William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

The Coming Schism

See these guys? Well don’t get used to it.

Maybe it’s not a schism but apostasy which I mean. Doesn’t matter. Continuing in our Curmudgeon Series, here are my guesses of the course of Christianity in the West over the next twenty years. Each point below deserves its own essay: these are rough points.

I am no prophet. And my political predictions have a mixed record—whatever you do, don’t ask me who will win a presidential election; though I’m driving ‘em in on social matters, boy. What follows is just a lot of Saturday mornin’ supposin’.

I invite you to play along in the comments. But let’s please keep emotion out of it. We’re making predictions here, not judgments. And how dare we if we do! I beg you, no arguments about right and wrong. We’re all forecasters today.

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So the Church of England lost no time after the legalization of homosexual “marriage” in “signaling” its willingness to support these unions. It hasn’t accepted them yet, but will.

Traditionalists (for lack of a better word, but you know who I mean) aren’t happy. Most will grumble, carp, and bray, but when they see their local bishop mount the altar and say “I pronounce thee man and man”, they’ll accept it. Too much work to break a lifetime’s habit or to find a new church. But compromise in matters of faith is not enervating.

The hardcore (how inapt a term!) will vamoose, in spurts and in small numbers. The CofE will attempt to placate some groups by allowing them to hold to the past as they did for female ordinates, but these compromises won’t last. The Catholic church will be the beneficiary of the escapees, as will a few smaller denominations.

Same situation will play out in other Western countries, with the Protestants folding faster than a TV table sat on by an offensive linesman. Since elites of secular institutions only truly care about elites at other institutions, the leadership of these churches won’t want to fall behind the CofE. They’ll issue cheerful press releases boasting love and then arm wrestle for who gets to perform the first homosexual ceremony. Most denominations already allow homosexual clergy.

Theologically, since going to a service at a mainline Protestant church will increasingly be no different than reading the New York Times or Guardian op-ed section, which is more convenient and saves on gas, those willing to make the trek will dwindle and die off. If you’re in the market for an old church (aren’t they quaint?), look to the Methodists and Presbyterians. Besides, members are tired of being called stupid and irrational by the culture.

Evangelicals are going to benefit; or, rather, won’t see much change. Some already allow female ordination (as it were), so that’s not going to be a problem. But an Assemblies of God congregation in Oklahoma allowing a homosexual union or supporting abortion? Better chance of Harry Reid becoming a Republican. (I can hear my progressive readers thinking to themselves, “Who or what are the Assemblies of God?”)

Still, the children of folks from evangelical households will leak out like pinholes in a balloon. On the other hand, since these churches will absorb the fallout from mainline Protestants, they’ll stay at the same levels or possibly grow slightly (as a percentage of population, factoring in Muslim and Hindu immigration, of course). The Southern Baptists might split (again; see the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship); even now a few of the churches are becoming more like mainline Protestant ones.

Mormons won’t move much theologically, except to continue to put more shade over their doctrines, but because of their encouragement to have kids and eschew divorce and abortions (which mainline Protestants certainly do not), they will continue to grow. I don’t think they’ll become very large. The theology is too difficult for newcomers to swallow.

The leaves Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Orthodoxy now has state support in Russia and elsewhere. Neither group is going to budge on homosexual “marriage”, on female ordination, on abortion, on divorce, on birth control, on anything.

But their flocks will: budge, I mean. Many will fly away (flying sheep?) especially when reminded of Church teachings (a group of kids at a Catholic school freaked out when told by a nun what the Church’s position on homosexuality was). Homosexual “marriage” isn’t as divisive for these groups, not when compared to female ordination and the deep desire for abortion. Way it works now is that lefty priests ignore the official teachings and go their own way as much as possible. These congregations become functionally Protestant and have declining attendance, and many close.

