Americans like their churches conservative. According to Dave Shiflett, author of Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity, more and more Americans are abandoning liberal churches that reject tradition and orthodoxy, and flocking to ones that uphold conservative beliefs.
Why are churchgoers rejecting this new vogue of liberal Christianity that embraces a homosexual clergy, abortion, sexual freedom and “tolerance” as the highest virtues? In an increasingly secular age, it would appear that such liberal denominations would be gaining in membership. Not so, says Shiflett, who also wrote Christianity on Trial. Shiflett contends that it is precisely this liberal attitude that has turned off so many Americans from mainline Protestant churches. Instead, these churchgoers prefer to hold fast to tradition and orthodoxy. They want their church to adhere to central dogma such as the virgin birth, the resurrection and the trinity. They also aspire to a higher level of spirituality that demands sexual restraint and a commitment to the Ten Commandments.
Shiflett began his inquiry when he discovered a seminary student was ostracized for believing in God. He says that “something has gone decidedly amiss when a person who believes in God is the odd man out at a seminary.” To Shiflett’s astonishment, this was not an isolated incident. After interviewing dozens of people who abandoned liberal denominations, he found similar scenarios. Among these was a Unitarian hospital chaplain who refused to comfort a dying patient with the promise of an afterlife because the chaplain doesn’t believe in one; a famous bishop who rejected the virgin birth and resurrection; and a Maryland church that created Lenten ashes out of tax forms, draft cards, olive oil and human blood.
Americans are becoming appalled by left-wing sermons, intellectual fads and political correctness trumping dogma and tradition—the most notorious example being the installation of homosexual Gene V. Robinson as an Episcopal bishop.
The consequences of mainstream Protestant denominations embracing liberalism has been “sprawling vacancies in the pews.” Church attendance among mainline Protestantism has decreased significantly over the past decade. The United Churches of Christ has lost 14.8%, the United Methodist Church declined by 6.7%, and the Episcopal Church and the Baptist Church lost more than 5% of their membership.
But Shiflett contends that the backlash to this new trend is a rise in conservative Christianity. More and more churchgoers are embracing socially conservative denominations and congregating in various traditional Evangelical, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. Churches that have maintained allegiance to traditional Christian belief have experienced a drastic increase in membership. The Evangelical Free Church’s membership soared by 57%, Conservative Christian Churches and Churches of Christ grew by 40%, the Assemblies of God rose by 18% and the Church of God increased by 40%.
Shiflett believes the rise in conservative Christianity is linked to the desire by Americans to preserve their faith and religious heritage. Unlike the liberal denominations that favor heresy, conservative churches bring the authentic message of Christ to their flock. Americans are attracted to the spiritual challenge of the Gospel and want to be held to this higher standard of faith.