So we hear a lot about disaffected mainline Protestants and wandering evangelicals swimming the Tiber or crossing the Bosphorus or (rarely, at least in terms of headlines) paddling the Elbe. And we’re also familiar with ex-Catholics, recovering Catholics, lapsed Catholics, and whatever Garry Wills is.
But here’s a story about Catholics leaving the church to become—evangelicals!
The data shows that disagreement over specific doctrines is not the main reason Catholics become Protestants. We also have lots of survey data showing that many Catholics who stay disagree with specific church teachings. Despite what theologians and bishops think, doctrine is not that important either to those who become Protestant or to those who stay Catholic.
People are not becoming Protestants because they disagree with specific Catholic teachings; people are leaving because the church does not meet their spiritual needs and they find Protestant worship service better.
Nor are the people becoming Protestants lazy or lax Christians. In fact, they attend worship services at a higher rate than those who remain Catholic. While 42 percent of Catholics who stay attend services weekly, 63 percent of Catholics who become Protestants go to church every week. That is a 21 percentage-point difference.
What role have the sex-abuse scandals played?
Some of the common explanations of why people leave do not pan out in the data. For example, only 21 percent of those becoming Protestant mention the sex abuse scandal as a reason for leaving. Only 3 percent say they left because they became separated or divorced.
In the words of that great theologian Mr. Spock: “Fascinating.”
If you believed liberals, most Catholics who leave the church would be joining mainline churches, like the Episcopal church. In fact, almost two-thirds of former Catholics who join a Protestant church join an evangelical church. Catholics who become evangelicals and Catholics who join mainline churches are two very distinct groups. We need to take a closer look at why each leaves the church.
You do that. Wake me when it’s over.
I do wonder how stable these conversions will prove, if “worship style” is really what they’re about. If what is meant is a more “personal” relationship to God in Christ, you know, there may be a deeper spiritual and even theological motivation at work. They may be hungry for serious, sustained, expositional preaching. They may even be longing for some Law/Gospel dust-up, even if they’re not immediately conscious of it.
But if it’s the praise bands and the youth groups that’s attracting them, I give these new marriages about as long as most Hollywood match-ups.
Will the fresh pope stem the tide of this Exodus to the promised land? Or will his chumminess with evangelicals work against him, making the grass seem greener on the other side of the confessional divide?
When will we see a Protestant counterpart to The Journey Home? Maybe call it Moving Out: