What’s the Difference between a Pro-Refugee Evangelical (Tim Keller) and a Democrat (Dianne Feinstein)?

Short answer: neither quotes the Bible.

Notice for instance the parallels among the National Association of Evangelicals, Ed Stetzer, Evangelical leaders (among them Tim Keller), and the Democrats.

The NAE:

“Christians and churches have been welcoming refugees for 2,000 years, and evangelicals are committed to continue this biblical mission. Thousands of U.S. evangelicals and their churches have welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past 40 years through World Relief and other federally approved resettlement agencies. We don’t want to stop now,” NAE President Leith Anderson said.

The Trump administration’s plans to make severe cuts to the admission of refugees are alarming. We call on President Trump to declare his support for the continuation of the U.S. refugee resettlement program, which is critical at a time when the world faces a significant refugee crisis.

Ed Stetzer:

Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, says it this way: “The decision to restrict all entry of refugees and other immigrants … contradicts the American tradition of welcoming families who come to the United States to start their lives again in safety and dignity. The American people — most of whom can trace their own families’ stories through a similar immigrant journey in search of freedom — are a hospitable people.”

He’s right. But, it’s not just because we are Americans. It’s because we are Christians.

God’s people should be the first ones to open their arms to refugees. We should welcome them and do what Christians, in your church and mine, have been doing a long time — showing and sharing the love of Jesus with them.

Tim Keller et al:

As Christians, we have a historic call expressed over two thousand years, to serve the suffering. We cannot abandon this call now. We live in a dangerous world and affirm the crucial role of government in protecting us from harm and in setting the terms on refugee admissions. However, compassion and security can coexist, as they have for decades. For the persecuted and suffering, every day matters; every delay is a crushing blow to hope.

Since the inception of the refugee resettlement program, thousands of local churches throughout the country have played a role in welcoming refugees of all religious backgrounds. Ministries to newly arrived refugees are ready, and desire to receive many thousands more people than would be allowed under the new executive order.

The Democratic Party (according to Damon Linker):

Many liberals argue that refugees are among the most vulnerable people on Earth and so must be welcomed with open arms. That forcing undocumented immigrants to leave the country is gratuitously cruel, violates their rights, and so justifies municipalities flouting federal law by turning themselves into “sanctuary cities.” That banning entry to refugees or immigrants not yet within the United States can violate their due process rights under the U.S. Constitution. And that the desire to restrict immigration is invariably an expression of xenophobia, racism, and other forms of irrational animus and so morally (and perhaps constitutionally) indefensible.

All of these claims are, at bottom, expressions of a fundamentally anti-political humanitarian ideology that is unlikely to fare well in the next presidential election. Democrats desperately need to confront the vulnerabilities of this position and stake out a more defensible and pragmatic one if they hope to push back against Trump’s populist-nationalist message in upcoming years.

Of course, evangelicals don’t need to worry about running for election (though the likes of Russell Moore does need to worry about ministry dollars going somewhere other than the Southern Baptist cooperative program). But evangelicals who live in the United States may want to think (with help from Linker) about how to love their actual neighbors who live within U.S. borders (Walter didn’t see his buddies die face down in ‘Nam for open borders):

Many Americans believe that their constitution presumes or appeals to certain timeless, universal moral truths that apply to all human beings. But the U.S. Constitution itself — like the constitutions, fundamental laws, and commonly affirmed norms and rules of all political communities — is nonetheless instantiated in a particular place, rooted in a particular tradition. It also pertains and applies only to people who are members of the political community known as the United States of America.

Those who are members of this community are known as American citizens. They get a say in what laws get passed and how they get enforced. Those who are not members of this community — who are not citizens — don’t get such a say. The community is perfectly within its rights to decide which and how many of these outsiders will be allowed to visit the country, how long they will be allowed to stay, when they will need to go, and how many, if any, will be permitted to join the community permanently by becoming citizens.

This is one of the most elemental acts of politics: the community deciding who to admit and on what terms. To treat this act as somehow morally illegitimate is to treat politics as such as morally illegitimate.

