My Orthodox Christian friend Deacon Silouan posts his predictions for what Christianity in America will look like in 50 years. Excerpt:
- Orthodoxy: Little visible change, zero substantive change. Increasing numbers and cultural impact. Progress toward a single American Archdiocese, but still not there yet.
- Catholicism: Neither women priests nor married priests will happen. Increasing disaffection among liberal American Catholics leading to a significant decrease in attendance. Identification as Catholic will be increasingly cultural rather than creedal. This trend, combined with decreasing numbers of men seeking the priesthood, will force additional parish churches to close. This will be slightly offset by conversions from Protestantism, resulting in American Catholic liturgy and pastoral care becoming effectively more traditional. In northern Europe, Catholicism may fade into a cultural memory, but in North America, a leaner, more boldly traditional Catholicism will recover its equilibrium and continue to be a voice of conscience and stability.
- Reformed Christians: Continuing personality issues, but overall the hardcore Reformed will still look and act a lot like they do today, because (almost uniquely among Protestants) Reformed folks know and value their tradition. The edgy/emergey segment will contribute a few cultural differences.
- Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, UCC: Increasing convergence so that they resemble each other almost interchangeably, while de-emphasizing troublesome doctrinal issues until their emphasis on social issues rather than personal salvation turns them into Christian-branded social service agencies. In each movement the conservative outliers will continue to peel off in schisms embodying a previous generation’s norm. Many of these etremely conservative daughter groups will identify strongly with the little-o orthodox “Great Tradition” (cf. Tom Oden)
- Conservative Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists in North America: I foresee growth and prosperity for individual parishes and dioceses, but overall a continuing fragmentation. Fifty years ago, these groups were culturally relevant and could provide nostalgia for returning Christians; now, in increasingly-unchurched America, they’re culturally unfamiliar but not yet old enough to make a virtue of ancient weirdness the way Eastern Orthodox do.
Check out his entire entry to see Dn Silouan’s predictions for Baptist, charismatics, and others.
What do you predict? Please say what you think will happen, not what you would like to think will happen. For readers inside non-Christian religious traditions, please feel free to predict where American believers in your faith will be in half a century.
I would add the following:
Orthodoxy will continue to be a very minor player in American Christianity, though conversions will have changed its complexion greatly.
Catholicism will be far, far more Hispanic, with a Latinized immigrant Catholicism becoming the American Catholic mainstream. Putnam & Campbell’s “American Grace” pointed out that non-Hispanic US Catholics have been dropping out of the church at the same rate as mainline Protestants have been leaving their churches. If not for mass Hispanic immigration, the US Catholic church would be in much more trouble on the numbers front — and the number of converts hasn’t remotely kept up with the non-Hispanic loss. The non-Latino white Catholics who remain will be more traditionalist.
I don’t know enough about the various strands of Protestantism to say, but I would bet that the Episcopal Church will no longer exist. There may be an Anglican presence in the US, but it will be with something that looks like one of the continuing Anglican churches today. Canterbury will have become something like the Phanar, the religious compound in the former Constantinople in which the Ecumenical Patriarch lives: important for historic symbolic reasons only. The real heart of Anglicanism will have moved to Africa.
For most other Protestant churches, I’m struck by how doctrine, which has been the chief division among the various churches over the centuries, simply doesn’t matter much to contemporary adherents in many Protestant communions. I think it’s very, very difficult to predict what will happen to those churches, because they have come so unmoored from any stable tradition.
Plus, no church — Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant — will be unaffected by Moralistic Therapeutic Deism playing itself out across the generations. I think the drift towards unbelief will pick up dramatically, and small-o orthodox Christians from the various confessions will be heavily marginalized by a far more secular mainstream.
Again, none of this is what I especially want to see happen, but it is what I think will happen.