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Whitworth Today: Fall 2004
Contesting for the Soul of an Unlikely Land:
Dale E. Soden
In February 2002, thirty-seven leaders from Jewish and Christian traditions in Washington State signed a statement that called on U.S. Senators to implement proposals for "energy conservation, fuel efficiency, and alternate energy development to protect God's creation and God's children." Calling on Senators to increase vehicle fuel-efficiency, to prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and to invest more resources in renewable energy resources, these religious leaders attempted to leverage their cooperation on behalf of an important social issue. In January 2001, the Catholic Bishops of the Pacific Northwest issued a pastoral letter that encouraged an ethic of stewardship, ecological responsibility, conservation, and pursuit of the common good. And while the letter did not make specific policy recommendations regarding such issues as the breaching of dams along the Columbia and Snake rivers, it nevertheless established a context for Catholics and other Christians to move toward more regulation of activity within the watershed.
In many ways, the recent effort on the part of Protestants, Jews, and Catholics to influence public policy regarding the environment is a reflection of efforts that have been ongoing for over 170 years. From the onset of Anglo-European attempts to settle the Pacific Northwest in the 1830s, individuals representing these religious expressions have exerted extraordinary energy in hope that they could shape the public square. And while at first glance one might assume that the impact has been minimal, given the fact that Oregon and Washington are the least-churched states in the country, the actual story is much more complex. Catholics, Protestants, and Jews have indeed played critical roles in the public debate over policy issues. From statutes affecting social behaviors and social services, to the establishment of educational and health care institutions, Christians and Jews have helped shape the character of life in the Pacific Northwest. And while at the beginning of the twenty-first century, traditional Christian and Jewish expressions compete with many other spiritual alternatives in the Pacific Northwest, they continue to be an important component of the religious landscape. Today, Christians and Jews remain active on a number of political fronts whether those be issues related to war and peace, economic justice, race gender, and class discrimination, or the environment, as well as being integrally involved in the delivery of social services to hundreds of thousands of people in Washington and Oregon.
This chapter focuses on what sociologists and historians of religion refer to as mainline religious expressions. Sociologist Wade Clark Roof and historian William McKinney have persuasively argued that "mainline" should refer to those religious groups that identify with and contribute to the "definition of society's of core values." The term mainline Protestant refers to those denominations that emerged primarily as a result of the Reformation in the 16th century and the subsequent expansion of Protestantism in the 17th and 18th centuries. In America, these denominations include Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, American (Northern) Baptist, Congregationalist (United Church of Christ), Christian (Disciples of Christ), Unitarian, Reformed Church in America and African American Baptist churches, as well as African Methodist Episcopal churches. Also included in this analysis are various ecumenical bodies that emerged primarily in the 20th century that draw heavily from these denominations; these include the historic peace or Anabaptist churches, such as Mennonite and Quaker groups. While for much of American history, Catholicism has not been regarded mainline in the sense that it contributed to the nation's "core values," by the 20th century Catholics have moved into the mainstream of society and thus are included in this essay. Likewise, Reformed and Conservative Judaism are included in this chapter because of their efforts to influence public life in the region.
Statistically, 20% of the population in Washington State, and 14% in Oregon identify as Catholic. Only those people not identifying with any religious tradition (25% in Washington and 21% in Oregon) outnumber the Catholics. 6% identify as Lutheran and 6% identify as Baptist in the state of Washington. 3% in both Washington and Oregon identify with the Presbyterian tradition, and 4% identify in both states as Methodist. 2% in Oregon and 1% in Washington identify with themselves as Episcopalian. Approximately 1% in both states name the United Church of Christ (Congregational) as their religious tradition, and approximately 1% in both Oregon and Washington identify with the Jewish religion. Compared with other parts of the country, the number of mainline Catholic, Protestants and Jews is thin. And yet these religious expressions constitute something of a religious establishment in the Pacific Northwest.
As indicated, from the outset, Protestants, Catholics and Jews have helped shape the culture of the Pacific Northwest. While there are differences within these expressions of the Jewish-Christian tradition, there is also a general commitment to the notion that adherents should work to transform the political and social ethos of the world. Catholics have a long history of work on behalf of social justice issues; Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, and Congregationalists, among others, all have long traditions of social engagement. Even Lutherans since the Second World War have devoted resources and intellectual energy toward issues of public policy. And while these traditions have lost members over the last three decades, they remain influential in the public squares of the Pacific Northwest.
However, part of the story of this chapter is to acknowledge that the nature of this influence has been different in each of four historical periods since the middle part of the nineteenth century. Cultural conflict and engagement in each of these periods have energized countless individuals to work on behalf of their religious values. The first period occurred from approximately the 1830s-1880s, when Catholics and Protestants partnered with the American government to assimilate Native Americans and/or isolate them in the region to promote the triumph of Christian culture and Western civilization. In addition, during the pre-Civil War period, Christians engaged the issue of slavery and migration of African-Americans to the Pacific Northwest, particularly in Oregon. The second era occurred roughly from the 1880s through the 1920s and was marked by a concerted effort on the part of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews to thwart the establishment of an emerging urban culture. This culture, focused on alcohol consumption, gambling, prostitution, catered to young men and women through inexpensive recreational activities ranging from unregulated theatre and movies to dance halls, racetracks, and amusement parks. Religious reformers fought the advance of this culture and tried to mitigate its effects on women and children.
The third era existed from the 1930s through the end of the 1960s. The onset of the Great Depression and advent of the Second World War and Cold War created an unusual period of consensus in American society as a whole. Mainline Christians and Jews participated in a larger social effort to create a consensus around political, social, and religious values. In many cases they cooperated on behalf of a number of social issues and projects. And largely through ecumenical efforts, mainline Christians and Jews periodically challenged racial discrimination during this period.
The present era began in the latter part of the 1960s. The convergence of the Vietnam War, counterculture, and more militant civil rights activity broke down the social consensus. Cultural conflict over the nature of American society and role of the United States in the world produced a bitter division between liberal and conservative social philosophies that translated themselves into religious expressions divided along similar lines. Leadership within mainline Christianity and Judaism moved toward more liberal social and political positions. For the past thirty years, mainline Catholics, Protestants, and Jews in the Pacific Northwest have collaborated on many social and political issues out of a common theological commitment to justice. Specifically they have focused energies and resources on behalf of race relations, poverty, hunger, and homelessness, as well as the environment. Several issues related to war and peace as well as U.S. foreign policy have motivated thousands of mainline Christians and Jews in the region periodically to challenge the policies of the American government. Other issues, however, have been more bitterly contested such as abortion, the death penalty, gay and lesbian rights, and euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Not only are mainline Catholics, Protestants, and Jews likely to be divided on these issues, public debate is also complicated by the active involvement of more conservative Christian groups. Congregational and parish level analysis presents an even more complicated picture because of the number and diversity of those churches. While there are exceptions, parishioners tend to express more conservative social values than church leaders at the national level. In addition, in Oregon and Washington, the eastern sides are generally more conservative than the western sides of the states.
