Northwest is stony ground for progressive Christianity

So a new study finds, and so a stimulating magazine discusses.
So a new study finds, and so a stimulating magazine discusses.

The Christian Century focused a recent issue on the Northwest's peculiar religious landscape, and it reminded me why I like the magazine so much. Unlike so many publications that identify with a social movement, the Century skips off-message creatively and consistently. It has represented some of the best progressive Christian thinking for 124 years without losing the ability to surprise.

For my money, its "Africentric Church" by Jason Byassee was the most insightful story during the campaign about Obama's Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. The piece ran in May 2007, well before the cable news hysteria over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons.

The Century's tagline, "Faithful living, critical thinking," may not be your cup of tea, but the magazine aims for'ꀔand usually hits'ꀔa sweet spot in between academic rigor and pop accessibility. Here's what reviewer Dale Soden had to say about Evangelical vs. Liberal: The Clash of Christian Cultures in the Pacific Northwest, by James Wellman of the University of Washington:

Wellman expected to discover that the Northwest's progressive social ethos and politics would be fertile ground for liberal Protestant churches. Instead he found the contrary. While it has strong liberal congregations, Wellman discovered that in general the region is not hospitable to progressive Christianity. And perhaps just as unexpectedly he found that "entrepreneurial evangelicals have carved out a foothold in the region, and are fast becoming the dominant Christian religious subculture."

According to Wellman, evangelicals work harder than liberals to "counteract the regional entropy toward disaffiliation from organized religion." They encourage and "nurture larger families and are simply more effective than liberals in keeping their children in the fold."'ꀦ

Wellman's other conclusion is that members of liberal churches are experiencing an identity crisis. Too often, he observes, liberal Protestants in the Northwest struggle to develop an identity that is distinct from the broader culture. "To a large extent liberal churches mimic or mirror many of the elite liberal cultural attributes of the PNW culture, such as the belief in the power of the individual to take care of oneself and to make the world a better place." Ironically, he concludes, "liberal churches fail to attract the unchurched in part because they share so much in common."

I hope someone's sent the Century a review copy of Douglass Todd's Cascadia: The Elusive Utopia on Northwest spirituality, because I'd love to read what they have to say.


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