Denominations that liberalized Christianity’s teachings on sex are in decline

Alexander Grisworld writes about all the denominations that liberalized their teachings on sex, in The Federalist.

Excerpt:

The Episcopal Church

In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay, noncelibate man to be consecrated as a bishop of the Episcopal Church. In the wake of his consecration, entire dioceses severed ties with the Episcopal Church, eventually creating the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). But the Episcopal Church continued to liberalize its sexual teachings, lifting a moratorium on any more gay bishops in 2006 and creating a “blessing ceremony” for gay couples in 2009.

In 2002, the number of baptized U.S. members of the Episcopal Church stood at 2.32 million. By 2012, that number had fallen to 1.89 million, a decline of 18.4 percent. Meanwhile, attendance has fallen even more steeply. Average Sunday attendance in its U.S. churches was 846,000 in 2002, but had fallen 24.4 percent by 2012 to only 640,000. Other signs of congregational liveliness have fallen even further. Baptisms have fallen by 39.6 percent, and marriages have fallen by 44.9 percent.

As for the ACNA? It’s seen its membership rise by 13 percent and its Sunday attendance rise by 16 percent in the past five years. Since 2009, the ACNA has planted 488 new congregations. In 2012, the entire Episcopal Church managed to plant four new churches.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) was formed in 1987, when three Lutheran denominations merged to create the largest Lutheran church in America. For most of its history, gay men and women were permitted to be pastors, so long as they remained celibate. But in a narrow vote at its 2009 Churchwide Assembly, ordination was extended to gay men and women in “committed monogamous relationships.” In addition, the Assembly passed an amendment allowing churches “to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable life-long, monogamous, same-gender relationships.”

From ELCA’s formation in 1987 to 2009, the average decrease in membership each year was only 0.62 percent. But after the liberalization of the ELCA’s stance on sexuality, membership declined a whopping 5.95 percent in 2010 and 4.98 percent in 2011. Since 2009, more than 600 congregations abandoned the denomination, with almost two-thirds joining conservative Lutheran denominations like the North American Lutheran Church and Lutheran Churches in Ministry for Christ.

By the end of 2012, ELCA had lost 12.3 percent of its members in three years—nearly 600,000 people. If the present rate of defections holds steady, ELCA will cease to exist in less than two decades.

The United Church of Christ

The United Church of Christ (UCC) has long had a reputation for unfettered liberalism, sometimes bordering on the radical. In 2008, for example, the pastor of the largest UCC congregations in the country was one Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The UCC’s tendency for pushing traditional boundaries has led to unquestionably positive developments (such as the first African-American pastor as early as 1785) and the unquestionably silly (such as the first hymnal that refuses to call Jesus male). Needless to say, in 2005 UCC became the first U.S. mainline Protestant denomination to support same-sex marriage, and has been an outspoken voice in the gay marriage debate ever since.

While UCC has been bleeding members for decades, its decline rapidly acceleratedafter the gay marriage vote. Since 2005, UCC has lost 250,000 members, a decline of 20.4 percent over seven years. While an average of 39 congregations left UCC annually from 1990 to 2004, more than 350 congregations departed in the following three years. The UCC’s own pension board called the 2000’s decline “the worst decade among 25 reporting Protestant denominations,” and admitted that “…the rate of decline is accelerating.”

2013 marked a particularly grim milestone for the denomination, as membership finally fell below one million. If the post-2005 rate in membership losses doesn’t taper out, the denomination will cease to exist in 30 years.

The Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA) was flirting with loosening its sexual standards as early as its 2006 General Assembly, when it voted to allow ordination boards to essentially overlook clergy marriage standards if a candidate “adhere[s] to the essentials of the Reformed faith.” By 2010, the General Assembly had passed an amendment to remove all clerical standards of sexual behavior entirely. This year’s General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to change their Book of Order to redefine marriage as a civil contract between “two people” and to allow ministers to perform same-sex marriages where legal.

