At The New Republic, Ed Kilgore offers an astute analysis of realignments between Catholics, evangelicals, and mainline Protestants. When it comes to liturgical practice, Catholics and mainlines are closer than ever (nothwithstanding the Catholics’ new unecumenical translation, which Kilgore doesn’t mention). But in the culture wars, the Catholic leadership is moving closer to the evangelicals and the mainline is moving elsewhere.
We may be on the brink of a religious realignment, whereby the issues on which Christians argued, fought, killed, and persecuted each other (and others) since the sixteenth century are giving way to a different source of division: the culture wars…
Yet the single most notable trend in mainline American Protestantism in recent decades has been the adoption of liturgical practices associated with Catholicism, such as frequent communion and observance of liturgical seasons, particularly since Rome reformed its own liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council Catholics and most mainline Protestants have long since adopted a common “lectionary” of scripture readings for use during worship services throughout the year. At the same time, the radical theological experiments that were once so fashionable in liberal Protestant circles have been subsiding; mainliners are far more likely to recite the historic Nicene or Apostle’s creeds during worship than are evangelicals. In other words, a growing number of mainline Protestants now worship much like Catholics.
Read it here: The Widening Political Divide Between Catholicism and Mainline Protestantism.
I am a social Christian, a social Catholic. I am still convinced that the term “pro-life” not only includes reverence for physical life from conception to natural death, but also a commitment to provide for the dignity of all persons. This includes universal access to basic health care, the right of all workers to unionize, a living wage, and an end to capital punishment. Without social justice, the Word is often hollowed of its meaning, and the Eucharist emptied of thanksgiving.
Ed Kilgore’s succinct and accessible article rightly notes that the American Catholic bishops remain committed to certain aspects of Catholic social justice. Even so, political partisanship within both parties has greatly impeded the Catholic way to social justice. Certainly, American conservatism is not inherently incapable of providing social justice. Nor is social democracy the only path to human dignity. However, some clergy and laity would rather relinquish control of the Church’s public voice to politicians which are often inimical to social teachings beyond the preservation of unborn life. Catholics should not settle for any politician who promises only an end to abortion. We should not cease speaking out until politicians also support the social renewal which upholds unborn life.
KIlgore correctly observes that politically conservative evangelicals have ignored socially-minded mainline Protestants. Similarly, politically conservative Catholics have often alienated social Catholics from politics. I am still convinced that social Christianity is alive in the hearts of many Christians. The conviction for social justice must proceed from hearts into one assertive voice.
Yet the single most notable trend in mainline American Protestantism in recent decades has been the adoption of liturgical practices associated with Catholicism, such as frequent communion and observance of liturgical seasons,
I think that’s historically misinformed.
Wish we still had Fr. Cody around to weigh in on this.
The “adoption of liturgical practices associated with Catholicism” in the mainline churches dates back at least to the beginning of the Tractarian movement… the early 1800’s in Britain and was transplanted to the United States by the 1868 founding of St. Mary the Virgin in New York City on Tractarian principles.
Another practice not mentioned by Kilgore would be the recovery of the medieval Latin hymns (in translation) an effort of John Mason Neale in the mid-nineteenth century and one that persists to this day whereever a congregation is singing “O Come O Come Emmanuel” or “All Glory Laud and Honor”.
Now that I think about it, it’s even early, since frequent communion (to cite one of Kilgore’s practices) was an early 18th century principle of Methodism (though it then fell out of use because the ministers were often circuit-riding and as a result were not available to celebrate every Sunday for every congregation).
Kilgore’s history is wierd in other places. He claims “When ECT issued its first manifesto, it was a highly controversial exercise that attracted considerable criticism from both evangelicals and Catholics,” but the link for “considerable criticism is not from “When ECT issued its first manifesto” in 1994 but from 2009 and is specifically about how there has been a change towards greater conflict since 1994, because of, among other things, controversies over grace and e.g. Calvinism (via Piper, et al.) in evangelical Churches.
I’d further question the idea that “At the same time, the radical theological experiments that were once so fashionable in liberal Protestant circles have been subsiding” especially as combined with the idea that mainline Protestant worship is becoming more like Catholic worship.
This is only true by defining “radical theological experiments” in a no-true scotsman like way. There have been many signifigant developments in mainline Protestant theology that, seen from the perspective of even the mid-twentieth century (or from the current “Roman line”) can certainly be labeled radical and which are reflected in the liturgy of those Churches (the ordination of women, the marriage of homosexual couples, the official Methodist liturgy for a divorce [representing a substantial change in Methodist theology], or the controversies over open communion in the Episcopal Church.)
re: Samuel J. Howard on April 30, 2012 – 3:11 pm
Sam: There have been many signifigant developments in mainline Protestant theology that, seen from the perspective of even the mid-twentieth century (or from the current “Roman line”) can certainly be labeled radical and which are reflected in the liturgy of those Churches […] (my ellipsis)
Finer distinctions are necessary when discussing the presentation of more controversial Christian theological issues in worship. A same-sex wedding liturgy, for example, might contain what some consider to be theologically questionable innovations such as vertically inclusive language. The presence of this theological concept in a parish’s same-sex wedding liturgy does not necessarily imply the use of that theological concept in other liturgies of the same community. Also, a parish which exclusively offers liturgies according to an older rite might support preaching which favors more controversial theology, even if the liturgies themselves are theologically “orthodox” or less controversial.