If the contemporary era is marked by a vigorous debate between liberal and conservative social philosophies, nevertheless there remains a surprising amount of activity and influence on the public square by mainline religious groups. Even while mainline religious groups are losing "market share" nevertheless the commitment to shaping the public square as evidenced in virtually every important public debate is still strong. That commitment will likely continue well into the 21st century. Perhaps the most intriguing question is whether the historic mainline religious expressions will continue to exercise the most significant influence on the public square in the Pacific Northwest, or whether more evangelical or entrepreneurial varieties of religious expression will push mainline churches to the sideline.
On the one hand, mainline religious groups have lost considerable numbers of members during the past three decades. The Catholic Church is facing an enormous crisis with the clergy-abuse scandal. And the challenge to define perhaps a new role within a region that is generally hostile to institutional religion make a clear sense of what the future holds quite difficult to predict. On the other hand the long history of cultural engagement and adaptation as well as the considerable number of educational, health care, and social service institutions that have been established by mainline religious groups suggest that they will be a significant force well into the 21st century. Perhaps one can be certain about the fact that if mainline religious groups fail to educate subsequent generations into the rich theological resources that these traditions possess, the degree of cultural influence will decline precipitously.
To appreciate the dynamics at work in the 21st century, one must understand the ways in which mainline Christians and Jews have attempted to influence the culture of the region for nearly 175 years. Beginning in the 1830s, Protestants and Catholics sent missionaries to the Northwest for the purpose of converting Native Americans. While hopeful in the beginning, early missionaries experienced much more failure than success. In 1834, Methodists Jason Lee and his nephew Daniel settled in the Willamette Valley, but for a variety of reasons fell well short of expectations regarding the conversion of Native peoples.
Missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman also met resistance among the Cayuse from the Walla Walla River Valley in 1836 until their tragic deaths in 1847. In that year, the Whitmans and twelve others were murdered by Natives out of apparent frustration over disease and death, as well as fear regarding future white settlement in the region. Presbyterians Henry and Eliza Spalding experienced only slightly greater success in converting the Nez Perce in Idaho. Throughout the region, Protestant Christians struggled to persuade Native Americans to reject traditional beliefs and, failing, began to rely increasingly on coercion and military force to achieve their objectives.
Catholics fared only slightly better. Armed with a theology and worldview that seemed more compatible with Native spirituality than was Protestant theology, Roman Catholic priests arrived in the region in 1838. Attempting to respond to the request for priests coming from Canadian voyagers and traders, Father Francis Norbert Blanchet and Father Modeste Demers arrived in the Vancouver, Washington area with the intent of evangelizing Native Americans. And while Catholics did better than Protestants, competition between the two groups produced considerable ill will and often confusion among Native peoples.
As conversion continued to prove problematic in the years after the Civil War, Christians in the Pacific Northwest collaborated with the United States government in forms of ethnic cleansing and attempted assimilation. Dominated by a Victorian worldview that held firmly to the belief that all non-Western civilizations were inferior, Protestants and Catholics desired to strip Native populations of their land, culture, language, and religion. As active participants in wars against Indians as well as in negotiation of treaties unfavorable to indigenous populations, Christian leaders partnered with the United States government, starting in 1869, in what President Ulysses S. Grant called the Peace Policy. Missionary societies appointed agents who theoretically ensured that schools, churches, mills and farms were built and maintained. In the end, the Peace Policy failed to achieve its principal objectives, but that failure did not discourage Christians from establishing regional Indian boarding schools. The most famous of the northwest schools was Chemawa in Oregon. Modeled on Richard Pratt's Carlisle school in Pennsylvania, Chemawa was founded by Congregationalists and continues to operate.
In an obvious sense, Christians, with the help of the federal government and vice versa, were successful in overwhelming a culture that had been living in the region for at least 12,000 years. Disease, military force, religious conversion and forced assimilation all took their toll. Beginning in the 1930s, and especially by the 1970s, Christians regionally and nationally began to express deep regret over the role of the church in this near cultural genocide. The impact of this guilt on the current state of Indian-white affairs remains to be analyzed, but is certainly a factor in everything from Native fishing rights, the breaching of Columbia River dams, compensation for boarding school abuses, and policies that regulate gambling on local reservations.
If Protestant and Catholic efforts to engage and in effect replace Native culture dominated the middle part of the nineteenth century, Christians also played a significant role in shaping public discourse over racial issues pertaining to African-Americans in Oregon. In the years surrounding the Civil War, residents of Oregon territory found themselves immersed in the question of whether they would prohibit the introduction of slavery into the territory. At the same time, Oregonians considered whether they would attempt to prohibit the settlement of African-Americans. The story of the Reverend Obed Dickinson, a Congregational minister sent to Salem, Oregon in 1852, reveals ways in which some Protestant ministers and parishioners exercised courage both in speaking out against slavery, and in supporting the right of black Americans to move into the region. However, many Christians failed to support Dickinson, an anti-slavery advocate and supporter of black migration into Oregon; in fact, Christians were among those who actively opposed racial integration within the state.
Clearly the subjugation of Native American culture, and the struggle to determine the nature of race relations in the Pacific Northwest, did not end in the triumph of Christian culture. Well before the final treaties were signed, a frontier culture emerged that posed a significant threat to any Christian civilization that might take root. The building of railroads, the mining of silver and gold, the harvesting of timber, and the nascent industrial activity in the late nineteenth century produced its own cultural dynamics. The utilization of cheap labor, including miners, farm workers, loggers, and fishermen--mostly young males between the ages of sixteen and thirty, created the demand for cheap amusements and psychological escape. The saloon, gambling den, dancehall, and bordello became staples of many budding communities.
In this second era, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews found themselves engaged in another battle for cultural influence. Instead of fighting against Native American culture, mainline Christians and Jews took it upon themselves to try and mitigate if not eradicate this emerging frontier world. The struggle proved very difficult; the region itself remained far from the home offices of these religious denominations. Yet ample evidence exists to demonstrate that Protestants, in particular, were not lacking in entrepreneurial effort and hope for cultural influence. Mainline Protestants publicly embraced the values of capitalism, ran for public office and stepped into leadership roles in education, both public and private. Catholics founded numerous educational institutions along with countless health care and social service entities. And Jews took active roles in the budding communities in the Northwest. The late nineteenth century witnessed an extraordinary effort on the part of religious individuals and organizations to build what they believed were civilized and, on occasion, utopian communities.
