Mainline Protestant
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The mainline Protestant churches (also called mainstream Protestant and sometimes oldline Protestant) are a group of Protestant denominations in the United States that contrast in history and practice with
evangelical Evangelicalism (), evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity that maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salv ...
,
fundamentalist Fundamentalism usually has a religious Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious behaviour, behaviors and practices, morality, morals, beliefs, worldviews, religious text, texts, shrine, sanctified places, ...
, and
charismatic Charisma () is compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others. Scholars in sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture that s ...
Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. ...
denominations. Some make a distinction between "mainline" and "oldline", with the former referring only to denominational ties and the latter referring to church lineage, prestige and influence. However, this distinction has largely been lost to history and the terms are now nearly synonymous. Mainline Protestants were a majority of Protestants in the United States until the mid-20th century. A dip in membership across all Christian denominations was more pronounced among mainline groups, with the result that mainline groups no longer comprise the majority. In 2020, Public Religion Research Institute conducted a religious census, based on self-identification, finding that an estimated 16% of U.S. Americans identified as non-Hispanic white mainline Protestants, slightly outnumbering non-Hispanic white evangelical Protestants who were 14% of the US American population. In 2014, Pew Research completed and published the ''Religious Landscape Survey'' in which it was estimated that 14.7% of US Americans identified as mainline Protestant, excluding historically Black and African American denominations, while 25.4% identified as evangelical Protestants, also excluding membership in historically Black denominations. The largest mainline churches in the United States, often referred to as the "Seven Sisters of American Protestantism", are as follows: *
American Baptist Churches The American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) is a mainline Baptist Baptists form a major branch of Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers p ...
*
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Christian Church is a Protestantism, Protestant ecclesiological term referring to the church invisible comprising all Christians, used since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. In this understanding, "Christian Church" (or "Catholic ( ...
*
The Episcopal Church The Episcopal Church (TEC), based in the United States with additional dioceses elsewhere, is a member church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is a Mainline Protestant, mainline Christianity, Christian denomination and is divided into ni ...
* Evangelical Lutheran Church in America *
Presbyterian Church (USA) The Presbyterian Church (USA), abbreviated PC(USA), is a mainline Protestant The mainline Protestant churches (also called mainstream Protestant and sometimes oldline Protestant) are a group of Protestantism in the United States, Protestant den ...
*
United Church of Christ The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination based in the United States, with historical and confessional roots in the Congregationalism in the United States, Congregational, Reformed churches, Reformed, Lut ...
*
United Methodist Church The United Methodist Church (UMC) is a worldwide mainline Protestant denomination based in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United ...

United Methodist Church
Smaller denominations also widely considered mainline include, but are not limited to, the
Reformed Church in America The Reformed Church in America (RCA) is a mainline Reformed Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...
, the Mennonite Church, the
Church of the Brethren The Church of the Brethren is a Christian denomination A Christian denomination is a distinct Religion, religious body within Christianity that comprises all Church (congregation), church congregations of the same kind, identifiable by trait ...
and the
Moravian Church in North America . The Moravian Church in North America is part of the worldwide Moravian Church Unity. It dates from the arrival of the first Moravian missionaries to the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United Stat ...
, as well as many groupings of the
Religious Society of Friends Quakers are people who belong to a historically Protestant Christian Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...
(
Quakers Quakers, also called Friends, belong to a historically Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholic Ch ...

Quakers
). The term 'mainline' has also been applied to Canadian Protestant churches that share common origins with their US counterparts. In Mexico, the Anglican Church is historically tied to and formed from the US Episcopal Church. The term is also occasionally used to refer to historic Protestant churches in Europe, Latin America, and South Africa. Mainline churches share an active approach to social issues that often leads to cooperation in organizations such as the
National Council of Churches The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, usually identified as the National Council of Churches (NCC), is the largest ecumenical body in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United St ...
. Because of their involvement with the
ecumenical movement Ecumenism (), also spelled oecumenism, is the concept and principle in which Christians Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion b ...
, mainline churches are sometimes (especially outside the United States) given the alternative label of ecumenical Protestantism. These churches played a leading role in the
Social Gospel The Social Gospel is a social movement A social movement is a loosely organized effort by a large group of people to achieve a particular goal, typically a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. Th ...
movement and were active in social causes such as the
civil rights movement#REDIRECT Civil rights movement {{Rcat shell, {{R from other capitalisation {{R from related ...
and the
women's movement The feminist movement (also known as the women's movement, or simply feminism) refers to a series of political campaign A political campaign is an organized effort which seeks to influence the decision making progress within a specific gr ...
. As a group, the mainline churches have maintained religious doctrine that stresses
social justice Social justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, Equal opportunity, opportunities, and Social privilege, privileges within a society. In Western Civilization, Western as well as in older Culture of Asia, Asian cultures, the conc ...
and personal
salvation Salvation (from Latin: ''salvatio'', from ''salva'', 'safe, saved') is the state of being saved or protected from harm or a dire situation. In religion and theology, ''salvation'' generally refers to the deliverance of the soul from sin and its co ...