The Orthodox, particularly where they have state support (like Russia) will be stable. Catholics? Somebody soon will hit on the idea of forming their own church. They’ll call it the American Catholic Church (or whatever) and claim to still be part of the Roman church. There will be much joy as the first female “priest” is ordained, but the morning after they discover they’re on their own will be the beginning of their end. (Just wait for the disputes over money! Some women have already been so “ordained.”) This schism will make the most noise because people recognize the Catholic church for what it is.

Many will still call themselves Christians, but there’s going to be far fewer mass-service-attending people in twenty years. Those that remain will be holy terrors.

Update Popular pastime. Priest weighs in with his own.

Update I stupidly forgot “transgendered” “rights.” Maryland 18th state to allow people to change their birth certificates to whatever “gender” individuals prefer. You figure the effect.

Update It’s in the air. A guy even gloomier than I.

Update Incidentally, we Westerners are very bad thinking about non-Westerners.

Update Well well. Some U.S. dioceses are reporting that 2014 will be an unusually fruitful year, in terms of the number of people welcomed into the Church. “For someone brought up in a Protestant tradition, finding the roots of Catholic doctrine in the Bible can be particularly helpful, Phillips said.”

38 Comments

  1. I can see the Jehovah Witnesses picking up members (if you can’t get past no blood transfusions). They are very strict on all these things.
    I would predict that people will just stay home and give up on the churches. Or honestly rename them “social clubs” and toss out the whole idea of morals and right and wrong. The few remaining “churches” will be the ones that actually don’t vote on morals.
    Perhaps more disturbing, as this happens worldwide, the radical religions will grow in numbers as people who want a black and white morality seek refuge in these factions.

  2. You’ve got it pegged. The reason most don’t recognize the AG is that 90% of its 30+ million adherents are overseas. Very rapid growth is happening in South America. Born a century ago in America, it was propelled by missionary vision.

    I’ll add that there also will be continued growth of independent, denominationally unaffiliated congregations. Some will be house churches without much property; some will be composed of young, educated people whose cultural attachments are no longer historically evangelical, but who sense the importance of a community of faith aligned with evangelical tenets. Some congregations will be intentionally multi-racial and mult-cultural (in the descriptive rather than political sense), recognizing that authentic Christianity is by far the most diverse collection persons ever united under one banner. Believing that practicing Christianity is both personal and corporate, they will arrange their lives to demonstrate it. They will be found in cities, suburbia, and rural places, some even near college campuses. The overall numbers in such churches will be small, even though a few might grow into mega-churches for a while.

  3. I think Catholicism will be fine – I think there is a core younger generation (thanks to people who made it through the rainbows-instead-of-Jesus times) that is more devout than those catechized in the 70s and we’ll continue to shed members (ones that didn’t have a fundamental connection to the Church anyway) but we’ll come out a stronger community. The power of the internet has really helped in getting good catechesis through a stronger universal identity (see: Fr. Barron’s Catholicism series). Those Catholics that attend church regularly are creating a common culture through things like that video series, books and radio programs, and so on. Of course, there are plenty of people who are progressive first, Catholics second, and that is a large and substantial group. We will probably do worse with them but never count out the Holy Spirit I’d say.
    The orthodox have always been good at keeping church life and family life central, and they will continue to be a small but vibrant community. Of course, 80% of orthodox or something along those lines are Russian Orthodox and Putin has embraced the Church in his vain attempt to cast himself as the new (old) Czar – I think politically it will fail but the church itself should benefit.
    Mainliners are going down the tubes and Evangelicals have begun to form an identity like the Catholic one I described earlier: through mass information, music, and talking points, vaccine denial, and general societal denial. This actually helps insulate them to a certain extent but unlike Catholicism, they are creating an identity instead of finding one, so their inconsistencies will always be there to cull membership (the only Christian group in the south to grow lately is the dreaded papists) probably more to secular institutions, but to Catholicism as well.
    Matthew 16:18, am I right?