While at one level, religiously motivated people in the Pacific Northwest failed to dominate the emerging culture of the late nineteenth century, they succeeded in altering the culture in significant ways. In particular, religious individuals and organizations changed the nature of life for vulnerable members of the community. The health and protection of women and children concerned countless Christian and Jewish individuals. Appealing to tenets of the Social Gospel, and often adopting agenda and strategies associated with Populism and Progressivism, Christians and Jews worked actively on behalf of numerous social causes. Often advocating for unemployment bureaus, kindergartens, rescue homes for single women, laws restricting child labor, juvenile courts, libraries, hospitals, and various other social service agencies, Christians and Jews became leading supporters for social reform in this period.
The work of several individuals and organizations is illustrative of the influence of Protestants, Catholics and Jews on the social and political ethos of the Pacific Northwest. One of the earliest Protestant ministers to come to the region with an eye toward influencing the culture was George Whitworth. Traveling west on the Oregon Trail in 1853, Whitworth headed north to Puget Sound. He founded as many as twenty churches but also became superintendent of public schools in Thurston County (Olympia) and Seattle. He served as chief clerk of the Indian Department, participated in several business entrepreneurial ventures, and was so well respected as an educator that he was named president of the University of Washington twice in the 1870s. By the 1880s he helped found another institution that would eventually bear his name, Whitworth College. George Whitworth believed in democracy, common school education, capitalism, and non-sectarian Christianity. He spearheaded early efforts at Prohibition, which reflected his concern that controlling the social behavior of young men would prove paramount to the well-being of the region.
In her own way, Mother Joseph proved to be Whitworth's counterpart from the Catholic community. Along with the Sisters of Providence, Mother Joseph worked to address concern regarding health care in the region. These women started the first Catholic hospital in Portland, Oregon in 1875, and did the same in Spokane, Washington in 1886. Italian immigration to the region provided impetus for the sisters of Sacred Heart to begin similar work in Seattle in 1903. In that same year, Mother Francesca Cabrini, the first American citizen to be declared a saint by the Catholic Church, came to Seattle to start an orphanage and later, in 1916, to establish a hospital. The Catholic Church worked diligently throughout the region to establish an infrastructure of parishes, schools, hospitals, orphanages, colleges and universities. And the same could be said of Protestant denominations. Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Lutherans all moved into the growing cities of the Pacific Northwest and established institutions that would meet needs of the urban poor. Catholics and Protestants launched a bevy of colleges and universities in an attempt to shape the culture of the region. While there were numerous failures, many colleges and universities succeeded. In fact, the endurance of these institutions in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho signals a significant religious presence. In their origin, these colleges and universities were bastions of Victorian culture within the region (as were state institutions through the 1960s). But perhaps more importantly, these institutions produced community leaders at every level from doctors and lawyers, to physicians, teachers, nurses, and businesspersons. The political and social perspectives of these individuals were directly influenced by a Christian understanding of the world.
Beyond the influence of religiously-based colleges and universities, several Protestant Christian organizations made a significant social impact in the Pacific Northwest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Two of the most influential organizations were the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Established in Portland in 1868, in Seattle in 1876, and in Spokane in 1888, the "YM" concerned itself with the plight of young men who gravitated to the growing urban centers of the Northwest. Members of the "YM" often met new arrivals at the railroad station and offered housing, Bible study, employment opportunities, and athletic facilities. The YWCA was founded in Seattle, Portland and Spokane all in 1894. The "YW" offered 10-cent lunches to women and a safe haven; the "Travelers Aid" program was started in 1900 in order to meet the needs of hundreds of women arriving alone at the city's docks and railroad stations.
If one organization stands out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as a symbol of the efforts of Victorian Christian America to shape the culture of the region it is the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. Established in 1874, the Union spread throughout the country largely because of the indefatigable efforts of Frances Willard. In the summer of 1883, she came to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and helped organize countless chapters throughout the region. Alcohol reform motivated thousands of women (none of whom had the right to vote) to participate in the political system by lobbying legislatures, marching in front of saloons, and providing alternative activities. While the WCTU was ecumenical by design, Methodists were particularly active in the WCTU. Thousands of women throughout the Pacific Northwest moved out of the domestic sphere and into the public realm in order to create some of the first town libraries, coffee houses, and refuge homes for single women with children. Demanding the presence of female matrons in local jails and prisons, women from the WCTU succeeded in achieving curriculum reform in all three states by requiring education on the health effects of alcohol abuse. Remarkably, the anti-alcohol forces achieved significant success by 1916 when statewide prohibition went into effect in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
The late nineteenth century and first three decades of the twentieth century were filled with efforts on the part of Catholics, Protestants, and Jews trying to establish institutions that would shape the culture. But religious leaders also wanted to shape the political tenor of the region. Mostly overlooked by historians are the efforts of Christians during the Progressive era to exercise social control over the working class. Prohibition was only the most obvious issue; Christians from most denominations, including Catholics, achieved success in addressing other social issues as well, including raising the legal age required to purchase cigarettes. Most communities passed ordinances that regulated motion pictures and dance halls, and eliminated most forms of entertainment on the one day that members of the working class did not have to work--Sunday. Christians sought funds for Carnegie libraries, reading rooms, and built museums in order to attract young men to more edifying pursuits. Protestant ministers throughout the Pacific Northwest, including itinerant revivalists like Billy Sunday, came through their communities for the purpose of converting young working class males to Christianity.
Most budding urban communities as well as many small towns in the region could boast of ministers and priests who took the lead in shaping public discourse. Individuals like Thomas Lamb Eliot, a Unitarian minister in Portland during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, publicly fought political corruption and advocated a variety of Progressive reforms. Father Edward Odea became a major figure in Seattle circles during the first three decades of the twentieth century. But if one person in the history of the Pacific Northwest embodied this reform spirit, it would be Mark Matthews. Matthews pastored Seattle's First Presbyterian Church for nearly forty years during the first half of the twentieth century. He built the congregation into his denomination's largest church, with nearly 9,000 members at its height. More importantly, Matthews became involved in the politics of his city; he spearheaded social projects that included night schools, unemployment bureaus, kindergartens, hospitals, and countless other projects that served the poor and working class in Seattle. The day nursery established by Matthews's church in 1909 was one of the first fifty child-care centers in the country and still operates today under the name Childhaven. Envisioning Seattle in a way that might have suited John Calvin or John Winthrop, Matthews hoped to foster religious orthodoxy while making the church the key institution for determination of public policy. A holy community was his goal. He believed in moral suasion from the pulpit and political activity in the community. He campaigned actively for prohibition and other laws that would shape social behavior; he also fought against mayors, police chiefs and other public figures with whom he disagreed. Clearly Matthews and his allies believed that he was in a war for the control of the culture of the Pacific Northwest.
