Although mainline Protestants have emphasized inclusiveness and have criticized traditional family initiatives, their churches have attracted fewer non-traditional families than evangelicals who espouse more conservative family views, writes W. Bradford Wilcox in the Christian Century (Feb. 21).
Wilcox looks at the articles, sermons and programs of mainline churches and finds that they may speak of the plight of children in social injustice and poverty, but they have offered little in the way of concrete support and advice on family matters. The paradox is seen in a mainline periodical such as Christian Century. Between 1980 and 1995, 32 percent of the articles in the magazine dealt with social justice issues while only five percent concerned family- and sex-related topics. Surveys of mainline clergy and laity has shown high tolerance of changes in the family (divorce, remarriage, and same-sex couples), but have not addressed moral concerns about the effect of divorce on children.
This tolerance of new family patterns combined with a distaste for the “family values” approach of evangelicals have tended to make mainline churches shy away from offering any clear guidance on family issues. Wilcox cites the National Congregational Survey as showing that conservative Protestant churches are more than twice as likely to offer nontraditional family ministries, such as support groups for divorced and single adults, than mainline churches. “Even more ironic is that mainline congregations actually have slightly more formal programs for conventional families” — such as marriage programs — than do conservative Protestant churches, writes Wilcox.
Also surprisingly, mainline churches were less likely to attract members from non-traditional families than were conservative churches. Wicox concludes that mainline churches are still tied to the conventional family pattern despite their tolerant rhetoric and views. To cope with the future such churches need to develop more programs to deal with non-traditional families while also addressing the “mounting evidence that divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing pose serious threats to children.”
(Christian Century, 407 S. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60605)