Friday, May 08, 2009

Mainliners Don't Torture, But We Don't Pray Either

I'm one of the rare people who takes pride in being a Mainline Protestant. I have plenty of gripes about the way that my denomination and other mainline churches do things; but when people who aren't United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopal, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Evangelical Lutheran, United Church of Christ, or Cooperative Baptist talk smack about mainliners, I get defensive. For that reason, I enjoy the work of Diana Butler Bass. In her books The Practicing Congregation and Christianity for the Rest of Us, Butler Bass gives Mainline Protestants occasion to feel good about our shrinking and decreasingly relevant churches.

When I saw a link to a post at Beliefnet's Progressive Revival blog titled "Mainline Protestants: America's Moral Conscience," I assumed that Butler Bass had written it. I was right, and I was intrigued.

Why, you may ask, are Mainline Protestants America's moral conscience? Because we oppose torture. Kind of. Mainliners are more likely to oppose torture than Christians of any other classification. According to a recent Pew survey, 31 percent of us say that torture is never justified. (We lead the nation in that category.) 22 percent of us say that it is rarely justified. So barely over half of Mainline Protestants generally disapprove of torture. Sure, we beat the evangelicals and Catholics on this one, but 53 percent hardly qualifies us as the nation's "moral conscience."

(In case you're interested, I fall in the 31 percent who say that torture is never justified. I believe that all persons, no matter what crimes they may be guilty of, are God's beloved creations and that torture compromises the worth and dignity both of the person being tortured and the person doing the torturing. I'm also skeptical of torture as an effective means to get useful information. I suspect that someone who is being tortured will say anything his or her torturers want to hear, regardless of whether it is true.)

Allow me to introduce another survey. This one is about prayer. Just as 53 percent of Mainline Protestants oppose torture, 53 percent of Mainline Protestants pray daily. 53 percent was enough to win the torture survey, but it puts us in last place (among Christian groups) in the prayer category. Not only are mainliners less likely to pray daily than other sorts of Christians, we also are less likely to pray daily than Americans in general. 58 percent of the general population prays daily, but only 53 percent of Mainline Protestants do the same. This makes a certain amount of sense given the religious breakdown of the general population, but it looks bad. How can we be the nation's moral conscience if half of us don't have regular prayer habits?

So, if you're a Mainline Protestant, we need to take more seriously prayer and other spiritual habits. If you're not a Mainline Protestant, back off, we're working on it.


Blogger Reyes-Chow said...

Thanks for the insightful post. Good stuff. I think you capture what many of experiences living in the tension between the joys and struggles of the mainline experience.

8:54 AM  
Blogger Christian Wright said...

I wonder, also, how "prayer" is defined and understood both by those asking the question and those answering. For example, participating in last week's Christian Peace Witness for Iraq was a deeply prayerful experience for me, but I doubt that the witness would be understood a praying. I imagine that the Witness Against Torture folks might feel the same way. None of which is to say that, as Butler-Bass underscores in many of her writings, spiritual practices are unimportant. Rather, I wonder if in speaking of such practices we need to expand our boxes and help folks claim the broader aspects of the spirituality of every day living.

9:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ONLY %31 of church people say that torture is never an option? What bible are the other %69 reading from?

4:30 PM  

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