Efforts to shape the social ethos and public realm of the Pacific Northwest were not confined to Protestants and Catholics. Jewish women were particularly active in growing cities. For example, the Portland Chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women established a settlement house, modeled loosely on Jane Addams's Hull House in Chicago. One historian wrote that Jewish women "simply eclipsed the men in their understanding and organization of welfare, and they thereby gained a far greater civic role." Nevertheless, philanthropists such as Ben Selling left their mark on the Portland community by creating institutions like the Working Men's Club, which by 1914 was serving 800 meals a day. Selling entered politics as a Republican and served as both president of the Oregon Senate and speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. Rabbi Stephen Wise served only six years in Portland but became exceptionally active in the city's political affairs. After visiting fish canneries on the Columbia River, Wise became a leading advocate of child-labor legislation. Rabbi Wise vigorously supported women's suffrage while opposing the legalization of gambling. Wise later emerged as one of the most powerful and respected leaders of the American Jewish community and a close advisor of President Franklin Roosevelt.
The bitterness as well as the complexity of the battle for culture during the 1920s was symbolized by the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan in Oregon and, to a lesser extent, in Washington. Although it is difficult to know how many Protestants joined the Klan, several prominent Klan leaders were Protestant ministers. In 1922, the Klan sponsored a Compulsory Education Bill, which would have required all students to attend public schools. Clearly aimed at destroying the Catholic school system, the bill was widely supported by Protestants. During the campaign, an issue of the Klamath Falls Herald printed that at the birth of every male child in a Catholic family, a gun and ammunition were buried underneath the (Catholic) church to prepare for the day when government would be overthrown on behalf of the pope. In fact, the bill did pass by a narrow majority of 12,000 with a total vote of approximately 225,000. Eventually, however, the bill would be ruled unconstitutional. Likewise in Washington State, a similar initiative was put forward, but was defeated. Nevertheless, the school bill controversy suggests the degree to which Christians battled for cultural control--sometimes even against one another.
In spite of these periodic spasms of nativism and mean-spirited intolerance, the era witnessed remarkable efforts by Catholics, Protestants, and Jews on behalf of social and political reform. Often focused on issues related to education, health care, and the physical protection of women and children, these social reforms had significant impact on the culture of the region. Yet while many contemporary observers would acknowledge the role that institutional religion played in the region, nevertheless, compared with other regions, its influence was comparatively thin. As a consequence, mainline religion would continue to struggle to establish itself in the region.
The third period of cultural engagement in the Pacific Northwest by mainline Christians and Jews began with the onset of the Great Depression and extended through the 1960s. Unlike the first two periods, which focused on intense cultural battles, the third period is marked more by efforts to help influence a broader social consensus that began to emerge throughout the country. And while there was much in mainline religious expressions that simply reinforced the values associated with American civil religion during this period, at other moments, largely through ecumenical efforts, mainline Christians and Jews challenged practices of racial discrimination during the period.
If one organization emerged during the 1930s and 40s that best reflected the efforts of Christians to come together to influence regional public policy issues it was the activity of the Council of Churches in major metropolitan areas. The Federal Council of Churches established in 1908, had helped establish local branches of the organization in both Portland and Seattle in 1919. In the beginning, most concerns centered on traditional moral issues, especially prohibition of behaviors such as gambling, dancing, prostitution, and attendance at Sunday movies. The councils issued statements that supported marriage and that amended the state constitutions to permit school credit for Bible study. However, beginning in the 30s and extending to the present, the councils began to focus on broader social issues such as economic justice, racial reconciliation, and world peace.
During the Second World War this shift was best reflected in the Seattle Council of Churches' reaction to the internment of Japanese-Americans. The Council pursued two campaigns intended to protect and support those of Japanese lineage as they endured tremendous hardships. First, the Seattle Council worked to halt, or at least to modify significantly, the expulsion of Nikkei (anyone in the U.S. of Japanese ancestry) from designated areas of the West Coast. Second, near the war's end the council promoted the Nikkeis' return and integration into the city. In March, 1942, the Seattle Council of Churches, contrary to statements made by the mayor and governor, expressed opposition to evacuation and relocation. Clergymen were often present when officials investigated Japanese-Americans; clergy helped provide relief supplies and foodstuffs and they often tried to shape public opinion more positively toward the Japanese. Although the Seattle religious community failed to reach its overall goals, it seems that their role in this tragic episode was courageous and significant.
The period following the Second World War found numerous efforts on the part of Catholics, Protestants and Jews to work together on common fronts. One of the most interesting joint religious efforts was on the television show "Challenge" in Seattle. Originally conceived by Rabbi Raphael Levine from Seattle's Temple De Hirsch in 1952, the program brought local Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders together to talk about timely issues from a religious perspective. Levine hoped that by having representatives from different faith traditions speak about common problems that religious intolerance and bigotry would be effectively undermined. He also hoped that together religious leaders could make a significant impact on public discourse in the Seattle community. Initially, the Catholic Archbishop of Seattle, Thomas J. Connolly, refused to participate. However, accession to the papacy by John XXIII and his announcement of Vatican II in 1959, along with the 1960 candidacy of John Kennedy for president changed the atmosphere. Rabbi Levine, Father William Treacy, and Reverend Martin Goslin from Plymouth Congregational in Seattle began the show in September, 1960, discussing the topic, "Can We Have a Catholic President?" And the program on Palm Sunday, 1961, entitled, "Who Crucified Jesus?" received an award from the National Association of Christians and Jews. Father Treacy and Rabbi Levine participated in "Challenge" for the fourteen years the program aired, while a number of different Protestant ministers rotated through. During the program's tenure a variety of controversial subjects were discussed, from open housing to the celebration of Christmas in public schools.
In general, Christians and Jews, primarily in the context of ecumenical organizations, intensified their efforts on behalf of the civil rights for minority groups from the 1940s through the 1960s. While efforts could be described as inconsistent and insufficient, nevertheless, there did seem to be growing consensus that churches should work more vigorously on behalf of racial integration. During the 1940s and 1950s in Seattle, volunteer inter-racial groups organized to address issues of race relations. For example, the Christian Friends for Racial Equality worked to raise awareness. By the 1960s, the Church Council of Greater Seattle sponsored programs like "Church United for Racial Equality."