salvation
. Members of mainline denominations have played leadership roles in politics, business, science, the arts, and education. They were involved in the founding of leading institutes of higher education. Marsden argues that in the 1950s, "Mainline Protestant leaders were part of the liberal-moderate cultural mainstream, and their leading spokespersons were respected participants in the national conversation." Some mainline Protestant denominations have the highest proportion of graduate and post-graduate degrees of any other denomination in the United States. Some also include the highest proportion of those with some college education, such as the Episcopal Church (76%), the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (64%), and the
United Church of Christ The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination based in the United States, with historical and confessional roots in the Congregationalism in the United States, Congregational, Reformed churches, Reformed, Lut ...
(46%), as well as the most of the
American upper class The American upper class is a social group within the United States consisting of people who have the highest social rank, primarily due to economic wealth. The American upper class is distinguished from the rest of the population due to the fact ...
. compared with the nationwide average of 50%. Episcopalians and Presbyterians also tend to be considerably wealthier and better educated than most other religious groups, and they were disproportionately represented in the upper reaches of US business and law until the 1950s. In the 1990s four of the US Supreme Court Justices were Mainline Protestants:
Sandra Day O'Connor Sandra Day O'Connor (born March 26, 1930) is an American retired attorney and politician who served as the first female associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1981 to 2006. She was the first woman nominated and, subsequen ...

Sandra Day O'Connor
,
John Paul Stevens John Paul Stevens (April 20, 1920 – July 16, 2019) was an American lawyer A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney at lawAttorney at law or attorney-at-law, usually abbreviated in everyday spe ...
,
William Rehnquist William Hubbs Rehnquist ( ; October 1, 1924 – September 3, 2005) was an American lawyer and jurist who served on the Supreme Court of the United States The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is the Supreme court, highest court ...

William Rehnquist
and
David Souter David Hackett Souter ( ; born September 17, 1939) is a retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He served from October 1990 to his retirement in June 2009. Appointed by US President George H. W. Bush to fill the seat t ...
. From 1854 until at least 1964, Mainline Protestants and their descendants were heavily
Republican Republican can refer to: Political ideology * An advocate of a republic, a type of government that is not a monarchy or dictatorship, and is usually associated with the rule of law. ** Republicanism, the ideology in support of republics or against ...
. In recent decades, Republicans slightly outnumber Democrats. From 1965 to 1988, mainline church membership declined from 31 million to 25 million, then fell to 21 million in 2005. While in 1970 the mainline churches claimed most Protestants and more than 30 percent of the population as members, today they are a minority among Protestants; in 2009, only 15 percent of Americans were adherents. A
Pew Forum The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan American think tank A think tank, or policy institute, is a research institute A research institute, research centre, or research center is an establishment founded for doing research. Research instit ...
statistic revealed the same share in 2014.


Terminology

The term ''mainline Protestant'' was coined during debates between modernists and fundamentalists in the 1920s. Several sources claim that the term is derived from the
Philadelphia Main Line The Philadelphia Main Line, known simply as the Main Line, is an informally delineated historical and Social class in the United States, social region of suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lying along the former Pennsylvania Railroad's once ...
, a group of affluent suburbs of Philadelphia; most residents belonged to mainline denominations. Today, most mainline Protestants remain rooted in the Northeastern and Midwestern United States. C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler define the term as follows: "the term 'mainline Protestant' is used along with 'mainstream Protestant' and 'oldline Protestant' to categorize denominations that are affiliated with the National Council of Churches and have deep historical roots in and long-standing influence on American society." In the US, Protestantism is generally divided between mainline denominations and
evangelical Evangelicalism (), evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity that maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salv ...
or conservative denominations. In other parts of the world, the term ''mainline Protestant'' is not used. Instead, the term "
ecumenical Ecumenism (), also spelled oecumenism, is the concept and principle in which Christians Christians () are people who follow or adhere to Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion b ...
" is used to distinguish similar churches from evangelical denominations. Some have criticized the term ''mainline'' for its alleged ethnocentric and elitist assumptions, since it almost exclusively described white, non-
fundamentalist Fundamentalism usually has a religious Religion is a social system, social-cultural system of designated religious behaviour, behaviors and practices, morality, morals, beliefs, worldviews, religious text, texts, shrine, sanctified places, ...
Protestant Americans from its origin to the late twentieth century.


