By Tom Holmes
Three changes in religion in the U.S.
In Dialog: A Journal of Theology, Daniel O. Aleshire identified three changes in American society which religious institutions will have to respond to.
- The changing social status of religion in American culture. When I was a boy growing up in the 1950s, churches had power. In my hometown of Manitowoc, WI clergy got together and made the local school district promise to not have any activities, including sports, on Wednesday evenings. That was set aside as Church Night for activities like choir practice and confirmation classes. It was unthinkable back then to schedule anything on Sunday.
- A demographic shift is taking place. By around 2050 white will be a racial minority in this country. “Privilege,” Aleshire contends, “never surrenders without a fight.” We’ll see if the Mainline Protestant churches which have championed social change—like they did during the Civil Rights Movement—will be as enthusiastic about social change in the coming years.
- The changing status of mainline Protestantism. The ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), of which I am a member, has decreased in size by 15% since 1987. We’ll see if Presbyterians and Methodists and Episcopalians and Lutherans can adjust to having less resources to work with and some congregations closing their doors. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Forest Park closed its doors two years ago and in Oak Park Austin Boulevard Christian Church closed last year at Christmas.
The times they are a’changing. We’ll see if the churches which are shrinking can keep their heads high, adapt to having less influence in society and redefine their mission.
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