John Mark Reynolds: Mainline Protestants Don’t Deserve To Be On The Supreme Court

Speaking of identity politics. Biola University professor and blogger John Mark Reynolds argues in the Washington Post that because mainline denominations are filled with radicals and boring old white folks who wear socks with sandals and listen to Prairie Home Companion, the intellectual future of the Supreme Court lies with shiny, well-groomed and oh-so-painfully orthodox evangelicals.

As it happens, this is a subject I’ve studied over the years (though I’m no demographer). While it’s true that mainline churches are bleeding members, the story is not as simple as “Liberal churches bad. Conservative churches good. Unk.” The overall trend is that with few exceptions,all denominational traditions are stalled out. As recently as 2008, Southern Baptists were declaring net declines in baptisms. What’s worse, the SBC reports membership by baptisms—meaning that if you were ever baptized in a member congregation, you are counted as a current member of the denomination. That means their vaunted strength is about as solid as Newt Gingrich’s abs. Conversely, by some measures the liberal United Church of Christ has actually gained strength in the past few years.

The real movement in religious demographics has been growth in non-denominational evangelicals and Mormons in flyover territory, while secular and unaffiliated folks make up more of the population on the coasts. Meanwhile, even the evangelical students of the church, including some pretty conservative voices, are worried about the trendlines.

Besides all that, I seem to remember hearing something somewhere along the line about “where two or three are gathered in my name” and God choosing what is weak to confound the strong, but nothing about church being a popularity contest.

To summarize: if you actually read the numbers, they don’t back up the hypothesis that Christians are rejecting liberal traditions in favor of conservative churches, and numbers aren’t actually a measure of faith. But if John Mark Reynolds wants to play that game, he probably should be looking for the next wave of jurisprudential thought to come from “the nones,” not conservative evangelicals.