In other words, evangelicals think like 1kers, as if the U.S. is a Christian community. Imagine welcoming non-Christians into fellowship in a Christian congregation. What sense does that make? So why should citizens of the United States act as if they are the United Nations of the World. As Linker says, it’s a complicated question how Americans decide what to do with outsiders:

Note that nothing I’ve said tells us anything about how many immigrants or refugees the political community of the United States should welcome at any given moment of history, or what criteria should be used to make this determination. I generally favor liberal immigration policies; many Trump voters take a very different view. The point, as Josh Barro recently argued in an important column, is that the policy debate needs to be made in terms of the good of the political community as a whole and in its parts, not in terms of abstract, extra-political moral duties owed to prospective newcomers. A political community exists in large part to benefit itself — to advance the common good of its citizens. There’s nothing shameful in that. It’s to a considerable extent what politics is.

And don’t forget, if godless Democrats and progressive evangelicals agree that Jesus is on the side of refugees, w-w has failed.

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We’re Supposed to Believe Evangelicals Care about Nicea?

While evangelical leaders and some of their critics debate the complexities of Trintarian theology (thanks, mind you, to prior considerations of the relations between the sexes – ahem), please keep in mind two points.

First, evangelical Protestants never — NEH VEH — cared about Nicea. If they knew about Nicea, they certainly didn’t know the Council of Constantinople of 381 (wasn’t that a Muslim city?). Just look at some evangelical statements on the Trinity:

God has revealed himself to be the living and true God, perfect in love and righteous in all his ways, one in essence, existing eternally in the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Fuller Seminary, flagship seminary of the neo-evangelical movement)

We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (National Association of Evangelicals)

By way of comparison:

In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost: the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son. (OPC Confession of Faith 2.3)

Our Churches, with common consent, do teach that the decree of the Council of Nicaea concerning the Unity of the Divine Essence and concerning the Three Persons, is true and to be believed without any doubting; that is to say, there is one Divine Essence which is called and which is God: eternal, without body, without parts, of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness, the Maker and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible; and yet there are three Persons, of the same essence and power, who also are coeternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. And the term “person” they use as the Fathers have used it, to signify, not a part or quality in another, but that which subsists of itself. (Augsburg Confession)

So when Carl Trueman writes:

In light of the last few weeks, the American conservative evangelical movement as a whole has been exposed as theologically thin in its doctrine and historically eccentric in its priorities. As the war of words dies down, the subsequent peace must bring with it ecumenical consequences. It cannot simply involve papering over the obvious cracks in order to return to gospel business as usual.

Does he really mean to say “the last few weeks”? What about the last century does he not appreciate?

The second point to consider is how parachurch this entire debate is. As Jake Meador observes, evangelicals don’t debate well:

And so we continue to go around the maddening how-evangelicals-debate cul de sac: Dr. Trueman has long complained that evangelicalism is driven more by cultural concerns, like complementarianism, and a celebrity pastor complex than by sincere concern with faithful preaching and ministry. In the way he makes these critiques, he has sometimes been excessively aggressive, thereby making it far less likely that people will hear his real concerns or weigh whether or not there is any truth in them at all. He is, instead, easily dismissed as a crank.

One reason is that the means for conducting debate are parachurch institutions, not church assemblies, committees, reports, and debates.

So while evangelicals debate the Trinity — THE TRINITY!! — Orthodox Presbyterians were discussing the doctrine of republication.

Evangelicals really should join a confessional church. The water is warm.

Not New But Laodecian Calvinism

Trevin Wax argues for yet another third-way that keeps Calvinists and Arminians together in the big tent also known as the Southern Baptist Convention. As the second largest communion (if a convention qualifies) in the United States only behind Roman Catholics, forgive me if I seem to yield to the temptation of membership envy.

What if such girth comes precisely because ministers and congregations are free to follow their own theological convictions? In other words, how big would the SBC be if it had to choose between Calvinism and Arminianism?

But Wax doesn’t think that decision is necessary. He even thinks that kind of variety will make the SBC stronger (as in iron-sharpening-iron, I guess):

In the past, I’ve surmised that God may be using our Southern Baptist diversity on this issue for our overall health. I know many disagree with the idea that our diversity may be a good thing. Some Calvinists believe the SBC would be stronger if everyone shared their soteriological views and other Southern Baptists believe the SBC would be stronger if there were no Calvinists at all. I understand these perspectives, but my strong belief in God’s sovereignty gives me confidence that God will use our differing conclusions for the good of His people.