''Mainline'' vs. ''mainstream''

The term ''mainstream Christian'' in academic usage is not equivalent to ''mainline Protestant'' and is often used as an attempt to find impartial sociological vocabulary in distinguishing ''
orthodoxy Orthodoxy (from Greek: ) is adherence to correct or accepted creed A creed, also known as a confession, symbol, or statement of faith, is a statement of the shared beliefs of (an often religious) community in the form of a fixed formula summa ...
'' and ''
heresy Heresy is any belief or theory that is strongly at variance with established beliefs or customs, in particular the accepted beliefs of a church or religious organization. The term is usually used in reference to violations of important religi ...
''. Hence in Christological and doctrinal reference ''
mainstream Christianity Nicene Christianity is a set of Christian doctrinal traditions which reflect the Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and amended at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381. History By the 2nd and 3 ...
'' is often equivalent to ''
Trinitarianism The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (, from "threefold") holds that God is one God, but three coeternal and consubstantial persons: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ Jesus; he, יֵשׁוּעַ, ''Yeshua, Yēšū́aʿ''; ...
''. In the United Kingdom and Australia, the term ''mainline Protestant'' is not used, and ''mainstream'' does not mean ''progressive'' Protestant.


Denominations

The largest mainline churches are sometimes referred to as the "Seven Sisters of American
Protestantism Protestantism is a form of Christianity Christianity is an Abrahamic religions, Abrahamic Monotheism, monotheistic religion based on the Life of Jesus in the New Testament, life and Teachings of Jesus, teachings of Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth. ...
": the
United Methodist Church The United Methodist Church (UMC) is a worldwide mainline Protestant denomination based in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United ...

United Methodist Church
(UMC), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Episcopal Church (TEC),
Presbyterian Church (USA) The Presbyterian Church (USA), abbreviated PC(USA), is a mainline Protestant The mainline Protestant churches (also called mainstream Protestant and sometimes oldline Protestant) are a group of Protestantism in the United States, Protestant den ...
(PCUSA),
American Baptist Churches USA The American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) is a mainline Baptist Christian denomination A Christian denomination is a distinct Religion, religious body within Christianity that comprises all Church (congregation), church congregations of the ...
(ABCUSA),
United Church of Christ The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination based in the United States, with historical and confessional roots in the Congregationalism in the United States, Congregational, Reformed churches, Reformed, Lut ...
(UCC), and
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Christian Church is a Protestantism, Protestant ecclesiological term referring to the church invisible comprising all Christians, used since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. In this understanding, "Christian Church" (or "Catholic ( ...
. The term was apparently coined by William Hutchison. *
United Methodist Church The United Methodist Church (UMC) is a worldwide mainline Protestant denomination based in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United ...

United Methodist Church
is the largest mainline Protestant denomination among the "Seven Sisters" with 6.3 million members in the United States in 2020. * Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is the second largest mainline denomination with approximately 3.3 million members and 9,000 congregations at the end of 2019. * Episcopal Church is third largest, with 1.8 million active baptized members, of whom 1.6 million members are located in the United States in 2019. *
Presbyterian Church (USA) The Presbyterian Church (USA), abbreviated PC(USA), is a mainline Protestant The mainline Protestant churches (also called mainstream Protestant and sometimes oldline Protestant) are a group of Protestantism in the United States, Protestant den ...
is the fourth largest mainline denomination, with 1.2 million active members in 8,900 congregations (2020). *
American Baptist Churches USA The American Baptist Churches USA (ABCUSA) is a mainline Baptist Christian denomination A Christian denomination is a distinct Religion, religious body within Christianity that comprises all Church (congregation), church congregations of the ...
is fifth in size, with approximately 1.1 million members (2017). *
United Church of Christ The United Church of Christ (UCC) is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination based in the United States, with historical and confessional roots in the Congregationalism in the United States, Congregational, Reformed churches, Reformed, Lut ...
is the sixth and has about 800,000 members in 2019. *
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Christian Church is a Protestantism, Protestant ecclesiological term referring to the church invisible comprising all Christians, used since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. In this understanding, "Christian Church" (or "Catholic ( ...
is the seventh and has about 380,000 members as of 2018. The
Association of Religion Data ArchivesThe Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) is a free source of online information related to American and international religion Religion is a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. This ...
,
Pew Research The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisanism in the United States, nonpartisan American think tank (referring to itself as a "fact tank") based in Washington, D.C. It provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends s ...

