The church of George Washington, Robert E. Lee, J. P. Morgan and Franklin Roosevelt -- a "niche church"? Sounds that way. Not that our secularizing culture, which rarely admits religious ideas to serious discussion, cares much. The mistake of Christian bodies like the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians and even the Roman Catholics has been to woo the culture by pretending that truth at bottom is just personal opinion; that religious viewpoint admits prejudice more often than heavenly light.
The 21st century is in various (if hardly all) ways the least religious of modern centuries. A great church -- mine -- more interested in the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations than in the ancient, heavenly concerns of sin and salvation is still a church. How much longer it's likely to continue so is the big question.
Yet trends, I have tried to say, have a way of evaporating just when they look most solid. The wacko-ization of America's "progressive" churches, with their political obsession and their tendency to read the scriptural record in a way that supports their obsessions, may be in this category.
As the keepers of the current flame -- baby boomers relying on the insights and activities of their youth -- fade from view, younger tenders of a new/old flame -- the strong, scriptural faith of older centuries -- take their places. In my own vital diocese of the Episcopal Church -- Dallas -- this happens with greater and greater frequency. The new priests and laity coming on now don't have to be assured the faith is worth fighting for and preserving intact. They know that to be the case. It's why they became priests.
Only the Lord, proverbially speaking, knows what comes next. A prudent bet, nonetheless, might take into account his known tendency to keep his earthly shop open on the terms he himself -- without advice, without patronizing backtalk -- declares vital and true.
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