Not to sound patronizing, but Wax clearly ignores Calvinist history. Calvinists and Arminians don’t coexist. Think Canons of Dort. Think Dutch-American Calvinist disdain for “methodism.” Think Orthodox Presbyterian and Christian Reformed Church rejection of invitations to join the National Association of Evangelicals.

Of course, someone could argue that Calvinists and Arminians should put aside their differences and work together within the same commvenion. If I were Wax, I would not want to be in that land of doctrinal goo because the precedents for doctrinal toleration (or indifferentism) are not good. Contrary to Tom Nettles, it’s not departures from Calvinism that lead to liberalism (though positive estimates of human agency generally undermine Christianity). It’s actually calls for people who disagree so fundamentally to “get along” that produce the flabbiness that is Protestant liberalism.

How Far Will Conservatives Bend?

Ross Douthat finds the progressive fundamentalist inner-self of conservative Roman Catholics (is this what Bryan and the Jasons signed up for?):

Let’s make a partial list of the changes that most conservative Catholics have accepted — sometimes grudgingly, sometimes enthusiastically — in their church since the 1960s. A transformation in the church’s attitude toward liberal democracy and religious freedom. A transformation in the church’s attitude toward other Christian churches and non-Christian religions. A total renovation of the church’s liturgy, one with inevitable implications for sacramental life, theology, biblical interpretation, the works, that was staggering in hindsight but accepted at the time by everyone except a tiny minority. A revolution in sacred architecture, albeit one that stalled out once it became apparent that it was, you know, kind of terrible. Massive shifts in church rhetoric around issues of personal morality (sexual morality very much included) even where the formal teaching remained intact. Stark changes in the way the church talks about sin, hell and damnation, and openings (again, including among conservative Catholics) to theological perspectives once considered flatly heterodox. Clear changes, slow-moving or swift, in the Vatican’s public stance on hot-button issues like the death penalty and torture (and perhaps soon just war theory as well). The purging or diminution of a host of Catholic distinctives, from meatless Fridays to communion on the tongue to the ban on cremation to … well, like I said, it’s a partial list, so I’ll stop there.

So whatever the conservative religious psychology, however strong the conservative craving for certainty and stability, nobody looking at the changes wrought in the church over the last fifty years could possibly describe conservative Catholicism as actually committed, in any kind of rigorous or non-negotiable sense, to defending a changeless, timeless church against serious alteration. (Indeed, this is a point that traditionalist Catholics make about the mainstream Catholic right at every opportunity!)

Rather, conservative Catholicism has been on a kind of quest, ever since the crisis atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, to define certain essentials of the faith in a time of sweeping flux and change, while effectively conceding (to borrow Linker’s architectural image) that reformers can rearrange and remove the bricks of Catholicism so long as they don’t touch those crucial foundations. For a long time this conservative quest was lent a certain solidity and rigor and self-confidence by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. But the advent of Francis has made it clear that conservative Catholicism doesn’t have as clear a synthesis as conservatives wanted to believe, and that in some ways the conservative view of the post-Vatican II church is a theory in crisis — or the very least that it lacks a clear-enough account of itself, and of what can and cannot change in its vision of Catholicism, to navigate an era in which the pope himself does not seem to be “on side.”

The parallel here between Douthat and Carl Henry & Co. is striking. Try to preserve conservative Protestantism by identifying essentials like the National Association of Evangelicals list of doctrinal non-negotiables. The point about how to interpret history is also apt. Neo-evangelicals had to find a narrative that placed them in the mainstream of American Protestantism without offending Arminians, Calvinists, or Pentecostals. The way to do that was to read sixteenth-century Protestantism (Reformation) into the First and Second Pretty Good Awakenings. Meanwhile, like conservative Roman Catholics, Douthat has to distance himself from the SSPXers just as Henry and Billy Graham disavowed fundamentalism as mean.

That sort of spiritual and theological retrieval may have its moments, but it is hardly — as the those inclined to overstatement like to put it — “robust.”