However, as the civil rights movement gained momentum in the early '60s, not all mainline religious groups agreed to the strategies. For example, in 1961, when the Reverend Samuel McKinney, African American pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle arranged for Martin Luther King Jr. to visit the city, controversy emerged. Initially, McKinney had received assurances that First Presbyterian, Mark Matthews's former church, would host the event, since it seated roughly 3,000 people. But anonymous threats were made on King's life; several African-American leaders in Seattle began to question whether King's visit might trigger latent racial conflict within the city. Members of McKinney's church who worked for Boeing found anti-King material at their desks. Yet McKinney persisted in wanting King to come. By mid-October, however, just two weeks before the scheduled visit, First Presbyterian's pastor, Ralph Turnbull, withdrew the invitation to host the event. Eventually, organizers found a suitable place for King, but the fallout foreshadowed serious divisions between liberals and conservatives.
African-American religious leaders, as well as members of the NAACP, pushed the Seattle City Council to pass an ordinance that required homeowners and apartment managers to demonstrate that they had not discriminated against persons of color. City Council delays prompted Seattle's first large-scale protest as Black ministers Mance Jackson and Samuel McKinney led 400 on a march to City Hall in July 1963. 300 more people staged a sit-in at council chambers, and arrests led to larger demonstrations. The council finally passed an open-housing ordinance in October 1963 after intense lobbying by Seattle's only Asian councilman, Wing Luke. The following year, however, voters defeated a referendum on the measure by more than 2 to 1. For the next four years, religious leaders worked with other activists to lobby the council and educate the public. Finally, in the wake of the assassination of Dr. King in 1968, an open-housing ordinance was passed--perhaps out of fear that without it, Seattle would erupt in major racial protest.
1970s to the present--
The contemporary period began roughly at the end of the 1960s. The combination of the Vietnam War, the counterculture, the civil rights movement and the beginning of active feminist activity all challenged whatever cultural consensus had existed prior to the 1970s. In the Pacific Northwest, as was the case throughout the country, the middle class divided sharply along liberal and conservative lines, and this schism played itself out in religion. Sociologist Robert Wuthnow argues that Americans realigned themselves primarily by finding religious organizations that reflected their political views; denominational switching increased significantly during the period following the 1960s as Americans searched for religious expressions that closely reflected their social and political views.
National leadership in mainline churches, including Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, and Lutheran denominations, all moved noticeably to the left during the 1970s. While the picture at the local level was complex, many congregations reflected more conservative views, compared to their respective national church authorities. And generally speaking, with the exception of Catholics, these mainline denominations have lost membership, both nationally and in the Pacific Northwest, since the 1970s. How many of these individuals have gravitated toward more conservative churches and how many have dropped out altogether is difficult to say with certainty. However, it can be concluded that the cultural conflict between liberal and conservative religious expressions rages to this day, ebbing and flowing in both Washington and Oregon.
While a thorough explanation of the movement toward more liberal social, political, and theological positions on the part of mainline churches is beyond the scope of this essay, several factors seemed to play important roles. In general, mainline religious expressions attracted a more educated constituency during the twentieth century. Most mainline denominations required that clergy earn not only a bachelor's degree but at least a masters in divinity from an accredited seminary. Without doubt, the general intellectual tenor of church-related higher education, like the churches themselves, moved in a liberal direction during the 1960s. The civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the impact of the counter culture on the baby boom generation all influenced religious activity. Additional impetus may have come from a degree of guilt triggered by Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail in 1963, which challenged Christians throughout the country to help fight for civil rights. One survey of California clergy revealed that by 1968, nearly a quarter of them had participated in a civil rights demonstration. Whatever the reasons that emerged, the net result was that throughout the country, and specifically in the Pacific Northwest, mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Jews were devoting increased energy toward engaging political and social issues from a politically liberal perspective.
Responsive to the social and political forces in the culture as a whole, mainline Protestant, Catholic and Jewish leaders of the last three decades have renewed their commitment to social justice in a manner reminiscent of, but not identical to the early 20th century Social Gospel Movement. In general, religious leaders and organizations have focused on what they perceived as oppressive American social structures that generated imperialism, racism, poverty, sexism and environmental exploitation. However, while social consciousness has been a point of similarity between recent and early 20th century movements, strategies used by national religious leaders for addressing these ills have been quite different from those used within the Social Gospel Movement decades ago. For example, though there are exceptions, these mainline Christian expressions have often disassociated issues of social justice from a theology centered on belief in Jesus Christ. In other words, many ecumenical religious groups have tended to disconnect ethics and politics from theology. In this way, religious leaders' present efforts on behalf of social justice appear distinct from their earlier counterparts in the Social Gospel movement.
The movement of mainline religious expressions in a liberal direction has been aided in recent decades by increased ecumenical activity. While the history of ecumenism both in the United States and in the Pacific Northwest is complicated in its reflection of evangelical and liberal interests, by the end of the '60s, ecumenism has been clearly oriented to the left, and its influence has been spreading. Renewed effort to influence public policy in the Pacific Northwest through ecumenical effort began in earnest in the 1970s. The Washington Association of Churches (WAC) organized itself in 1975. Consisting in 2002 of ten Christian denominations and twelve ecumenical entities, the WAC remains a key organization in the Pacific Northwest for influencing legislative work and community development. Likewise, the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) organized itself in 1973 out of the old Portland Council of Churches, which had been established in 1919. In 2002, the EMO claimed seventeen Christian denominations and lobbied the Oregon legislature on a number of fronts. The Associated Ministries of Tacoma-Pierce County was created in 1969 and has roots in organizations going back to 1883. In eastern Washington, the Spokane Council of Ecumenical Ministries reorganized in 1971 with roots in the Spokane Council of Churches extending back at least to 1949. The Church Council of Greater Seattle, organized in 1919, continues to be very active in its efforts to shape public discourse on many issues. Over the last three decades, mainline denominations have employed lobbyists that advocate for issues in the context of Church social teachings. In general, Congregationalists, Methodists, Anglicans, American Baptists and Quakers are supportive of both the Washington Association of Churches and the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. Catholics have maintained their own lobbying offices in both Oregon and Washington but have at the same time worked very closely with ecumenical organizations. Lutherans have also established their own public policy advocacy offices in Salem and Olympia, and like their Catholic counterparts, have worked collaboratively with ecumenical organizations on behalf of the poor.
