Where Have All the Protestants Gone?

January 2006By Thomas Storck

Thomas Storck is a Contributing Editor of the NOR and author, most recently, of Christendom and the West: Essays on Culture, Society and History.

Has anyone noticed the almost complete disappearance of Protestants from our nation? "What!" I can hear my readers exclaim, "Storck has really gone off his rocker this time. Why, just down the street there's an Assembly of God church and two or three Baptist churches and the Methodists and so on. My cousin just left the Catholic Church to become a Protestant and my niece just married one. Moreover, evangelical Protestants have many media outlets of their own and they have great influence in the Bush Administration. They're everywhere." All this, of course, is true. Except that for some time, they no longer call themselves Protestants, but simply Christians, and increasingly they've gotten Catholics to go along with their terminology.

I recall over 10 years ago when I was a lector at Mass, for the prayer of the faithful I was supposed to read a petition that began, "That Catholics and Christians…." Of course, I inserted the word "other" before "Christians," but I doubt very many in the congregation would even have noticed had I not done so. Just the other day I saw on a Catholic website an article about a Protestant adoption agency that refused to place children with Catholic parents. The headline referred not to a Protestant adoption agency but to a Christian one. And how often do we hear of Christian bookstores or Christian radio stations or Christian schools, when everyone should know they are Protestant ones?

Now, what is wrong with this? Well, it should be obvious to any Catholic -- but probably isn't. Are only Protestants Christians? Are we Catholics not Christians, indeed the true Christians? About 30 years ago, Protestants, especially evangelicals, began to drop the term Protestant and call themselves simply Christians as a not too subtle means of suggesting that they are the true and real Christians, rather than simply the children of the breakaway Protestant revolt of the 16th century. This shift in Protestant self-identification has taken on increasingly dramatic proportions. A recent Newsweek survey (Aug. 29-Sept. 5, 2005) found that, between 1990 and 2001, the number of Americans who consider themselves "Christian" (no denomination) increased by 1,120 percent, while the number of those who self-identify as "Protestant" decreased by 270 percent.

But perhaps I am getting too worked up over a small matter. After all, are not Protestants also Christians? Yes, I do not deny that. But usually we call something by its most specific name.

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On the one hand, I totally agree with you about how annoying it is to hear Catholics say "Catholics and Christians." (And sometimes it seems like Catholics are all about worshipping the Body rather than the Head, and I find that annoying.) But on the other hand, I grew up in a Protestant denomination and married in another and we *never*, and i mean *never* thought of ourselves as "Protestants" the way Catholics think of ourselves as Catholics. And it isn't because we were ignorant of history. We just weren't any longer protesting anything in the 20th century. You are conflating different theologies as well. The "Bible fell out of the sky" meme is closer to evangelical realities than Presbyterian or Lutheran. I do agree that the differing denominations are fracturing Christendom, as faith in Christ in the mainlines wanes; and young evangelicals, according to Christianity Today, are starting to see the early heresies come back--because they aren't grounded in history, just in the joy of the kerygma (something seriously lacking in Catholic circles, by the way). But people really aren't triumphantly fighting 16th century wars anymore, except in some fundamentalist circles. Put down your swords everyone--we are all Christians! Yes, even Catholics. :) Posted by: luvadoxi
September 21, 2015 01:40 PM EDT
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