From 'Liberal' Pews, a Rising Thirst for Personal Moral Code

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

From 'Liberal' Pews, a Rising Thirst for Personal Moral Code


G. Jeffrey MacDonald Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Mainline Protestant congregations, known for emphasizing the social-justice and global-equity dimensions of the Gospel, are increasingly making space for airing parishioners' day-to-day moral dilemmas, which they used to leave largely between an individual and God.

Often, this thirst for a personal code of conduct is being satisfied among lay members themselves, who gather in small groups in homes, cafes, and church basements to talk over daily moral challenges.

What's new is that it's appearing in "blue state," liberal- leaning churches, which appear to be taking a page from the playbook of conservative megachurches that have long used small groups to reinforce Christian morality - and to help members feel connected and satisfied.

Guidance in private moral matters helps keep the spirit alive, says Jim Adams of the Center for Progressive Christianity in Cambridge, Mass. "I think people want it and need it," he says. "Progressive churches that are thriving do pay as much attention to the personal as they do to the social and the political.... That's where people get what they need to sustain their lives."

When Bob Potter joined St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in midtown Manhattan, little did he expect that he would soon be advising fellow members how to live their lives. But when a man in his church discussion group was diagnosed with a terminal illness, Mr. Potter and five others in the group asserted a robust moral guidance, urging him to reconcile with every member of his family who had become estranged since learning he was gay.

"We encouraged that, and to a certain extent, we bridged the gap" by phoning reluctant family members and encouraging meetings, he says.

Such daring encounters with one another's moral struggles have become remarkably regular at "St. Bart's," a progressive congregation whose average Sunday attendance has leapt from 100 to 1,200 since the early 1990s. Small groups that discuss personal dilemmas deserve much of the credit, according to Rector William Tully.

Other churches reversing years of decline say the same is true for them as well.

"This modern resurgence of interest [in small groups] in the past 15 years is authentically a new thing," says Ian Evison, director of research at the Alban Institute, a think tank for mainline American Christianity in Herndon, Va. "People found themselves with all these self-help groups, and it tended to create a culture for how things are dealt with."

In this new wave, groups of six to 12 members are convening - officially, at least - to pray, watch films, do crafts, or simply eat and chat without any obligation to say much at all. Yet under these nonthreatening auspices, church-based groups - especially in Northern states, - are coming to offer something quite profound in the eyes of church watchers. They report a subtle re-creation of safe spaces and sources of guidance that had gradually become the domain of workplace spirituality teams and 12-step recovery groups, which often rent space from churches.

Churchgoers are increasingly willing to go to their peers in the pews for guidance, says Mr. Evison, in part because few want to rely on clergy for one-on-one counseling in an era charged with sexual- abuse scandals.

Another reason has to do with urban lifestyles that include fewer "occasions for natural friendships" among adults who miss the blunt advice given in childhood and college days, according to Mr. Adams.

Whatever the causes, some hope they've found an effective way to stem decades of declining numbers in mainline churches.

Highly progressive and politically minded Unitarian Universalists, for instance, have helped small groups take root in hundreds of congregations across the denomination. Meanwhile, their denomination has been adding members over the past 10 years at a pace unseen elsewhere in progressive religion. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

From 'Liberal' Pews, a Rising Thirst for Personal Moral Code
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.