Douthat goes on to do a pretty good impersonation of what it felt like to be an evangelical in the PCUSA who also belonged to the NAE while General Assembly after General Assembly did not perform as badly as it might:

. . . if Pope Francis was blocked from going the full Kasper, he still produced a document that if read straightforwardly seems to introduce various kinds of ambiguity into the church’s official teaching on marriage, sin and the sacraments — providing papal cover for theological liberalism, in effect, without actually endorsing the liberal position. It’s not the first time this has happened; as Joseph Shaw notes, it’s very easy to find “examples of Popes and other organs of the Church issuing documents which seemed, if not actually motivated by a rejection of traditional teaching, then are at least motivated by a desire not to be in conflict with those who reject it.” But it’s the first time it’s happened recently on a controversy of this gravity, on an issue where conservative Catholics have tried to draw a clear line and invested so much capital … and I think it’s fair to say that they (that we) don’t know exactly how to respond.

Do conservatives simply declare victory, because the worst didn’t happen, the full theological crisis didn’t come, and it’s important to maintain a basic deference to papal authority (itself a big part of the JPII-era conservative synthesis) so long as no doctrinal line is explicitly crossed? Do they acknowledge the document’s deliberate ambiguities, as my own treatment did, when doing so might give aid and comfort to liberals who are eager to make the most of any perceived shift? Do they deny that any real ambiguity exists, not out of pure deference to Francis but because given conservative premises this document should be read in the context of prior documents, not as a stand-alone, and if you read it that way there’s no issue, no rupture, everything’s fine? Do they stress the technicalities of what counts as magisterial teaching to make the document’s seeming ambiguity less important or less binding? Do they attack the document (and the pope) head-on, on the theory that conservative Catholicism’s essential problem is its vulnerability to constant end-arounds, constant winking “pastoral” moves, and that these need more forthright opposition?

Conservatives have tried all of these strategies and more. Some sincerely believe that the letter of the document is a defeat for liberals and that anxious Catholic pundits are overstating the problems with its spirit. Some think the problems with its spirit are real but also think the church will be better off if conservatives simply claim the document as their own and advance the most orthodox reading of its contents. Some think the best course is to downplay the document’s significance entirely and wait for a different pope to clarify its ambiguities. Some (mostly journalists, as opposed to priests or theologians) think it’s important to acknowledge that this pope has significantly strengthened liberal Catholicism’s hand, and to describe that reality accurately and answer his arguments head-on where they seem to cut against the essentials of the faith. Some think that this document, indeed this entire pontificate, has vindicated a traditionalist critique of post-conciliar Catholicism, and that the time has come for a complete rethinking of past concessions and compromises, past deference to Rome. Some are ambivalent, uncertain, conflicted, unsure of what comes next. Some have shifted between these various perspectives as the debate has proceeded. (And this long list excludes the many moderately-conservative Catholics who didn’t see a grave problem with the Kasper proposal to begin with, or who have simply drifted in a more liberal direction under this pontificate.)

Consequently, while conservative Roman Catholics discern the best defense of Pope Francis, the claims of papal audacity by Bryan and the Jasons look all the more dubious. If the interpret in chief nurtures uncertainty, what’s the point of abandoning Protestant diversity?

I do not have an answer, alas, to all of this uncertainty. But I do think it’s important to acknowledge its existence, rather than taking a kind of comfort, as some conservative Catholics do, in being accused of Total Inflexibility in Defense of Absolute Truth by writers like Damon Linker. For good or ill (or for good in some cases, and ill in others), that has rarely been an accurate description of the conservative position in the modern church, and it clearly isn’t accurate at the moment. Conservative Catholicism isn’t standing athwart church history yelling stop; since (at least) the 1960s it’s always occupied somewhat more unstable terrain, and under Francis it’s increasingly a movement adrift, tugged at by traditionalism and liberalism alike, and well short of the synthesis that would integrate fifty years of rapid change into a coherent picture of how the church can remain the church, what fidelity and integrity require.

You mean the instability of post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism was the church Christ founded? Note to apologists: update your defense as much as your bishops updated your communion.

Does Christianity Unify?

