Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Embracing Oblivion

On my drive to work this morning, I heard that the United Church of Canada is planning a massive, 10 million dollar advertizing campaign designed to boost its image and its membership. The ads mentioned featured a statement about the UCC's pro-same sex marriage position and another depicting a can of whipping cream and the line "When does sex become a sin?". I imagine many people could answer the latter without needing to join the UCC.

For the past century, particularly since the great modernist vs. fundamentalist debates of the 1920s, the mainline Protestant churches have wed themselves to fashion. Rather than using Christianity as a lense by which to interpret the times, these churches used the times to interpret Christianity. As with most bad ideas, this decision (which has also been followed by some in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, but to a much lesser and limited degree) is based upon a rather naive assumption: Christianity, which admittedly had been on the defensive since the Reformation, will cease to be relevant unless its doctrines and dogmas are radically changed to accomodate similar changes in secular society (this was not a grass-roots decision; the choice to abandon Christian mores and beliefs was made chiefly by bishops and other church leaders).

In the early 20th Century, mainline Protestant churches were robust institutions who played an important role in society. By the end of the 20th Century, and after a seemingly endless number of rethinkings of Christian belief, mainline Protestant churches were empty vessels with absolutely no real influence on society. Its congregations have been hemorrhaging numbers at such a rapid pace that is it now average for one mainline Protestant parish to close its doors forever each week. In the UCC, membership has dropped by 50% over the past 40 years. With such massive losses, one would think common sense to somehow enter the minds of the pastors of the UCC and spark a serious reassessment of their leadership. Perhaps another liberalization or nauseating statement about 'affirming congregations' or 'embracing diversity' is not what is needed. When a church presents the same philosophy as the secular society, it runs the risk that its message will simply not be heard. For the UCC, this is the 10 million dollar gamble.

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