Pew Research
, and other sources also consider these denominations, listed with adherents and members, to be mainline: *
Cooperative Baptist Fellowship The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) is a mainline Christian fellowship of Baptist Baptists form a major branch of Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against ...
700,000 members *
United Church of Canada The United Church of Canada (french: link=no, Église unie du Canada) is a mainline Protestant denomination that is the largest Protestant Christian denomination A Christian denomination is a distinct Religion, religious body within Christia ...
388,363 members (2018), 2 million adherents according to 2011 Canadian Census *
Anglican Church of Canada Anglicanism is a Western Western may refer to: Places *Western, Nebraska, a village in the US *Western, New York, a town in the US *Western Creek, Tasmania, a locality in Australia *Western Junction, Tasmania, a locality in Australia *W ...
359,030 members (2017), 1.6 million adherents according to 2011 Canadian Census *
Religious Society of Friends Quakers are people who belong to a historically Protestant Christian Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...

Religious Society of Friends
(Quakers) 350,000 members *
Reformed Church in America The Reformed Church in America (RCA) is a mainline Reformed Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholi ...
194,064 members (2019) *
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC; french: Église évangélique luthérienne au Canada) is Canada's largest Lutheran denomination, with 95,000 baptized members in 519 congregations, with the second largest, the Lutheran Church–Can ...
111,570 members (2015) * Anglican Church of Mexico 100,000 members *
Mennonite Church USA The Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) is an Anabaptist Anabaptism (from Neo-Latin , from the Greek : "re-" and "baptism Baptism (from the Greek language, Greek noun βάπτισμα ''báptisma'') is a Christians, Christian rite of initiat ...
100,000 members *
Church of the Brethren The Church of the Brethren is a Christian denomination A Christian denomination is a distinct Religion, religious body within Christianity that comprises all Church (congregation), church congregations of the same kind, identifiable by trait ...
98,680 members (2019) *
Presbyterian Church in Canada The Presbyterian Church in Canada (french: Église presbytérienne du Canada) is a Presbyterian denomination, serving in Canada under this name since 1875. The United Church of Canada claimed the right to the name from 1925 to 1939. According to t ...
79,961 members (2019) *
International Council of Community ChurchesThe International Council of Community Churches (ICCC) is a Christianity, Christian religious association of ecumenically co-operating Protestants and Independent Catholics based in Frankfort, Illinois, Frankfort, Illinois, in the United States. It ...
69,276 members (2009) *
National Association of Congregational Christian Churches The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches (NACCC) is an association of about 400 churches providing fellowship for and services to churches from the Congregational tradition. The Association maintains its national office in Oa ...
65,392 members (2002)* *
Alliance of Baptists The Alliance of Baptists is a fellowship of Baptist Baptists form a major branch of Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Cr ...
65,000 members *
Moravian Church in North America . The Moravian Church in North America is part of the worldwide Moravian Church Unity. It dates from the arrival of the first Moravian missionaries to the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United Stat ...
60,000 members *
Mennonite Church Canada Mennonite Church Canada is the conference of Mennonite The Mennonites are members of certain Christian groups belonging to the church communities of Anabaptist denominations named after Menno Simons (1496–1561) of Friesland Friesland ( , ...
31,000 members *
Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches Universal is the adjective for universe The universe ( la, universus) is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. The Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmo ...
15,666 members (2006) *
Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America The Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America ( lv, Latviešu evangeliski luteriska Baznica Amerika; LELBA) is a Lutheran Lutheranism is one of the largest branches of Protestantism that identifies with the teachings of Martin Luther, a 16 ...
12,000 members (2007) * Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad 8,000 members *
Hungarian Reformed Church in AmericaThe Hungarian Reformed Church in America is a mainline Reformed Protestant church in the United States that serves people of Hungarian ancestry. The church has approximately 6,080 members. History After World War I, Hungary, Hungarian people began ...
6,080 members * Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Canada 2,606 members * Congregational Christian Churches, (not part of any national CCC body) Historically African American denominations are usually categorized differently from evangelicals or mainline. However, in 2014 the '' Christian Century'' identified a group that "fit the mainline description." *
African Methodist Episcopal Church The African Methodist Episcopal Church, usually called the A.M.E. Church or AME, is a predominantly African-American Methodist Methodism, also called the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related Christian denomination, denomin ...
2.5 million *
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, or the AME Zion Church or AMEZ, is a historically African-American African Americans (also referred to as Black Americans or Afro-Americans) are an ethnic group of Americans with total or partia ...
1.4 million *
Christian Methodist Episcopal ChurchThe Christian Methodist Episcopal (C.M.E.) Church is a historically African American, black religious denomination, denomination within the broader context of Wesleyan Methodism founded and organized by John Wesley in England in 1844 and established ...
858,670 members While no longer exclusively Christian, the
Unitarian Universalist Association Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is a liberal religious association of Unitarian Universalist Unitarian or Unitarianism may refer to: Christian and Christian-derived theologies A Unitarian is a follower of, or a member of an organisati ...
, with 211,000 adherents, considers itself to be mainline. Some denominations with similar names and historical ties to mainline groups are not considered mainline. The
Southern Baptist Convention The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a Christian denomination A Christian denomination is a distinct Religion, religious body within Christianity that comprises all Church (congregation), church congregations of the same kind, identifia ...
(SBC),
Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States , footnotes = The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), also known as the Missouri Synod, is a traditional, confessional Lutheran Christian denomination, denomination in the ...
(LCMS), the
Christian and Missionary Alliance The Alliance World Fellowship is the international governing body of the Christian and Missionary Alliance (The Alliance, also C&MA). The Alliance is an evangelical Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16t ...
(C&MA), the
Churches of Christ Church may refer to: Religion * Church (building) A church building, church house, or simply church, is a building used for Christian worship services and other Christian religious activities. The term is used to refer to the physical build ...
and
Christian churches Christian Church is a Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement against what its followers perceived to be Criticism of the Catholic Church, errors in the Catholic Church. ...
, the
Presbyterian Church in America The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is the second-largest Presbyterian church body, behind the Presbyterian Church (USA), and the largest conservative Reformed denomination in the United States. The PCA is Reformed in theology, Presbyteria ...
(PCA), the North American Lutheran Church (NALC), and the
Anglican Church in North America The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) is a Christian denomination A Christian denomination is a distinct Religion, religious body within Christianity that comprises all Church (congregation), church congregations of the same kind, ident ...
(ACNA) are often considered too conservative for this category and thus grouped as
evangelical Evangelicalism (), evangelical Christianity, or evangelical Protestantism, is a worldwide trans-denominational movement within Protestant Christianity that maintains the belief that the essence of the Gospel consists of the doctrine of salv ...
. *The National Association of Congregational Christian Churches is considered to be evangelical by Pew Research while the Association of Religion Data Archives considered it to be mainline.


