We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Mainline Success (of sorts)

We have become so used to the story of mainline decline and the failure of mainline churches to attract significant numbers of new members that even a modest success comes as a surprise.  The PPRI's 2013 Hispanic Values Survey, however, provides us with just such a surprise. According to the findings of the survey, a measurable number of Hispanics who were born Catholic have become mainline Protestants.  While only 9% of American Hispanics were born mainline Protestants, 12% of the survey's sample reported themselves to belong (as adults) to mainline churches.  That rate of conversion lags behind evangelicals, who went from 7% of Hispanics born evangelical to 13% of Hispanic adults being evangelicals.  Those who considered themselves "unaffiliated" rose from 5% to 12%.

It is not unusual for mainline churches to have at least some members who were formerly Catholics, but it is a little surprising to find quite a number of Hispanics moving from Catholicism into mainline churches.  Our general image is of a mass migration from Catholicism into evangelicalism, and that appears to be a misapprehension of what is actually taking place.  The "nones" are increasing more rapidly than the evangelicals, and for once even the mainliners are attracting adherents from a segment of the American population—an unexpected segment at that.

We can't make too much of these figures.  The mainline continues to decline in all of the key measures of viability.   But if the PPRI survey is accurate, that story is not the only story.  It is worth noting also that the "nones" are growing as rapidly among Hispanic Americans as they are among the population at large—and that the evangelicals are not making as great an inroad into Hispanic-American Catholicism as we might have thought.