July 26, 2003

Uniting Mainline Protestants

As a Protestant Christian, I continue to be dismayed by the fact that the mainline denominations continue to remain separate instead of merging into a more cohesive force to promulgate their views and to put their faith into action. I see no reason that the major mainline denominations (except for the Baptists) should not merge into a single denomination. I would even like to suggest a name for this church -- the United Protestant Church in America.

The denominations that would merge to become this church would be the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Disciples of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and the Protestant Episcopal Church. This denomination would be the second largest Christian body after the Roman Catholic Church and, as such, I believe that this denomination should take as its task the role of being one of the principal shapers of American religious life. Fundamentalists and Pentecostals will certainly not want to join in with this denomination, but there is no reason that those Protestant Christians who feel that their religious faith is part of their life, but not all of it, should not have a single source to meet their religious needs instead of a disarming choice of virtually indistinguishable denominations.

For example, take the typical unchurched, Christian, non-Catholic American. Imagine that he or she has some crisis event in their life that prompts them to seek the advice of clergy or sends them to a church service. Sometimes they will just go to the nearest mainline Protestant church. Sometimes they will go to a church in the denomination that their parents went to. Sometimes a friend will bring them to a church of their denomination. But really, for a person such as this, there should be no need to choose. It's kind of like your typical fast-food Mexican restaurant -- it's all the same food, just re-arranged a little differently. Why couldn't they just say I'm Protestant, so I'll go to the local Protestant church? (Yes, I know Baptists are usually considered Protestant, but the fundamentalists among them just do not fit into a body with the rest of the Protestants.)

To put it simply, to be a member of the United Methodist Church as opposed to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is today a distinction without a difference. Most would probably say that the distinction is harmless. I disagree. Promoting meaningless distinctions lessens the ability of people to see themselves as participating in a common experience.

Make no mistake, where there are true differences, I see no problem with denominations remaining distinct. After all, people do need to be able to associate with like-minded people sometimes.

But, when these distinctions inihibit us more than empower us, isn't it time to get rid of them?