Theology


Variation

Mainline Protestantism is characterized by theological and ideological pluralism. While doctrinal standards and confessional statements exist, these are not usually interpreted in ways to exclude people from membership. Richard Hutcheson, Jr., chairman of the Office of Review and Evaluation of the
Presbyterian Church in the United States The Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS, originally Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America) was a Protestant Protestantism is a form of Christianity that originated with the 16th-century Reformation, a movement again ...
, observed that clergy candidates were more likely to be rejected due to "excessive narrowness" than for violating confessional standards. Mainline churches hold a range of theological orientations—
conservative Conservatism is a Political philosophy, political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions. The central tenets of conservatism may vary in relation to the traditional values or practices of the culture and civilization ...
, moderate and
liberal Liberal or liberalism may refer to: Politics *a supporter of liberalism, a political and moral philosophy **Liberalism by country *an adherent of a Liberal Party Arts, entertainment and media *''El Liberal'', a Spanish newspaper published betw ...
. About half of mainline Protestants describe themselves as liberal. Mainline Christian groups are often more accepting of other beliefs and faiths, affirm the
ordination of women The ordination of women to ministerial or priest A priest is a religious leader authorized to perform the Sacred rite, sacred rituals of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and one or more deities. They also have the ...
, and have become increasingly affirming of gay ordination. Nearly one-third of mainline Protestants call themselves conservative, and most local mainline congregations have a strong, active conservative element.Struckmeyer, Kurt. "Mainline Christianity. " ''Following Jesus'' Web: 13 Dec 2009 Mainline denominations are historically
Trinitarian The Christian theology, Christian doctrine of the Trinity (, from "threefold") defines God in Christianity , God as being Monotheism, one god existing in three wikt:coequal , coequal, wikt:coeternal , coeternal, Consubstantiality , consubsta ...

Trinitarian
and proclaim
Jesus Christ Jesus, likely from he, יֵשׁוּעַ, translit=Yēšūaʿ, label=Hebrew/Aramaic ( AD 30 / 33), also referred to as Jesus of Nazareth or Jesus Christ, is the central figure of Christianity, the Major religious groups, world's largest r ...
as Lord and Son of God. In practice, mainline churches tend to be theologically moderate and influenced by ''
higher criticism Historical criticism, also known as the historical-critical method or higher criticism, is a branch of criticism that investigates the origins of ancient texts in order to understand "the world behind the text". While often discussed in terms of J ...
,'' an approach used by scholars to separate the Bible's earliest historical elements from perceived later additions and intentional distortions. Mainline denominations generally teach that the Bible is God's Word in function, but that it must be interpreted both through the lens of the cultures in which it was originally written, and examined using God-given reason. A 2008 survey conducted by the
Pew Research Center The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisanism in the United States, nonpartisan American think tank (referring to itself as a "fact tank") based in Washington, D.C. It provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends s ...