The Anglo-Catholic church near where I last lived follows the 1962 Canadian BCP closely. This prayerbook in turn substantially preserves the 1662 Church of England BCP rite. The older liturgy allows for a neutral place where the parish can worship without heavily exacerbating the ideological and theological fault lines which run through the congregation. While some parishioners are quite accepting of innovations, others are much less so. Perhaps paradoxically, traditionalism helps to moderate parish divisions.
Jordan: The presence of this theological concept in a parish’s same-sex wedding liturgy does not necessarily imply the use of that theological concept in other liturgies of the same community.
My point is that the presence of a theology of same-sex marriage in a liturgical rite is inescapably liturgical. That’s radical theology in the liturgy, not withstanding any arguably accidental elements like vertically inclusive language. And that theology is then incescabaly reflected in other liturgies, regardless of the accidental language used there.
re: Samuel J. Howard on May 1, 2012 – 7:53 am
I now understand what you mean, and agree with much of what you write. Innovative liturgies such as same-sex weddings contain what some might consider controversial theology simply by the presence of two persons of the same sex and the theological consequences of the liturgical action.
Others might contend that a same-sex marriage is an evolution of the sacrament or ordinance of marriage. If, as some Christians contend, homosexual relationships are morally and theologically equivalent to heterosexual relationships, then changes to a wedding liturgy to reflect the union of two persons of the same sex are practical modifications and not theologically controversial modifications.
The division between liturgical evolution and liturgical innovation rests on ex opere operato. Annulled Catholic marriages do not invalidate the matrimonial sacrament but rather certify that the one of or both of the spouses could not or did not fulfill their marital vows. However, if one does not apply ex opere operato to marriage, then the subjective intent of the minister(s) and the opposite-sex or same-sex couple would intrinsically change the theological intent, regardless of the liturgical text used.
No, I think Kilgore has it right. He speaks of a “trend in mainline Protestantism,” and there has been such a trend especially since the 1960s. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council, along with many other ecclesial and cultural developments, led to previously unimagined ecumenical liturgical convergence. This has only accelerated in the past decade or two. I repeatedly encounter evidence of this in ecumenical organizations to which I belong such as the Hymn Society or the North American Academy of Liturgy.
Tractarians et al are certainly very important, and we all know about their rich history stretching back to the 19th century. But they were, broadly speaking, one faction within the church rather than a dominant trend in the church.
I believe Pray Tell has run a few articles on the rapid growth of ecumenical liturgy in recent decades.
I’m not denying that there’s been some convergence between American Catholic worship and American Mainline Protestant Worship in the past few decades.
But their have also been very significant divergences (something your comment doesn’t remark upon.)
And Kilgore’s claim is a very strong one, “the single most notable trend in mainline American Protestantism in recent decades has been the adoption of liturgical practices associated with Catholicism , such as frequent communion and observance of liturgical seasons, particularly since Rome reformed its own liturgy during and after the Second Vatican Council”.
To take the liturgical seasons: the PCUSA adopted an increased emphasis on the liturgical seasons in the 1946 Book of Common Worship (as the preface of the present Book of Common Worship states). The Episcopalians never got rid of it, nor did the Lutherans. The Methodists began the process of adopting a liturgical year approach in the early 20th century ( See Karen Beth Westerfield Tucker’s American Methodist Worship). By 1945, the Methodist Church had a Book of Worship with a lectionary and seasonal services for the observance of festivals of the church year.
Perhaps instead of the Catholic liturgical movement/2nd Vatican Council taking credit for “[leading] to previously unimagined ecumenical liturgical convergence,” these developments should be seen in the context of broad trends within both the Catholic and Protestant Churches going back a lot longer than recent decades.
Hmm…My Anglo-Catholic parish, Church of the Ascension, Chicago, was founded in 1857 on similar principles. For a time, newspaper columnists routinely referred to the parish as “extreme ritualist Church of the Ascension.”
Ah, to clarify, I meant “transplanted to the U.S. by the date of the founding of St. Mary the Virgin” i.e. that at least by 1867 the Tractarian movement had migrated to the U.S., not that St. Mary the Virgin was the first or the earliest.
Recently a local Baptist Church advertised its “Lenten schedule” with Palm Sunday and Maundy Thursday services. I was surprised, this was new for them. Drove past the church the other day, completely redone (reborn?) with a new roof and looks like it might be expanding. Whereas, the United Church of Christ across the street was closed and for sale. Another Baptist church in the other part of town (no Lenten observances) doesn’t look so good.
Maybe they are finding something that we have always had?
I’ve often been pleasantly surprised about how Vatican II has affected Protestant denominations. In my previous parish there is a convent of Episcopal nuns, one of whom attended my parish’s Saturday night Mass and who eventually became “Roman” as they say at the age of 96. She told me that Vatican II affected her order greatly in the 1960’s and she was very appreciative of it.
Even the birthplace of the Southern Baptist Convention in Augusta would use the common lectionary and celebrate the seasons of the year including Ash Wednesday which would have been unheard of for the majority of Southern Baptists in the 1960’s (and for many, still today).
Indeed, the adoption of liturgical seasons by evangelicals (as opposed to the mainline Churches) is one of the more notable trends of the past couple of decades.