Monday, 11 March 2013
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi
Reported from the US (italics mine):
"The once prestigious and now nearly bankrupt National Council of Churches [NCC] is quitting its famous New York headquarters built with largesse from John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and whose cornerstone was laid by President Dwight Eisenhower. Down to a handful of staffers, the NCC will consolidate into the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C [in the basement of said building, to be precise -MH]...Such demise for the NCC could not have been foreseen in 1960 when the Interchurch Center, once called the “Protestant Vatican on the Hudson,” first opened on the upper west side of Manhattan next to Grant’s Tomb and Columbia University. More specifically the “God Box,” which originally housed dozens of denominational offices, is next door to architecturally magnificent Riverside Church, also built by the Rockefellers, and Union Seminary, collectively representing the once formidable but now faded power of Mainline Protestantism.
At the Interchurch Center’s 1960 dedication, a German Lutheran bishop presciently warned against the “institutionalization” of churches, noting that a beautiful building and organization were of “no avail without true faith.” Initially the NCC occupied four floors of the 19 story, $21 million imposing midrise that overlooks the Hudson River. The Methodists, Presbyterians, American Baptists, and Reformed Church in America, among others, also based their offices there. His father having recently died, John D. Rockefeller III was present at the dedication to honor the Interchurch Center as the fulfillment of his father’s dream of a new Christianity without denominational distinctions. Although he didn’t then specify it, the Rockefellers also dreamed of a uniformly liberal Protestantism devoted to good works instead of doctrine. The elder Rockefeller donated the land for the Interchurch Center plus over $2.6 million for costs.
Ironically, nearly all the Mainline denominations housed there would begin their nearly 50-year membership decline just a few years later. A sanitized Protestantism without doctrine or distinctions simply became too boring to sustain. In the early 1960s, about one of every six Americans belonged to the seven largest Mainline denominations. Today, it’s one out of every 15. ...mainstream, Mainline Protestantism ...began its decline into radicalism in the mid 1960s, mostly in reaction to the Vietnam War. No longer moored to a firm theology, groups like the NCC were easily susceptible to take-over by radical activists. And having tied themselves to American culture and modern secularism, they were ever anxious to stay abreast of the latest social and political fad, primarily from the perspective of New York-based elites.
Over the decades, even liberal Protestants tired at least of the expense of maintaining headquarters in New York. The Lutherans, Presbyterians, and United Church of Christ eventually quit the “God Box” for new digs in the Midwest, even as they continued their decline and liberal trajectory. The NCC, which once prided itself as the chief voice of American Protestantism, never recovered from the 1980s media revelations, led by Sixty Minutes, about its infatuation with Marxist liberation movements around the world. ..the NCC’s move from New York to Capitol Hill will divorce it even further from most of its church constituents and presage its eventual, quiet death. The arc of the NCC’s story showcases the rise and fall of liberal Protestantism in America. It’s a sad tale but also instructive for the more robust churches of today." From The American Spectator
There's certainly a timely message in this story for Lutheran churches struggling with their confessional identity yet eager for their messgae to be heard by the world - churches which point to the expansion of their schools and aged care homes as indicators of success in mission will not long survive the watering down of confessional identity. Such things are "of no avail without true faith".