December 12, 2004


From 'liberal' pews, a rising thirst for personal moral code: More Protestant churches are now focusing on personal morality in addition to social justice. (G. Jeffrey MacDonald, 12/08/04, CS Monitor)

Mainline Protestant congregations, known for emphasizing the social-justice and global-equity dimensions of the Gospel, are increasingly making space for airing parishioners' day-to-day moral dilemmas, which they used to leave largely between an individual and God.

Often, this thirst for a personal code of conduct is being satisfied among lay members themselves, who gather in small groups in homes, cafes, and church basements to talk over daily moral challenges.

What's new is that it's appearing in "blue state," liberal-leaning churches, which appear to be taking a page from the playbook of conservative megachurches that have long used small groups to reinforce Christian morality - and to help members feel connected and satisfied.

Guidance in private moral matters helps keep the spirit alive, says Jim Adams of the Center for Progressive Christianity in Cambridge, Mass. "I think people want it and need it," he says. "Progressive churches that are thriving do pay as much attention to the personal as they do to the social and the political.... That's where people get what they need to sustain their lives."

Even Blue America is so different from Europe as to barely be related.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 12, 2004 7:49 PM

Even Blue America is so different from Europe as to barely be related.


Posted by: Matt Murphy at December 12, 2004 11:07 PM


How many times do I have to go through this for you? In Europe there are state churches which get taxpayer money. They represent therefore the government or the system and have their own bureaucratic requirements, and are full of political operatives trying to engage in self-aggrandizement and not caring one whit about congregants. This eats away at the basis of trust between congregant and clergy, thus creating the conditions for the atrophy of those faiths. There is not a single example of a European state church which enjoys widespread popular support.

In the US, we have no state churches. People organize into communities of worship based upon common belief. When they employ a clergyman, on some level he has to be responsive to his congregation's needs. Very often he is unsalaried, as is the case with Mormons, and very often he is viewed not as superior to his flock but as another member, the term Brother rather than Father is commmonplace. In Judaism, the rabbi's role is that of teacher rather than intercessor with G-d. Even the Catholic Church is learning the hard way, from lawsuits over pedophile priests to grass-roots anger by many of the faithful over mealy-mouthed positions on major social issues of the day, like abortion, by many bishops.

Because we do not have a state church, the clergy must be responsive to the congregation, as any seller must respond to the market. In Europe, where there is no such discipline, it doesn't. Thus, in America, people go to church and in Europe people look elsewhere whether to other faiths, cults and practices, to a nanny-state or to a feckless hedonism.

Posted by: Bart at December 13, 2004 6:45 AM

Well said Bart.

FYI, Presbyterians (Which I am one) "call" their pastors. The clergy are not considered employees of the congregation in which he/she serves(they are considered self-employed by the IRS). A congregation's pastoral nominating committee calls the person they believe God has chosen to be their pastor. Theory and practice are not always in-sync, this is how it's supposed to be.

It's sometimes frustrating and difficult trying to please a congregation and God at the same time. I can't imagine being able to please them plus the state!

Posted by: Dave W. at December 13, 2004 9:56 AM