Mainline Christianity

Mainline Christianity: The Past and Future of America's Majority Faith

Jason S. Lantzer
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Mainline Christianity
    Book Description:

    Since the Revolutionary War, Mainline Christianity has been comprised of the Seven Sisters of American Protestantism--the Congregational Church, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church, the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Convention, and the Disciples of Christ. These denominations have been the dominant cultural representatives since the nineteenth century of how and where the majority of American Christians worship. Today, however, the Seven Sisters no longer represent most American Christians. The Mainline has been shrinking while evangelical and fundamentalist churches, as well as non denominational congregations and mega churches, have been attracting more and more members.In this comprehensive and accessible book, Jason S. Lantzer chronicles the rise and fall of the Seven Sisters, documenting the ways in which they stopped shaping American culture and began to be shaped by it. After reviewing and critiquing the standard decline narrative of the Mainline he argues for a reconceptualization of the Mainline for the twenty-first century, a new grouping of Seven Sisters that seeks to recognize the vibrancy of American Christianity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5332-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. The Mainline’s Slippery Slope An Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    “So, what is the Mainline?” Anyone who has taught a course on American religious history has heard this question numerous times, and usually more than once during the course of a semester. On the surface, this seems to be an easy question to answer. The Mainline is made up of the “Seven Sisters” of American Protestantism:¹ the Congregational Church (now a part of the United Church of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Convention, and the Disciples of Christ. The name itself derives from the formation of...

  5. 1 The Genesis of the Mainline
    (pp. 7-26)

    In 2007, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown in Virginia, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom journeyed to the United States.¹ As the visiting monarch toured the re-created settlement, few commentators noted that the Britain’s head of state was also the head of the Church of England, and so that the visit also marked a commemoration of the arrival of that branch of Protestant Christianity to the New World. Indeed, in some ways, Jamestown represents not just the first permanent English settlement in North America but the origin of the Mainline itself, a time during...

  6. 2 Building the New Jerusalem: The High Tide of the Seven Sisters
    (pp. 27-48)

    “Late in the afternoon of a chilly day in February . . .” With these words Harriet Beecher Stowe began one of the most popular, controversial, and important works in American literature:Uncle Tom’s Cabin.Written in response to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and published in book form in 1852, Stowe’s work is generally credited with helping to shift Northern public opinion from apathy to generally antislavery in nature, and thus adding to the other forces that brought on the Civil War.¹ But the book is much more than just a piece of abolitionist propaganda, for it marks...

  7. 3 A Mighty Fortress in Decline
    (pp. 49-64)

    In 1929, one of the most prominent Methodist congregations in New York City announced plans for a new church home. The Madison Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church purchased property on Park Avenue for a larger building. By the fall, on the eve of the stock market crash, details were finalized for the construction of one of the most stunning churches in the nation. Though it took nearly two decades to complete, due to depression and war, eventually the congregation had a new building, one that allowed them to be active in the city, meet the needs of its members, and transport...

  8. 4 The Politics of Decline
    (pp. 65-84)

    Founded in 1695, Christ Church Episcopal in Philadelphia boasts a rich history. Home to patriots (including a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Francis Hopkinson) and loyalists (Hopkinson’s brother-in-law, the Reverend Jacob Duche, who was for a time the chaplain of the Continental Congress before emerging as a Tory) during the Revolution, a spiritual home to many of the Founding Fathers (George Washington worshiped there), the congregation has deep roots in the community and personifies the establishment of the Seven Sisters. It sits just a few blocks away from Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, and a...

  9. 5 In a State of Perpetual Decline
    (pp. 85-104)

    Meridian Street United Methodist Church is the mother church of Methodism in Indianapolis. Founded in 1821, on what would eventually be the site of the statehouse, the congregation has been home to prominent city leaders as well as a vice president of the United States, a U.S. senator, and the governor of the state, not to mention leaders within the denomination. Over the course of its history the congregation has built various church home along Meridian Street, from the famed circle at the heart of Indianapolis to a new location a bit farther north by the dawn of the twentieth...

  10. 6 Unto the Ends of the Earth: Global Christianity and Mainline Decline
    (pp. 105-120)

    The historic squares in Savannah, Georgia, are full of churches. Visitors to Johnson Square are soon drawn to the classic columns of Christ Church. The plaques in front of the building inform readers that this is the mother church of Anglicanism in Georgia and that the congregation was served by both John and Charles Wesley as well as by George Whitefield. Visitors who venture inside will also quickly discover that the congregation is fighting to disassociate itself from the Episcopal Church, and now believes itself apart of an international Anglican renewal movement, steeped in evangelical terms, and led by bishops...

  11. 7 The Emergence of a New Mainline
    (pp. 121-138)

    As we have seen, the Mainline of the Seven Sisters as defined by the United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopal, and American Baptist churches no longer holds. Moreover, using this old definition negates the current importance of those outside of the Protestant tradition, as well as many within it. A new Mainline for the new millennium is needed and must consist of more representative denominations, in terms of size, worship style, and global membership. America may be pluralistic when it comes to religion but, given the continuing domination of Christianity in the nation’s...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 139-182)
  13. Index
    (pp. 183-187)
  14. About the Author
    (pp. 188-188)