Over the course of the last three decades, the presence of mainline religious groups in the public square has been most evident on issues related to racism and hate groups; poverty or services for the poor; and American foreign and economic policy. Ecumenical organizations, supported primarily by mainline churches in Washington and Oregon, generally reflect a more liberal perspective and have led challenges to government, the business community, and the middle class, enjoining them to confront problems of the underemployed, unemployed, victims of racism and domestic violence, women, children, and refugees.
Specifically, mainline religious groups continued to fight various forms of discrimination and hatred toward racial and ethnic minorities. Religious leaders at the grass roots level worked to desegregate Seattle schools and to a lesser extent Portland schools in the 1970s. In the aftermath of the civil rights movement, white and black religious leaders began working together to achieve a greater level of racial integration within cities of the Northwest. In 1976, at the encouragement of Don Daughtry, a white pastor of the Beacon Avenue Church of Christ in Seattle, the Church Council of Greater Seattle formed a Task Force on Racial Justice in Education. Bringing together a broad coalition of racial and ethnic groups as well clergy and lay people, the task force and the Council proved essential in formulating a philosophy of integration and applying pressure to the Seattle School Board to develop a plan for integration that has been considered a national model. Several black pastors, including Reverend Samuel McKinney, provided key leadership in formulating this integration plan. In addition to the successful fight for a school desegregation plan in Seattle, other issues, such as discrimination in the work place and by lending institutions toward African- Americans, occupied many church leaders in the 1970s and into the 1980s.
By the middle of the 1980s, issues surrounding racial discrimination shifted slightly toward concerns regarding the emergence of white supremacist groups in the Pacific Northwest. In 1987, a Catholic priest, Father Bill Wassmuth, helped organize the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho as a counter to the Aryan Nations, whose compound was located in nearby Hayden Lake, Idaho. Wassmuth drew together churches, synagogues, law enforcement entities, grassroots community groups and organized labor in order to work together against bigotry of all kinds. In 1999, the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment merged with another organization to become the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity and is currently headquartered in Seattle. In 1997, in Portland, the Coalition Against Hate Crimes was started by the American Jewish Committee and supported by the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and other groups for much the same purpose. In 2000, with the aid of Morris Dees and the Southern Legal Poverty Center, the Coalition brought a successful lawsuit against Richard Butler and the Aryan Nation compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho and at least temporarily bankrupted the organization.
While churches had focused in recent decades on issues of racial hate and discrimination, increasingly the problem of domestic violence has also attracted the attention of mainline religious groups. In 1977, the Reverend Marie Fortune of the United Church of Christ (Congregational) established the Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence in Seattle after coming to the conclusion that religious leaders were not prepared to assist their parishioners with sexual or domestic abuse, and secular service agencies were not prepared to deal with clients' religious questions. By the 1990s the Center had grown into an inter-religious organization providing education and training to address sexual and domestic violence in communities throughout the world. In 2002, the Center was providing resources and counseling for those affected by the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.
By far the most visible impact and expression of mainline religion in the Pacific Northwest has been through providing services for the poor, the homeless, and the traditionally vulnerable--mentally ill, imprisoned, children, and single women. Historically, mainline churches and synagogues have exercised significant influence on public policies toward these groups throughout the Pacific Northwest. Ecumenical agencies in Oregon and Washington have consistently lobbied during the past two decades for causes that would be categorized as social justice issues. From increases in minimum wage, and the right to organize by migrant farm-workers, to funds for various poverty programs, the ecumenical leadership in both Oregon and Washington has lobbied state legislatures intensively. Likewise, major social service agencies ranging from Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services (now Lutheran Community Services) among many other groups have provide significant resources to address social needs in the Pacific Northwest.
Catholics have served the poor from the virtually the beginning of their history in the Pacific Northwest. Catholic Charities as an organization has exerted significant impact throughout the region. Formally organized in 1932 in Portland and Seattle, Catholic Charities began to focus its energies on serving those who were devastated by the Great Depression. By the 1950s, the Charities broadened its spectrum from focusing on orphans and disadvantaged youth, to work with the poor, the elderly, ethnic minorities, and refugees on issues of social services and housing. In these and other social welfare concerns, Catholic Charities has expanded significantly since 1975. For example, by 1988, Catholic Community Services of Western Washington (CCSWW) was incorporated as a separate institution, enabling the agency to receive government funding and engage in public-private partnerships. Michael Reichert, President of CCSWW, has led Catholic Charities since 1979, and has helped transform an agency with a $4 million budget and fewer than 200 employees in the largest private non-profit agency providing human and social services in Washington State. CCSWW's annual budget is currently over $60 million and the organization employs over 3,000 people. Catholic Charities in Spokane, Portland, and Yakima all manage a wide array of housing opportunities for low-income individuals, homeless and special needs people living in the Pacific Northwest. These organizations provide refugee services, shelters, day centers, transitional and permanent housing, along with other services necessary for people to live with dignity.
On the Protestant side, countless churches have attempted to meet the needs of the disadvantaged. As an example, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle has led the way in addressing housing issues, an effort that began in 1980 when Rev. Dr. David Colwell challenged his congregation to end homelessness in downtown Seattle. Church members responded and founded Plymouth Housing Group (PHG) as an independent, non-profit organization to develop and operate housing for homeless and very poor people in Seattle. Under the leadership of current pastor Tony Robinson, the PHG has since grown into one of the largest providers of low-income housing in downtown Seattle. With more than 660 rental units and 17 retail tenants in 10 buildings, PHG today (2002) has an annual operating budget of $5.2 million. The congregation was one of the first to participate in the Walk with Workers project, and in 2001 launched its Living Wage Ministry with a focus on low-wage workers in downtown Seattle. In addition, Plymouth has initiated Plymouth House, sometimes referred to as the House of Healing, in which mentally ill individuals are treated in conjunction with Harborview Hospital. Many of the more theologically conservative and evangelical congregations have also developed significant outreach ministries to the homeless in major metropolitan communities of the Pacific Northwest. For example, Seattle's University Presbyterian Church has organized ministries for the mentally ill, homeless, teens who live on the streets, and those who are in prison.
Lutherans have been particularly active throughout Oregon and Washington. In 1944, seven Lutheran Synods (from the Seattle/Tacoma area) agreed to organize one Lutheran agency that would offer statewide welfare services. It was incorporated under the name Associated Lutheran Welfare, and later became Lutheran Family and Child Services. Since its formation, Lutheran Community Services of Washington and Idaho have been providing programs for children and families in the region. Services have included foster care, adoption services, alcohol and drug abuse treatment, and community education. In 1974, Lutheran Social Services organized the Spokane Sexual Assault to provide counseling for those who had been sexually abused.