From George Washington to the National Council of Churches (and their evangelical counterpart, the National Association of Evangelicals), white English-speaking Protestants in the U.S. have insisted that religion of the right and moral sort will unify the nation. It doesn’t take very long in chronicling the history of Christianity to understand the difficulties of this pious (and sentimental hope). When our Lord said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26), he was not exactly recommending Rotary Club or the Chamber of Commerce to his disciples. Even if you take those words as hyperbolic, sort of like gouging out eyes and handling snakes, most believers have enough experience of converts to Christianity who lost ties and associations with family members over the faith.

Why then would Peter Leithart continue to laud unity as a mission of the church, even in the face of life in real congregations where church members are hardly unified except on matters like those affirmed by Paul — “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Eph 4:5)? One answer for Leithart’s continuing belief in the unifying mission of the church is his man crush on Constantine and most subsequent Christian emperors. In a series of recent posts, Leithart promotes a church-based social unity.

First, he frets that America is becoming increasingly fragmented and that such disunity owes to the demise of Christian civilization:

America is abandoning the last remnants of our historic Christian foundations. This is most obvious in law, where specifically Christian claims are ruled unConstitutional precisely because they are Christian claims. It’s evident in the universities and among intellectual elites, who cannot make sense of a theological argument that claims to be a public argument. Theology is by definition private opinion, dangerous and tyrannical when it demands public assent.

What replaces our historic Christian consensus is a patchwork of disconnected communities. The thin public “theology” of liberalism doesn’t meet human needs. No one tribe can command universal assent, and so we retreat to our tribal affinities, to our small communities where consensus is still possible. Secularization is in a symbiotic relationship with by postmodern fragmentation.

The problem with this view, at least from a paleo-conservative perspective, is that America has never been more centralized, the national government has never consolidated more of social life and that the laudable small communities and worthwhile regional diversity of the early republic that Barry Shain documented are casualties of national economies and foreign wars.

Back to Leithart — despite the current fragmentation of church and society, we should not be discouraged. Maybe Constantine can happen again:

The Constantinian settlement is gone in much of Europe, waning elsewhere. Many of these disruptions have persisted to the present day, but each new disruption has produced tectonic shifts in the church.

Why would we think, then, that the current topography of Christianity is permanent? We have no reason to assume this. We have every reason to assume the opposite, to expect that sometime, somewhere, God will shake and reconfigure the church yet again.

And if the church recognizes that it has the solution to the woes of contemporary society, perhaps Christendom will yet return if the church recognizes unity as its mission:

There is no traditional religious replacement for the loss of this establishment, and what effectively replaces it is a consensus about the freedom of the individual to do whatever he wants. The normal resources that establish identity – family, work, community – cannot serve that purpose. Divorce rates are high, and families are broken; work is insecure; mobility and double-income households have damaged neighborhoods as sources of community. Se are told to construct our own identity but denied the resources where people have historically discovered their identity.

The church has an enormous challenge and opportunity in this setting. Alienation from God is at the root of these social ills, and the church is the steward of the mysteries of the gospel. But the churches’ proclamation of the gospel is to take not only verbal, but communal, social form as the church. As in the early centuries, the churches can provide communities of intimacy, friendship, and material support for lonely people; churches have the resources to give lost moderns a sense of identity with a community, a tradition; churches can provide support for failing families, and a network of brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers for those who come from broken families.

Aside from the sort of objections that come from Letter-to-Diognetus conceptions of Christianity not as culture but as cult, Leithart misses arguably the greatest weakness of his proposal and it comes from a post that appeared just before this series on church and unity. From his reading of Scott Manetsch’s recent book on the Geneva company of pastors, Leithart observed what happens to the ministry of the church when it becomes part of an effort to unify and regularize society — even a Christendom inspired one:

Confessionalization “modernized churches and transformed the clerical office in a number of important ways. Church life became more carefully regulated, supervised, and documented through the codification of confessions, catechisms, and church ordinances; the establishment of eccclesiastical bureaucracies; and the creation of disciplinary courts. . . . Likewise, the clerical office was increasingly professionalized with the establishment of formal educational requirements and more detailed guidelines for examination and ordination. In this process of modernization . . . clergymen emerged as quasi-agents of the state, serving as a crucial link for communication between political leaders and their subjects; supervising public discipline; and providing administrative resources for the state (such as maintaining baptismal, marriage, and death registers).” In Geneva in particular, “the Small Council’s campaign to gain control over clerical recruitment and election was indicative of a broader strategy to bring the city[s pastors in line with the political objectives of the governing authorities. The ministers were gradually transformed into quasi-agents of the state who were not only paid out of the state coffers but were also hired, supervised, and dismissed with significant involvement of the magistrates” (96).

