the ideals of his opponent.
As a liberal himself, at least religiously, Douthat has completely bought into one of the very few positive statements that liberalism likes to use to describe itself: the “helping our fellow man” line. Douthat describes it thusly: “The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.” Notice even Douthat can’t resist equating religious liberalism with political liberalism by taking a swipe at conservatives (the dreaded “political right” of Douthat’s quotation). If Douthat—and all other liberals with him—is to be believed, religious conservatives do not believe that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion; this is complete and utter nonsense.
For any liberals who happen to be reading this, please take note of this: Religious and political conservatives are not against social reform. The fact that I even need to put it into print is beyond ridiculous. There is no conservative that is even claiming this to be true. The primary difference between liberals and conservatives is not the necessity of social reform, but the funding of social reform. Liberals believe the civil government should be the primary funding and acting agent; conservatives believe that citizens should be the primary funding and acting agents. In fact, the Old and New Testaments are quite clear that the domain of “social reform” belongs to the community of faith (i.e. the local church), not to the government. Caring for the poor, widows, orphans, the sick and needy, and others in need is not a task of the civil government, it is a task of neighbors and individuals working together. Social reform is meaningless when it is only done under the compulsion of civil government.
Douthat seems to understand this. Near the end of his article he writes: “Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism.” Exactly. And this is because the liberal mainline churches have become the exclusive property of the political left. If Americans want an indication about what direction liberal politicians will take the country, they only need look at the liberal churches of America.