In recent years, one of the more dynamic faith-based efforts to meet community needs is the Emerald City Outreach Ministries (ECOM) program in Seattle. Organized in 1987 by an African-American, Harvey Drake Jr., Emerald City Ministries is modeled on principles of Christian Community Development established by Reverend John Perkins. During the last decade, Drake and his staff have engaged thousands of youth and families in the Rainier Valley in programs that include academic mentoring, early childhood education, training in technology, small business development, job preparation and peer support. ECOM is non-denominational and independent but partners with a number of Christian churches, including Mercer Island Presbyterian Church and Seattle Pacific University, a Free Methodist institution. In Portland, African-Americans churches have worked primarily through the Albina Ministerial Alliance to provide services to the urban poor.
Another widely-supported effort among mainline Christians is Habitat for Humanity. In Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Spokane, and a number of other communities throughout the region, Habitat for Humanity has mobilized Christians and non-Christians to create affordable housing for all people. In Seattle, more than 70 homes have been built in the last fifteen years, with plans for completing approximately 25 homes a year for the next several years. In Portland, a similar number of homes have been constructed. College students frequently support the effort, as do local congregations.
In the mid-1990s, members of Washington's religious community, unions and other advocates of low-income people joined to form the Washington Living Wage Coalition. Organized by the Washington Association for Churches (WAC), the Washington State Labor Council and Washington Citizen Action, the coalition includes local Christian, Jewish and Unitarian congregations and the Church Council of Greater Seattle. Since forming, the coalition has worked with custodians on the east side and with hospital workers at Northwest Hospital. In 1998 they worked successfully to pass Initiative 688, which raised the state's minimum wage and adjusted it based on inflation. Currently at $7.01, Washington's minimum wage is the highest in the country. (The federal minimum wage is $5.15.) In 2001, living wage supporters worked to link downtown development rules with quality of life issues for the city's low-wage workers. At the national level, many mainline denominations have approved statements that support raising the minimum wage and/or moving toward some form of redistributed wealth. In Oregon, the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon has been particularly active over the last decade on behalf of migrant workers' right to organize, as well as their right to a living wage. Most recently, an Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness has been in Seattle.
Issues including social services for the poor, economic and environmental policies, access to health care and matters concerning the end of life have all made their way into Oregon and Washington state legislatures during the last two decades. In addition to lobbying done by major ecumenical organizations and other church bodies, individual state legislators have brought Christian and Jewish values into public debate surrounding these issues. In Oregon, for example, Avel Gordley, Margaret Carter, and Frank Shields are religious figures whose advocacy deserves attention. Gordley was the first African-American woman ever elected to the Oregon Senate. Prior to her election to the Senate in 1996, Gordley served three terms in the Oregon House of Representatives after appointment to a vacancy in 1991. Active within the African-American religious community, Gordley advocated services for the mentally ill; she also supported the Minimum Wage Act of 1996, which raised Oregon's minimum wage to the highest in the nation. In 1984, Margaret Carter was the first African-American elected to the Oregon House of Representatives. Active in her church, she served seven sessions in the House where she helped create a permanent state Head Start Program in Oregon and helped found the Oregon Youth Conservation Corps. In 2000, she was elected to the senate in Oregon. State Senator Frank Shields, a Methodist minister, gained notoriety in the 1980s for establishing a homeless shelter in his church in Portland. The shelter became a model for other volunteer-intensive, church-based shelters in Portland and nationwide. Shields served on the House Committee on Human Resources, the Hunger Relief Task Force and the Commission on Black Affairs. In August of 1996, he was appointed to the Public Welfare Review Commission. Each of these legislators has brought his or her religious perspective to bear on issues of public policy.
Perhaps the clash between liberal and conservative religious expressions is best reflected in Oregon in the work of Ellen Lowe and Lon Mabon. Beginning in the late 1980s, Ellen Lowe became Assistant Director for legislative and governmental affairs of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon. She actively fought for the Oregon Health Plan and opposed video poker, believing that it preys on the poor and ignorant. She has consistently advocated for increases in the minimum wage and has served as chair of the Oregon Hunger Relief Task Force. But it was her battle in 1992 against Lon Mabon that elevated the division between liberal and conservative philosophies. Mabon had helped organize the Oregon Citizens Alliance, an attempt to rally conservative Christians in opposition to abortion and gay rights. In 1992, Mabon supported an initiative that would have made homosexuality the equivalent of pedophilia. In a bitter campaign, Mabon's initiative was defeated. Several times during the decade, Mabon has brought additional measures for public debate; all have failed, but the underlying tension remains.
If one area of concern has consistently divided members of mainline congregations, parishes, and synagogues, since the 1980s it has been American foreign policy. During the Cold War years, American churches generally supported the fight against communism and frequently participated in refugee resettlement programs. And in the years following the Vietnam War, ecumenical councils, local congregations and parishes played major roles in resettling thousands of Southeast Asians who came to the Pacific Northwest. However, by 1981, resettlement of refugees from Central America became more controversial and more politicized because of the Reagan administration's support for Contras in Nicaragua and anti-leftist government forces in El Salvador. To reinforce Reagan's foreign policy, the Immigration and Naturalization Service began arresting and deporting thousands of Central American refugees. In 1981, however, Church Council of Greater Seattle asked that congregations offer sanctuary to Central American refugees. Seattle emerged as one of the most active communities in the nation in the Sanctuary movement. In response, twelve Christian, Unitarian and Jewish congregations ended up hiding refugees from the INS and providing them food and shelter. In 1985, immigration agents arrested seven Salvadorans accorded sanctuary by the University Baptist Church in Seattle. Ultimately the United States government chose not to challenge the work of these churches. But clearly the community was becoming divided along religious and political lines.
On another issue that clearly reflected the growing divide between liberals and conservatives, Bill Cate, president of the Church Council, proposed that the Council join the protest against the Trident Submarine Base at Bangor, Washington. The Reverend Jonathan Nelson, a Seattle Lutheran pastor, had taken the lead in protesting the Trident as a symbol of the United States' instigation of the arms race. Nelson was jailed several times and, on one occasion, was joined by more than four hundred people from the religious community who met him at the jail gate and marched with him to the First United Methodist Church for continued protest.
If one activity during the 1980s symbolized the growing split between conservatives and liberals in mainline churches it was the issue of withholding taxes. The archbishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, received national attention in 1982 for his public admission that he was withholding half of his income tax in protest against government foreign policy and defense spending. Hunthausen was joined by Bill and Jan Cate, as well as the head of the Seattle Council's Peace taskforce staff, Charles Meconis.