Why in heaven or within Christendom would Leithart expect the church’s mission of unity to turn out otherwise than either the liberal Protestantism of Europe, the liberal Protestantism of the mainline U.S. denominations, or the social gospel/teaching of Pope Francis and his papal predecessors? Does Leithart really think that when Pastor Smith goes to Washington he won’t be forced by political compromise and the demands of social unity to trim and cut his “thus, sayeth the Lord” to some version of the Great Society?

Update: then there is the view that (culture) war unites more than Christ:

But they’re the old insults. That’s the important thing. They’re getting worn out, frayed around the edges, long in the tooth. They’re losing their power as Evangelicals and Catholics grow in friendship and the world itself pushes them closer together. The two boys yelling at each other are two brothers. At some point, probably when someone else attacks one of them or both of them, they’ll stop yelling and start acting like brothers.

Toxic Religious Assets

Americans don’t pay much attention to the National Council of Churches anymore. In my classes when I ask students if they have heard of the NCC I usually receive blank stares. (For what it’s worth, not many students or Americans pay much attention to the National Association of Evangelicals.) Back in the day, memos from the NCC were even more important than blog posts at the Gospel Coalition are today. After all, the NCC’s membership consisted of all the largest and historic Protestant denominations, and most of the nation’s political officials, corporate executives, and professors were members of those denominations.

One NCC publication that still merits attention is the annual Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. It not only contains useful information on denominations — their history, location, contact data — but also it reports the latest membership statistics for practically all denominations (someone needs to buy a copy to see if they include Networks).

Here are the latest figures on the top 25 denominations in the United States:

1. The Catholic Church, 68,503,456

2. Southern Baptist Convention,16,160,088

3. The United Methodist Church, 7,774,931

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6,058,907

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875

6. National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc, 5,000,000

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,542,868

8. National Baptist Convention of America, Inc., 3,500,000

9. Assemblies of God, 2,914,669

10. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2,770,730

11. African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000

11. National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, 2,500,000

13. The Lutheran Church– Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,312,111

14. The Episcopal Church, 2,006,343

15. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495

16. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000

17. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000

18. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,400,000

19. American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., 1,310,505

20. Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1,162,686

21. United Church of Christ, 1,080,199

22. Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), 1,076,254

23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ , 1,071,616

24. Seventh-Day Adventist Church. 1,043,606

25. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. 1,010,000

Two observations:

1) So much for transformationalism: the next time the emergents, hipsters, missionals, urbanists, and neo-Calvinists want to talk about how they are change-agents in both the church and society they should look at the numbers and sober up.

2) Trust but verify: how many of these figures are accurate? I mean, how do you have a nice round number, like 5 million in the case of the National Baptist Convention, and expect people to suppress doubt? In fact, one of the consequences of the separation of church and state is that no government agency keeps statistics on churches. That means that compilers of data like the NCC depend on churches to supply accurate figures. As if.

Not only is it possible for churches to inflate their membership statistics for the sake of self-justification, but how many communions actually purge their membership rolls, let alone practice discipline? Even on my session we find we have members still on our rolls who have moved and either have not sent in new church information or have moved on because they are no longer active in church. Since erasing someone from the roll is a serious matter, we make every effort possible to inquire with someone about their current church affiliation or level of religious observance before erasure. But since finding a member after several moves and changes of address is very difficult, church rolls tend to be larger than the real number of members even in congregations where officers try to have accurate numbers.

One can only imagine the bloat that afflicts membership in denominations like the United Church of Christ that claim the mixed heritage of John Winthrop, Lyman Beecher, John Williamson Nevin, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Jeremiah Wright.