Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Have you heard of "Zombie churches?"

The writer Carol Howard Merritt had a recent post (6/18/13) in the Christian Century in which she discussed the issue of zombie churches--congregations that are 'dead' but have enough endowment to keep the doors open.

I would submit that, even more than individual churches, it is the denominational structures that are dead.
The fact is that the doctrinal differences between denominations have become far less significant than the ethical and cultural differences within the denominational memberships; for example, the preferred mode of baptism is a far less divisive issue than views about gay marriage.

When we moved back to Virginia in 2003, I decided to avoid the local Baptist churches and attended a small Presbyterian church. There I became active in a small Sunday School class of Baby Boomers. The variety of denominational backgrounds was rich and varied, including one who was a former student for the priesthood. I was particularly intrigued by the open attitude of a former Catholic who said she was still disturbed by the nuns who taught her not to bite down on the "host," lest she cause it to bleed. There was only one in this class who seemed wed to the denominational "line."

Yes, this was a group of Boomers who were "searchers." And it was the discussions in this class that demonstrated to me how meaningless the denominational labels have become.

I believe denominations are dead but don't know it ("zombies") for two main reasons: history and wealth.
Those involved in the denominations are invested in the history and identity of that particular denomination.
And they want to hold onto the use and control of that denomination's assets.

I remained a "Baptist" for so long because I held to the historic principle that each person had the right to interpret their own conscience (which most baptists no longer practice), and I felt my long term history as a Baptist gave me a stronger voice among other Baptists (it did not!)

I have not given up on denominations easily. When we moved to Vermont in 1998, I joined a United Church of Christ ("God is still speaking") congregation, and when we moved to Raleigh in 2010, we joined a Unitarian Universalist (not sure there is a god who can speak) congregation.

I no longer have any desire to participate in any denomination, and I no longer choose to identify with any organized religion, so by default I would be considered a "None."

PS: However, as the great Syracuse University educator Sol Gordon pointed out: "To label is to disable."


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