Pew Research Center
found that only 22 percent of the 7,500 mainline Christians surveyed said the Bible is God's Word and is to be interpreted as literally true, word for word. Thirty-eight percent thought that the Bible is God's Word but is not to be taken literally, word for word. Twenty-eight percent said the Bible was not the Word of God but was of human origin. It has been noted, even by members of mainline churches, that the leadership of denominational agencies and bureaucracies has often been more theologically and socially liberal than the overall membership of the mainline churches. This gap has caused feelings of alienation among conservative mainline Protestants. This dissatisfaction has led to the formation of various
Confessing Movement The Confessing Movement is a lay-led conservative Christian movement that opposes the influence of liberalism Liberalism is a Political philosophy, political and moral philosophy based on liberty, consent of the governed and equality befo ...
s or Charismatic Movement, charismatic renewal movements which are more conservative in tone.


Social justice

The mainline denominations emphasize the biblical concept of justice, stressing the need for Christians to work for
social justice Social justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, Equal opportunity, opportunities, and Social privilege, privileges within a society. In Western Civilization, Western as well as in older Culture of Asia, Asian cultures, the conc ...
, which usually involve politically liberal approaches to social and economic problems. Early in the 20th century, they actively supported the
Social Gospel The Social Gospel is a social movement A social movement is a loosely organized effort by a large group of people to achieve a particular goal, typically a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. Th ...
. Mainline churches were basically pacifistic before 1940, but under the influence of people such as Reinhold Niebuhr they supported World War II and the Cold War. They have been far from uniform in their reaction to issues of gender and sexuality, though they tend to be more accepting than the Catholic Church or the more conservative Protestant churches.


Social issues

Many mainline denominations are active in voicing perspectives on social issues. Almost all mainline denominations are gender-inclusive and ordain women. On abortion issues, the Episcopal Church (TEC), Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA), Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), and United Church of Christ (UCC) are members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The United Methodist Church (UMC) and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) support exceptions, when abortion may be necessary, but do not endorse the procedure. Other denominations, such as the Church of the Brethren and Mennonite Church USA, are against abortion. Regarding human sexuality, TEC, the ELCA, PC(USA), Society of Friends (Quaker), UUA, and UCC recognize same-gender marriages. Also considered mainline, the Anglican Church of Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and United Church of Canada bless or marry same-gender couples. In 2015, the Mennonite Church Canada saw its first same-gender marriage in one of its congregations. The American Baptist Churches USA does not perform same-gender marriages, but allows each congregation the freedom to decide for itself. Including the aforementioned denominations, the Mennonite Church USA, Metropolitan Community Church, and Moravian Church Northern Province license or ordain openly gay clergy. While the UMC does not nationally ordain gay or lesbian clergy, the New York Annual Conference, a regional body of the UMC, has ordained the denomination's first openly gay and lesbian clergy. The Western Jurisdiction of the UMC also elected the denomination's first openly gay bishop. Some congregations of the Church of the Brethren have also voted to perform same-gender marriages although the national denomination opposes this practice. Most of the above denominations also ordain openly transgender clergy. While the national church has not approved of gay or lesbian clergy, the UMC has allowed transgender pastors. Politically, mainline churches are also active. While no particular candidate can be endorsed, mainline churches often invite political speakers. At the 2016 General Conference for the
African Methodist Episcopal Church The African Methodist Episcopal Church, usually called the A.M.E. Church or AME, is a predominantly African-American Methodist Methodism, also called the Methodist movement, is a group of historically related Christian denomination, denomin ...
, a Black church, historically Black denomination but also identified as mainline, Hillary Clinton was invited to offer an address for the delegates and clergy.


Statistical decline

The term "mainline" once implied a certain numerical majority or dominant presence in mainstream society, but that is no longer the case. Protestant churches as a whole have slowly declined in total membership since the 1960s. As the national population has grown these churches have shrunk from 63% of the population in 1970 to 54% by 2000, and 48% in 2012, ceasing to be the religious category for the majority of Americans. This statistic may be inaccurate due to the number of former or historically mainline Protestants who continue to espouse mainline Protestant values without active church attendance. American affiliation with mainline denominations declined from 55% of all Protestants in 1973 to 46% in 1998. The number of mainline congregations in the U. S. declined from more than 80,000 churches in the 1950s to about 72,000 in 2008.Report Examines the State of Mainline Protestant Churches
The Barna Group. December 7, 2009. Web: 12 Dec. 2009
Various causes of mainline decline in population have been cited. Much analysis has taken place both from those within and outside mainline denominations. Key factors indicate that all types of churches can and do grow, regardless of hymnody or contemporary music, type of liturgy, average age of worshiper, or location On average, however, churches in rural areas, churches with older congregants, and churches with fewer young people involved struggle most to add members and grow churches. For example, of all churches founded since 1993, 54% are experiencing growth, while that is true for only 28% of congregations founded prior to 1900. As demographics change, the churches founded by earlier generations often struggle to adapt to changing conditions, including the declines or shifts in the age and ethnicity of local populations. Says David Roozen, Director of Hartford Seminary's Hartford Institute for Religion Research, "Location, Location, Location used to be the kind way that researchers described the extent to which the growth or decline of American congregations was captive to the demographic changes going on in their immediate neighborhoods." Age demographics cannot be overlooked as a real factor in congregational decline, with the birthrate for mainline Protestants well below what is needed to maintain membership numbers. The Barna Group, an Evangelical surveyor, has noted, Protestant pastors who serve mainline churches serve on average half as long as Protestant pastors in non-mainline churches. This may contribute to decline and may be influenced in part by the
United Methodist Church The United Methodist Church (UMC) is a worldwide mainline Protestant denomination based in the United States The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US), or America, is a country Contiguous United ...

United Methodist Church
practice of Itinerancy, where clergy are intentionally moved from one church to another as often as yearly in an effort to support and encourage the United Methodist tradition of strong lay ministry. Mainline churches have also had difficulty attracting minorities, particularly Hispanics. Hispanics comprise 6 percent of the mainline population but 16 percent of the US population. According to the Barna Group report, the failure of mainline Protestants to add substantial numbers of Hispanics is portent for the future, given both the rapid increase of the Hispanic population as well as the outflow of Hispanics from Catholicism to Protestant churches in the past decade, most of whom are selecting evangelical or Pentecostal Protestant churches. In general, however, decline can be a difficult thing to statistically quantify. Many older Protestant churches lived a vibrant lifetime and continue to evidence vital ministry and faith regardless of declining populations or birthrates. For example, giving and engagement with need and justice, both indicators of strong Christian faith, have increased despite the aging and loss of congregational members.


Contrast with other Protestant denominations

While various Protestant denominations have experienced declining membership, the most pronounced changes have occurred among mainline churches. Demographic trends for evangelical and historically African-American churches have been more stable. According to the Pew Research Center, mainline churches could claim 14.7 percent of all US adults compared to 25.4 percent who belonged to evangelical churches in 2014.Chang, Perry. "Recent Changes in Membership and Attendance. " Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.) Nov. 2006. Web
Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.)
Demographers Hout, Greeley, and Wilde have attributed the long-term decline in mainline membership and the concomitant growth in the conservative Protestant denominations to four basic causes: birth rates; switching to conservative denominations; departure from Protestantism to "no religion" (i.e. secularization); and conversions from non-Protestant sources. In their analysis, by far the main cause is birth rates—low for the mainline bodies, and high for the conservatives. The second most important factor is that fewer conservatives switch to mainline denominations than before. Despite speculation to the contrary, Hout, Greeley, and Wilde argue that switching from a mainline to a conservative denomination is not important in accounting for the trend, because it is fairly constant over the decades. Finally, conservative denominations have had a greater inflow of converts. Their analysis gives no support for the notion that theological or social conservatism or liberalism has much impact on long-term growth trends. Evidence from the General Social Survey indicates that higher fertility and earlier childbearing among women from conservative denominations explains 76% of the observed trend: conservative denominations have grown their own. Mainline denomination members have the lowest birthrate among American Christian groups. Unless there is a surge of new members, rising death rates are predicted to diminish their ranks even further in the years ahead.


Trends

Some other findings of the Barna Group: * From 1958 to 2008, mainline church membership dropped by more than one-quarter to roughly 20 million people—15 percent of all American adults. * From 1998 to 2008, there was a 22 percent drop in the percentage of adults attending mainline congregations who have children under the age of 18 living in their home. * In 2009, nearly 40 percent of mainline church attendees were single. This increase has been driven higher by a rise in the number of divorced and widowed adherents. * From 1998 to 2008, volunteerism dropped 21 percent; adult Sunday school participation decreased 17 percent. * The average age of a mainline pastor in 1998 was 48 and increased to 55 by 2009. * Pastors on average remain with a congregation for four years compared to twice that length for non-mainline church leaders. Recent statistics from the Pew Forum provide additional explanations for the decline. * Evangelical church members are younger than those in mainline denominations. Fourteen percent of evangelical congregations are between 18 and 29 (compared to 2 percent), 36 percent between 30 and 49, 28 percent between 50 and 64, and 23 percent 65 or older. Not paralleling the decline in membership is the household income of members of mainline denominations. Overall, it is higher than that of evangelicals: * 25% reported less than a $30,000 income per year. * 21% reported $30,000–$49,999 per year. * 18% reported $50,000–$74,999 per year. * 15% reported $75,000–$99,999 per year. * 21% reported an income of $100,000 per year or more, compared to only 13 percent of evangelicals.