Hopefully by now, you can see where this is all headed. In 2006, 2.2 million people were members of PCUSA, a number that dropped 22.4 percent to 1.85 million by 2013. PCUSA’s decline accelerated significantly after approving the ordination of non-celibate gay and lesbian clergy in mid-2011, which led to the creation of an alternative denomination in 2012 called ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. Over 100,000 members left the PCUSA in 2012 alone.

Once again, if post-2006 trends continue, the denomination will cease to exist by 2037.

Why is this?

I think it’s because when a person says that the plain meaning of Scripture is no longer authoritative in our lives simply because it interferes with our seeking of pleasure, that is the ballgame. When it comes to ethics, any serious Christian is going to look to the Bible to be the guide on God’s character and our duties to him that come out of being in relationship with him. If I have girlfriend, and we go out to a restaurant, I cannot spend the entire time hitting on the waitress and staring at every other girl in the room. Similarly, when a person claims to be a Christian, and be in a relationship with God, it’s a two-way relationship, and our actions have got to respect God as he is. God has a design for male-female relationships – a design for love, marriage and sex. If we just decide that we don’t have to care about who he is when we make these decisions about love, marriage and sex, then the relationship with him is over. It’s all about us, then. And if it’s all about us, then why get up and go to church at all?

The question that decides what side we are on is this: are there two people in this relationship? Do I have to care about that other person, or do I just project my feelings and desires onto them so they are just a projection of me? In my relationship with God, I know God is different than me. And I know what God is like from reading the Bible and seeing what God has done in the past. In particular, I can clearly see what Jesus has done in history. I know that God is not like me, and that he has other things he values than what I value. I know that what he wants for me is better for me in the long run than the things that seem so important to me now. Being in a relationship means that you have to listen to that other person and think about how to respect them in your decision-making. Once you put your own happiness above the things the other person cares about, it’s over.

6 thoughts on “Denominations that liberalized Christianity’s teachings on sex are in decline”

  1. In a recent men’s group one man expressed that someone had told him that you can give a woman your love but never give her your heart. If you give her your heart she has the power to destroy you. Often people draw the same lines with God. I will express my love to you in my way but I won’t give you my heart because I don’t trust you enough with something you can use to destroy me. The church is to be set apart from the world. Often we cannot change the world’s values since outside of a relationship with God those values lack a true foundation. Often those values require self-sacrifice as an expression of a genuine love for God. When our primary relationship is with God we don’t compare our struggles with sin with someone else’s struggle with sin in a way that tells God he’s being unfair. Instead we are amazed and humbled that God is faithful to us in spite of our sinful nature and desires.

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  2. “when a person says that the plain meaning of Scripture is no longer authoritative in our lives simply because it interferes with our seeking of pleasure, that is the ballgame.”

    I would say that is true. I also think it’s more than that. Studies have shown that the decline in these denominations if largely due to their dismissal of standards at all. “Be good and be charitable” is about all they ask, and people are leaving. Not because they don’t want to do those things, but because they can’t see a difference between church and anyone else. I suspect “can’t see a difference” is a big issue.

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    1. Excellent point, Stan! In fact, the reason that they cannot SEE a difference between those apostate churches and anyone else is because there truly IS no difference. Lots of a-theists are basically good in an ethical sense, even if they are not particularly charitable – in a time and treasure sense.

      What about the UMC, WK? They seem to be falling away, even though there are some good conservative pro-life ones left. But, they are quite feminized: one of their women’s organizations just fawned over Hillary when she came to speak to them recently.

      It is interesting to note that Assemblies of God and Catholic churches appear to be growing, the latter probably due to the soft persecution by the Obama administration the past 5 years, although their growth rate has been fairly consistent for a long time.

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  3. This links in with your next post about utilitarianism a little. One of the big things that is apparent about reasoning by “the end justifies the means” is that the means often just don’t lead to the end that you expect. People push a downgrade in sexual morality as the means to become “relevant” and to thereby arrest the decline in their churches, it doesn’t work and they are stuck with the “means” without any chance of achieving the “end”.

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