Back in 1980, after driving all night from the East Coast, we pulled into New Berlin*, Illinois, for breakfast. On the edge of town were the usual signs welcoming you to the community from civic organizations and churches. One caught our eye: The United Baptist Church of New Berlin. My buddy in the front seat and I laughed till we almost cried. A beaut' of an oxymoron: "United Baptist." Sort of like the fictional "Holy Trinity Unitarian Church," or "Four-Square Fundamentalist United Church of Christ."

Well, I haven't commented on this yet, but former Presidents Carter and Clinton are trying to unite some Baptists, including black and white groups. Article here from The Sun News, Myrtle Beach. Lots of luck. Baptists do division much better than reunion.

One thing from the article caught my attention. (More below)

The new group will not be a "denomination," but rather a coalition united by common social interests. The organizers recognize that denominations are fading in part because of decreasing denominational loyalty. So, why use a paradigm that is passing away. Probably a good choice.

Americans church-goers are losing a sense of denominational loyalty. Most congregants pick their congregations based on non-theological factors such as location, youth ministries, worship style, sermons, etc. Belief systems, in other words doctrine, has faded in the last decades as a reason people attend a particular church.

Much has been written about this phenomenon, but I'll go ahead and add my two cents. I think we are seeing three factors in American culture at work here. One is consumerism: many people view churches like stores in the mall--they'll shop at the one that has what they want at the price they want to pay. Church shoppers don't think of themselves as joining a community so much as consuming a product. Another is the postmodern denigration of "TRUTH." As a culture we tend to regard ideas as opinions, or as helpful or unhelpful suggestions. We tend to say "I feel," rather than "I think." The third is the individualism that does not want to commit: "Let's live together, not marry." The decline of denominational loyalty has paralled the decline in the concept of marrying for life.

In fairness, the new coalition of Baptists is trying not to build around a simple consumerism, but rather a commitment to certain social issues. Perhaps this approach will indeed build loyalty and commitment, a very counter-culture result.

*In central Illinois I am told the name of this town is pronounced with the accent on the first syllable: Berlin. In 1980 both us us in the front seat were Baptists, I a Primitive Baptist, my buddy a Southern Baptist.