  4. Oh, my comments definitely don’t apply to the world, only here – I have no clue what’s going to happen there!

  5. The generation that fought for (and won) the revolution in the US Catholic Church is dying off. (Is it a sin for me to say, “Good riddance”?) There remains a whole lot of detrius to shake off. Including the legacy of a few popes. The growth in English speaking US Catholic Church will be entirely traditionalist. In non-English speaking the growth will be charismatic. I consider both trends to be an improvement upon the dull ham-fisted leftism promoted today.

    Evangelicals have entered a time of numerical stasis. For every member they pick up from mainliners, they will lose one to either apostasy or Catholicism/Orthodoxy. As they have for a couple generations however, they will follow their mainline big brothers in memetic drift. The average Southern Baptist or Free Methodist will in 20 years have the political and theological views that the average American Baptist or United Methodist has today.

  6. Things start to go as Briggs says, except for one thing: at some point, the crazy Catholics, the types that show up in their hundreds of thousands for March for Life each year, refuse to go quietly in the night. Heck better than half that crowd is kids, and they and others who love the romance of a red martyrdom will provoke *something* – which would make great TV, except it will never make onto the air. We’ll see (or would see) human chains blocking the destruction of Thomas Aquinas college; the entire faculty, staff and students of Wyoming Catholic College mount up and form cavalry, marches on Washington getting firehosed (hey, they were asking for it) – that sort of thing, of which a few people will be dimly aware due to broadcast silence.

    Then the state steps in and starts seizing children – I mean, to a greater and even more blatant extent that the schools already do – because their parents are clearly dangerous sociopaths. This results in more, smaller, and more violent reactions – and a lot more caving in. This is unnerving, but passes pretty quickly.

    THEN the remnant of the Church gets mostly bribed, lulled and sedated into disappearing. Except for the few, as you described.

    Or not.

  7. The modernists will leave, the orthodox will stay, just like the muslims and jews.

  8. The changes are a comin’. I see the liberal churches giving up on gay marriage and the more conservative or fundamental Christianities actually gaining members.

    The next battle will be over polygamy which I predict will unite most of the Christians.

  9. This post seems to say that denominations will be torn apart based on how they integrate homosexuality into their doctrine?

    I did a brief search on the internet, and as near as I can tell, 3% (2.8%) of the population identifies as “gay”. If this is true (or close to true) it seems that any doctrine that is threatened by this miniscule number of people is on a pretty shaky ground to begin with.

    I would also assume, that of the 2.8%, only a few are actively seeking inclusion in Christian doctrine.

    Is the fear of being overwhelmed by homosexuality another Menken “hobgoblin”?

  10. One matter hasn’t been commented on–the Anglican Ordinariate (Anglican Usage within the Catholic Church). This is a refuge for Anglicans and Episcopalians who decry the liberalism of their Church elders, but who want to retain the beautiful Anglican liturgy. I’ve attended some services and nothing can be more inspiring than liturgy taken from the Book of Common Prayer, written by Elizabethans and others who knew the English language.

  11. Briggs

    29 March 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Jim S,

    Seemingly a good point. Yet if Regnerus is right, and he is, this percentage will grow larger (via assimilation).

    But even if the percentage was zero, it’s the effect of these controversies at the top that cause the splits. The battle is between elites, i.e. those actually in power (laity are also in power of a different kind) who war among themselves. Ideas have consequences, to coin a phrase.

  12. Some of the on-line info indicates that people believe that homosexuality in America is around 25 to 30% (probably 65% for NPR listeners).

    Clergy capitalize on this belief as a way of uniting the congregation. “The nattily attired barbarians are at the gate!” – when in fact no such thing is happening. Hordes are banging on the door to be let in.

    I would image that most gays are anti-organized religion, non-religions or Atheists.

    But nothing unites a congregation like fear.

  13. Hordes are NOT banging…

  14. Briggs

    29 March 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Jim S,

    I didn’t make myself clear. Let there be no homosexuals, only people discussing the possibility. Since homosexual behavior is sinful, it is also sinful to advocate or support it. If enough clergy were to become interested in advocating for it, there would be consequences for the church as a whole. There have been schisms, or maybe heretical peelings off is a better term, over ideas before. Same now.

