What’s In a Name?
Amy Frykholm, the associate editor of The Christian Century, is pondering whether mainline Protestantism needs a name change. A re-branding, if you will. Evangelicals have their brand name, after all, and “mainline” just doesn’t work for her:
“Mainline” emerged as a label in the early part of the twentieth-century to distinguish a certain kind of Protestant from a fundamentalist. Some have speculated that the name comes from the Philadelphia Main Line, a suburban rail line that passed by one denominational church after another. But its two parts, “main” and “line” are both utterly unhelpful in describing the people, theology, social commitments or religious identities contained under that category today.
If anything, so-called mainline Protestants are less “main” and less “line” than they’ve ever been.
Ain’t that the truth. But what about “liberal”?
“Liberal” likewise is useless. At our particular moment, it is primarily a political term. While it can apply to theology and abstractly to philosophy, that isn’t its main rhetorical purpose now, and it lumps people from a broad spectrum under a term that is awkward and uncomfortable for most of them. Many people in this category would not consider themselves “liberal” in theology, but they might in politics. Or they might be liberal in theology, but decidedly not so in politics. Or they might claim neither or both, or have no idea why it matters.
Whatever. So what do we call these institutions that are neither “mainline” nor “liberal,” neither fish nor fowl? I have a few suggestions:
5) Debating societies
6) Democratic Party affiliates
Feel free to vote for any of these, or suggest your own. I’ll be sure to send the results of this survey on to Ms. Frykholm.
PS: I should mention an exchange in the comments that I enjoyed. One commenter said, “How about inclusive protestantism, or maybe open-table protestants…” Another responded, “How about Ichabod?” Well done, Mark McNeil. Well done.
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