History

While the term "mainline" was not applied to churches until the 20th century, mainline churches trace their history to the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. The largest and most influential Protestant denominations in Britain's 13 colonies were the Anglicans (after the American Revolution called Episcopalians) and the Congregationalism in the United States, Congregationalists (from which the American Unitarian Association, Unitarians would later split). These were later surpassed in size and influence by the evangelical denominations: the Baptists, Presbyterians and Methodists. Sharing a common Reformation heritage with Episcopal and Congregational churches, these denominations together created the mainline. It was, according to historian Jason Lantzer, "the emerging evangelical movement that would help forge the Seven Sisters and which provides a core to the wide variety of theological and doctrinal differences, shaping them into a more coherent whole." The Great Awakening ignited controversy within Protestant churches between Old and New Light, Old Lights and New Lights (or Old Side–New Side Controversy, Old Side and New Side among Presbyterians). Led by figures such as the Congregationalist minister Charles Chauncy (1705–1787), Charles Chauncy, Old Lights opposed the evangelical Christian revival, revivalism at the heart of the Awakening, while New Lights, led by fellow Congregationalist minister Jonathan Edwards (theologian), Jonathan Edwards, supported the revivals and argued for the importance of having a Religious conversion, conversion experience. By the 1800s, Chauncy's followers had drifted toward forms of theological liberalism, such as Universalism, Unitarianism and Transcendentalism. The Second Great Awakening would inaugurate a period of evangelical dominance within American mainline Protestantism that would last over a century. The Second Great Awakening was a catalyst for the reform of society. Efforts to improve the rights of women, reforming prisons, establishing free public schools, prohibiting alcohol, and (in the North) abolishing slavery were promoted by mainline churches. After the American Civil War, Civil War, however, tensions between evangelicals and non-evangelicals would re-emerge. As the practice of historical criticism spread to the United States, conflict over biblical inspiration erupted within Protestant churches. Conservative Protestants led by A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield and other Princeton Theology, Princeton theologians argued for biblical inerrancy, while liberal theologians such as Charles Augustus Briggs, Charles A. Briggs of Union Theological Seminary (New York City), Union Theological Seminary were open to using historical criticism to understand the Bible. As 19th–century evangelicals embraced dispensational premillennialism and retreated from society in the face of mounting social problems caused by industrialization, urbanization and immigration, liberal Protestants embraced the
Social Gospel The Social Gospel is a social movement A social movement is a loosely organized effort by a large group of people to achieve a particular goal, typically a social Social organisms, including humans, live collectively in interacting populations. Th ...
, which worked for the "regeneration of society" rather than only the conversion of individuals. The Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy of the 1920s widened the division between evangelical and non-evangelical Protestants as the two sides fought for control over the mainline denominations. The Christian fundamentalism, fundamentalists lost these battles for control to the modernists or liberals. Since the 1920s, mainline churches have been associated with liberal Protestantism. Episcopal Church (United States), Episcopalians and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, WASPs tend to be considerably wealthier and better educated than most other religious groups in America,Irving Lewis Allen, "WASP—From Sociological Concept to Epithet," ''Ethnicity,'' 1975 154+ and are disproportionately represented in the upper reaches of American business, law and politics, and for many years were especially dominant in the History of the United States Republican Party, Republican Party. Numbers of the Old money, wealthiest and most affluent American families, such as the Vanderbilts and Astor family, Astors, Rockefeller family, Rockefeller, who were Baptists, Du Pont family, Du Pont, Roosevelt family, Roosevelt, Forbes family, Forbes, Whitney family, Whitneys, the Junius Spencer Morgan, Morgans and Harrimans are Episcopalian and Presbyterian families. Through the 1940s and 1950s, neo-orthodoxy had become the prevailing theological approach within the mainline churches. This neo-orthodox consensus, however, gave way to resurgent liberal theologies in the 1960s and to liberation theology during the 1970s.


References


Bibliography

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Further reading

* * * * * * * * * * * Hollinger, David A. ''Protestants Abroad: How Missionaries Tried to Change the World but Changed America'' (2017
excerpt
* * * * * * {{Portal bar, Christianity Christian terminology Protestantism in the United States 1920s neologisms