  15. Jim S–your imagine may not be the best way to assess things. Our town has a United Church of Christ with an openly lesbian pastor and her “wife”. It’s not a question of whether this is going to happen, it’s a question of how much is it happening and what effect will it have on the churches. As Briggs states, there will be consequences for the churches, though whether these consequences would be positive or negative is what we are trying to predict.

  16. In CA, students with gender confusion can choose which bathroom, boy’s or girl’s room, they feel more comfortable. Absolutely brilliant, way to go CA! They also get to choose what sports team they want to be on. That’s even more brilliant, how many female girls will be injured on the field or court because of this? I really wish CA would secede.

    http://www.npr.org/2014/01/07/260455851/new-law-allows-transgender-students-to-choose-bathrooms-and-sports-teams

  17. Sheri, Briggs,

    The point of my post is that much-ado-about-nothing is being made over the sexual orientation of a tiny number of people.

    This is a power game being played between leaders of groups who are “for” and “against” something (it just so happens to be homosexuality in this case). It could just as easily be any minority group – as has been sadly demonstrated throughout history.

    Its outcome will only affect you if you are a member of the herd – because I guarantee you, the shepards of the flocks – on both sides – don’t care one bit about homosexuality, except how it either increases or decreases their personal power over the sheep. All politics is local.

    And you know what, the leaders on the homosexual side are not homosexuals – they are people who oppose religion, and will do anything to give it a black eye.

    It’s all a game.

  18. Yes, Jim, that’s true. But when dealing with religion and morals, the changing of a moral stance on the basis of a tiny minority can and usually does have a profound effect on the religion. One supposes that is why we have so many denominations–tiny minorities that were loud and angry and demanded the church go their way. It’s something of a power play and granted, religion is a power play, but in religion, it’s not supposed to be changed by voting or making a new denomination. That makes religion more like politics. I guess we’re asking if religion will become like politics and right/wrong are by votes.

  19. I really wish CA would secede.

    Oddly, during an interview, Lord Nicholas Stern included California in a list of countries. So maybe they already have?

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/03/28/now-even-australias-abc-is-asking-questions-about-the-new-ipcc-report-and-why-dr-richard-tol-asked-his-name-to-be-removed-from-it/

  20. “….the changing of a moral stance on the basis of a tiny minority….”

    Sheri,
    With respect, this is herd mentality. Right and wrong is not subject to a vote. You state “changing of a moral stance” in a passive voice, without actually defining “who” is doing the changing. You? If 51% of the people vote on something you disagree with, do you just change your position to get along? I doubt it.

    While I’m an Atheist, I actually did grow up attending a church in Oklahoma in the 1970’s. However the church my parents took me to (rather infrequently) believed that it was the responsibility of each person to develop a personal relationship with God. You weren’t expected to blindly follow a charismatic leader (a Swaggart or a Pope) nor were you to proselytize or go on missions to covert others. Religious conviction and salvation was very much an individual thing. You were expected to do what is right even when others didn’t. And since only Christ could offer salvation, it was not expected that you would go around passing judgment on others. That was left to God.

  21. I’m not sure what you are meaning here. Of course morality is not up for a vote. Some churches have charismatic leaders they follow, some do not. As for passing judgment, the final decision is God’s. However, morality does judge actions. Otherwise it would be pointless.

    A small minority can have a big influence on the majority. That’s pretty evident in many things including religion. Plus, as the secular world starts to accept things, the churches become pressured to do so also. Then the “no judgement” thing comes up and then “no judgement” means no wrongs. I just see this becoming more and more common in churches now. Perhaps it is herd mentality–external pressures from secular society pushing churches to accept new morals so the members don’t look judgmental.

  22. “If you’re in the market for an old church (aren’t they quaint?), look to the Methodists and Presbyterians.”

