[Full disclosure: I am Lutheran (ELCA)]
Everyone and their grandma knows that mainline liberal Protestant denominations are going the way of newspapers. Right? Demographic trends show mega-church versions of "Evangelical" (Trademark) congregations and RC and even unaffiliated agnosticism and atheism are on the rise and stealing our sheep left and right. Right?
Mainline liberal Protestant denominations and their constitutive congregations are little more than neo-gothic necropolises or are on life-support and all this points to the wimpering death throws of a failed experiment. Mainline liberal Protestant Christianity is viewed with contempt by secular liberals as magical-thinking dupes who are irrelevant and ineffective and that explains our anemic numbers because smart people have finally caught on. And we are viewed as the Whores of Babylon by the right-winger christianist Taliban and that explains how God has abandoned us to go extinct. Even within my own denomination and congregation I hear rueful moaning about the numbers and so we make cartoonish outreach efforts to increase our appeal among an increasingly non-white demographic. I mean we Scandinavian-Americans just ain't reproducing like we used to. But what if the premise of the schadenfreude among the secularists and the christianists and the fear among ourselves is missing an important piece of reality? The August 7 edition of The Christian Century has a blurb from the June/July edition of First Things making the outrageous but compelling claim that liberal Protestantism has and is winning the culture war.
It is fashionable and useful within the christianist community to claim the world is going to hell in a handbasket and to pine for the good olde days when everything was far better than it is now. Crime is out of control, kids have no respect, death and disease is under every rock and behind every tree, the president is black, abortions, gays, women getting ideas and careers, that demon science and sex, sex, SEX!!!!! Demagoguery requires you keep the people afraid and angry.
Without giving attribution I think it is fair to say that, in reality (in the Western world), crime is at it's lowest rate in a couple of generations (confounding social scientists), medical advances are improving the healing sciences and arts, abortion rates are plummeting, more and more women are achieving equal human rights to men, racists and homophobes more and more at least have the shame to veil their ignorance and hatred, slavery is nearing extinction, imperialism is nearing extinction, child labor and regular labor laws have transformed the hell the world used to be, scientific inquiry has continued to go gang-busters, etc. Except for climate change things are getting better and better.
So, things are better in many, many ways. You disagree? Ask yourself whether you'd rather be a child of poor parents in Newcastle, UK a hundred fifty years ago or today? Whether you'd rather be a black man in rural Georgia a hundred fifty years ago or today? Yes, things are not perfect now. But it has to be granted that things are better than they used to be.
The editors of First Things and of The Christian Century (I have actual paper copies so I am not linking to a website) submit that, by and large, the world has been drastically impacted for the better in all aspects as a result of mainline liberal Protestant Christianity. And they submit that secular disinterest and dismissal of the mainliners is afforded them because of the very changes brought about by centuries of hard won cultural transformation of society into that which more fully reflects the vision and goals of the mainline liberal Protestant mission. Robert Bellah writes that "liberal Protestantism has been eclipsed because it has been so successful."
Even the reforms of Vatican II were influenced by liberal Protestantism.
I take the scorn of the christianist right-wingers as a badge of honor. But I confess that I take umbrage at the scorn of the secularist left-wingers because their world has been so positively shaped by the likes of us boring and irrelevant Lutherans and Episcopalians and Presbyterians who receive secularist derision. So shaped, that our liberal Protestant vision of the Gospel has infiltrated all aspects of culture. Hospitals and universities and public education and literacy and labor rights and due process and civil rights and abolitionism and peace-movement and immigration rights and sponsorships and famine and disaster and refugee relief, and social work and gender issues and on and on. These things the world today takes for granted came from liberal Protestantism.
Have the mainline liberal Protestants won? If we do go extinct in the eyes of the world our legacy will live on. We may not get the credit for it. But we do it for the glory of God not of ourselves. And we will join the other heroes of the faith whom the world forgets but the kingdom of heaven will not.
added a linky and fixed a couple typographical errors.