    As a member of one of those “old-time” Methodist churches, I’m glad you didn’t lump us into either the mainline, angligan, or evangelical boxes, which we are properly speaking none of.

    I want to make clear however that the United Methodist Church gets a bad rap for being too theologically liberal, especially towards gay marriage. This is about as fair as judging the Catholic position on gay marriage by sampling the opinions of the parishes in California! The liberal “sodomy is a sacrament” streak in the UMC is almost exclusively found in the northern part of the country, and does not represent the church as a whole.

    True Methodism follows the teachings of John Wesely, which are actually often closer to Catholic doctrines than Anglicans! This is especially true if one closely follows Wesely’s opinons, since many of them, like a belief in purgatory (although he didn’t call it that) and Apostolic succession, that have since lost favor in most Methodist and Anglican circles.

  23. “….the changing of a moral stance on the basis of a tiny minority…”

    “A small minority can have a big influence on the majority.”

    “as the secular world starts to accept things, the churches become pressured to do so also.”

    Sheri,
    You and I just have entirely different notions regarding individualism, self-responsibility and thinking for one’s self. I really don’t know where or how to begin to explain to you how wrong I think your statements are.

  24. But nobody said, “pendulum”! How can I take any of this seriously if nobody mentions the pendulum. I bet you’re not expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

  25. Fletcher Christian

    30 March 2014 at 5:34 am

    Seems to me that the Catholic Church isn’t a holdout on the matter of homosexual clergy at all. They merely sweep the matter under the carpet, along with the paederasty and sadism.

  26. Fletcher: Just can’t let an opportunity to slam Catholics go by, even when requested not to, can you?

  27. What is going on is nothing less than the oppression of the majority by a minority yet it seems much of the majority is like the frog sitting in a pot of water that is being heated and the frog will be cooked rather than jump.

  28. “How can the majority be oppressed by a minority,” snorted The Crocodile.

  29. Churches evolve. Society evolves. History runs in cycles. It’s interesting, isn’t it.
    We need to discover what makes a child grow up to become gay before we can make a real determination on how to deal with the homosexual question.
    Is it genetic(& how could it be?)?
    Is it viral? Environmental?
    Is it a factor from the pregnancy?

    We don’t have a clue to this strange state. The desire appears involuntary. Find out why and let that answer guide us in how we treat our fellow man.

  30. Briggs

    30 March 2014 at 10:34 am

    Chronus,

    I appreciate these good questions. But let’s not do them here, lest we get distracted. Let’s instead guess where things are going.

  31. @Chronus – your questions are absolutely irrelevant for a religion. Religion does not subscribe to anything scientific, by definition it is based on belief, teachings and underscoring of transcendental. As Mr Briggs states – “church evolution” is in splitting and forming new churches that have their own belief systems.
    But your opinion/questions immediately hit the science vs. PC wall: by all evidence there is a genetic component. However, how to interpret it is where PC overrules the science at the moment. I interpret it as genetic blindness-like (fundamental function of the organism is impeded, based on fact that sexual attraction is biologically not there for enjoyment but to bring forth progeny, which is impeded if you are attracted to “unproductive” relationship). PC interprets it as genetic eye color (which would imply that the function of sexual attraction is ending in sexual pleasure).
    From my scientific opinion, “how to treat fellow man” is – same as you’d treat genetically blind fellow. Oppression of any kind is bad, evil, immoral in both cases. What is less known is that Churches do teach exactly that: we are not to judge these people. But, Christianity is absolutely clear that the act is a sin. And if one agrees with the teaching resolution is clear – if you are homosexual christian, do not engage in sinful act. Your being is not a sin. Your acting upon it is, very clearly defined. And if you happen to engage in any sin – true repentance and realization that the act is a sin (no excuse that it is “genetic”).

  32. The Orthodox Church is widespread it is even in the US.
    The only thing is that many associate the church with national groups.
    So adherents are more nationalist than Christian.
    Those who leave the Church, in it’s broader sense can always return while alive. Remember the Labourers in the vineyard who all got the same wages at the end of the day.

    There are many interesting and even witty blogs from the orthodox perspective. and even an internet radio station called Ancient Faith Radio. with podcasts to be played at leisure.
    Often in the U.S and Canada you will find an Orthodox Priest’s blog like

    http://orthodoxyandheterodoxy.org/2012/08/28/salvation-for-everyone/

    That is a question.. not a statement.

  33. Fletcher Christian

    30 March 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I think that if the Catholic Church doesn’t get a grip on the moral and financial corruption infesting it, then it’s going to be in a great deal of trouble in some of the more secular Western countries.

    The patience of non-Catholics, and for that matter probably the majority of Catholics, is not infinite. Some of the Church’s legal protections might start getting stripped away.

  34. “Lead us not into temptation…”
    A coming Apostasy, yup.. It’s here. A big one, very big. Perhaps The Biggest. How so? Well, it’s all about Sex, and that makes it big..

    “but, Deliver Us from evil” …
    Christians, just what are we Protesting? It’s a horrible scandal for Christians to be divided. There are bad priests and bishops, and bad lay people too, we know. It’s Christ we seek. It’s Christ we found. He is really in the Bread, in the Boat. If we don’t all get in the boat, we drown.

  35. Having just come into the Catholic Church last year (after 45+ years as a Protestant), I have naturally done a fair amount of looking around. One thing I see is a growing trend among many young Catholics, perhaps in reaction to what they have experienced, to seek the more solid ground of orthodox teaching and traditional practices. This trend is, of course, being fueled by social media. But I also see a lot of profoundly ignorant Catholics who couldn’t explain their faith to anyone. Many of these are parents who have done almost no good catechizing of their children, who themselves consequently also display a profound ignorance of the Catholic faith. So I’m not sure what will happen. And yet, our parish has a new, and somewhat young, priest who is bringing good, orthodox teaching to the Mass, making some simple changes to the church building (moving the tabernacle to the center, replacing the happy resurrection Jesus with a crucifix behind the alter, etc.), and being more open to suggestions of various practices (praying the rosary as a group before Mass, more adoration times, etc.) than was the previous priest. Attendance is up as well. Perhaps this speaks to a longing withing our parish. We’ll see.

    As for a “coming schism”, there have been so many already, we are in the midst of many now, and schism will continue – perhaps it is the natural tendency of the sinful human heart. But you are right, it will be over how people want to define sexuality, gender, and marriage. Unlike other schisms, however, this will have significant social and political aspects far beyond any church boundaries. Perhaps it will produce a social and moral situation for those who are more traditional and orthodox in their beliefs similar to the early Christians being asked to worship Caesar.

  36. Let’s just pause for a moment and look at some of the irreversible trends of the past 100 years.

    First, there was a groundswell that ALL alcohol was bad. That’s how we got Prohibition. Any institution that tied itself to booze was clearly doomed.

    Then there was eugenics. “Everyone” agreed that it was wrong to let “idiots” breed, very much including these USA. Even Tolkien attributed the decline of the West to the mixing of the fine racial stock of the men of Numenor with “baser races of men”. And that’s saying nothing of the late unpleasantness in Europe.

    Then there was economics. The Reds said that everything boils down to economics, which is why we should all be Communists, and even today most Republicans say that everything boils down to economics, which is why we should all be Capitalists.

    Now everything is sex. This is clearly an irreversible change, just like Prohibition. We can all confidently predict the future because we all saw the rise and importance of the Internet; 20 years ago we knew we would have a black president by now; and we all knew that first the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union itself would fall apart with practically no violence. We can be sure that it will be as hard for our great-grandkids to find a church as it is for us to find a beer.

  37. Just as the Age of Aries (rise of monotheism) gave way to the Age of Pisces (you fish people), it to will give way to Age of Aquarius (personal spirituality). Well that’s what it says on the back of my cereal box.

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