While mainline religious leaders continued to address issues of American foreign and economic policy during the last two decades of the twentieth century, one issue that caught international attention took place in Seattle. Several mainline pastors and their parishioners became involved in events surrounding the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle from November 30 to December 3, 1999. While national and international media covered the sometimes violent protests in different parts of the city, hundreds of religious individuals found more peaceful ways to express their concerns. Many of Seattle's downtown churches became involved in protests surrounding the meetings. Churches opened their sanctuaries as places of refuge while halls and church classrooms were lined with tables for position papers, posters, videos and news releases. The First United Methodist Church provided a base of operation for many of the protest activities. As part of these efforts, nationally known spokespersons, including Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners, appealed to audiences to support Jubilee 2000, a worldwide religious movement to forgive the debts of the poorest nations. A march sponsored by the Washington Association of Churches ended with the crowd linking arms around a building as a symbolic act of breaking the chains of debt, until security forces intervened. Reverend Tony Robinson from Plymouth Congregational and fifty of his parishioners marched with several other clergy. In one of the most remarkable coalitions forged from disparate groups, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, the black community, environmentalists, civil rights leaders and organized labor packed a sports stadium Tuesday morning for a rally. Late in the week, Reverend Tony Robinson and other church leaders met with the mayor to try to calm the situation. His church became a sanctuary for those felled by gas while Seattle Advent Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gave shelter to the homeless displaced by police action.
The pattern of division between liberal and conservative perspectives within the religious community continues to be evident in the reaction to the possibility of war with Iraq. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, mainline religious leaders in the Pacific Northwest provided opportunities for prayer and discussion; they also encouraged compassion and protection for Muslims who might be the target of discriminatory or violent acts. By fall, 2002, mainline religious leaders generally opposed the idea of war against Iraq. Both the Washington Association of Churches and the Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon issued statements expressing "grave and profound concerns" about the prospect on initiating military engagement. The WAC opposed the intent to launch a war as "morally indefensible." The Church Council of Greater Seattle called for a protest in October, and a crowd of between 12,000 and 30,000 marched through Seattle. At the time, it was regarded as the largest anti-war demonstration in the country. The Seattle Roman Catholic Archbishop Alex Brunett gave his assent to the national bishops' decision to oppose instigation of military action by the president, finding that "war with Iraq 'would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of military force.'"
One possible sign that the liberal/conservative split is moving in a slightly different direction is the emergence of the Confessing Church movement. Over the last five to eight years, virtually all of the mainline expressions in the Pacific Northwest and for that matter the rest of the country have seen increasing numbers of pastors and lay persons articulate principles that focus on a recovery of classical Christian orthodoxy. In part, the movement seems directed specifically as a critique of the liberal theology and social policies embraced by the mainline Protestant denominations. In part, the movement also seems to be designed to adopt strategies that would stem the loss of membership that continues to occur within the mainline throughout the country (United Church of Christ 14.9%, United Methodists 6.7%, Presbyterian U.S.A. 11.6%, Episcopal Church 5.3%, American Baptist 5.7%, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America 2.2%, and Disciples of Christ 1.9%). In October, 2002, evangelical renewal groups from twelve mainline denominations met in Indianapolis for the purpose of encouraging each other and upholding the historic faith of their denominations.
Participants in the Confessing movement believe that it is correct to see it at one level as another manifestation of the struggle within the mainline churches between conservative and liberal visions. There is a common focus on biblical authority, the divinity of Christ, and opposition to the ordination of gay pastors. And yet, many of the adherents are hopeful that this movement will reclaim something of center that they believe has been lost over the last three decades. Pastors interviewed are hopeful that by stressing more classical orthodox positions from their perspective, that the mainline will be able to reach a new generation of people in the Pacific Northwest who are seeking a more complex theology than is available in some of the non-denominational churches. Clearly this movement in growing in the Pacific Northwest, and while the impact may be different among the various denominations, it is likely that whatever occurs over the next several years will likely occur in more than one denomination.
Mainline Catholics, Protestants, and Jews have been integrally involved in the struggle to shape the public policies, social ethos, and cultural landscape of the Pacific Northwest from the middle of the 19th century to the present. Throughout the history of the region, Catholics, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Congregationalists or Jews have had to compete against other religious and secular alternatives. And at no time did they achieve a kind of cultural hegemony as was the case in most other parts of the country such as was the case with Lutherans in the upper-Midwest or Baptists in the South. Yet, their efforts to shape public policy have been significant. At their worst, Catholics and Protestants played a major role, as elsewhere, in the subjugation of Native American culture. Protestants and Catholics also fought bitterly among themselves, as they did during the 1920s, when Protestants attempted to end the Catholic school system. However, at their best, they shaped an emerging urban culture and established a significant number of educational, health care, and social service agencies and institutions. These religious groups succeeded in extending protection to those most vulnerable in the society. Single women and children, non-Caucasians, recent emigrants and the laboring poor have all been served by the volunteer efforts, ministries, and financial resources dedicated toward resolving significant social problems in the region. Catholics, Protestants and Jews have provided schools, hospitals, and orphanages; they have worked for the homeless, the mentally ill, sexually abused, the migrant worker, and other victims. When it comes to issues related to the environment and issues related to poverty, mainline Christians and Jews cooperate through ecumenical organizations in an effort to bring leverage on city, state, and national governments.
However, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, mainline individuals and organizations in the Pacific Northwest face a number of significant challenges in their efforts to continue influencing the public policy and social ethos of the region. Because of the ongoing political and social debates that generally fall along liberal and conservative lines, there is tension between the grassroots congregational and parish level and the denominational leaders at the national and state level. This is often exacerbated by declining financial support from congregations and parishes for ecumenical activity. There is tension within most mainline churches primarily over the issue of homosexuality--whether to allow practicing homosexuals to become ordained.
Within Oregon and Washington there are significant differences in region. The cultures of eastern Washington and Oregon are considered more conservative than the cultures of western Washington and Oregon. Environmental issues are generally seen differently east of the mountains than in the far west. Likewise, there are differences of opinion between the east and west regions of Oregon and Washington on issues of sexual orientation. All of this makes for considerable difficulty when it comes to presenting a united front.
Mainline churches are said to be facing their most severe crisis in the last 200 years as numerous accusations of sexual abuse come forward within the Catholic Church. It is too early to predict what impact the sexual abuse scandal will have on the church's public role. At the very least, it seems likely that leadership at all levels will be scrutinized as never before, and clerical authority will be vulnerable to challenge.
Beyond that challenge, it is likely that the cultural war that has influenced American public life since the 1960s will continue to shape the religious dynamics of this region and the nation. Given the general tendency of mainline churches to adopt strategies that are more liberal than conservative, there will continue to be tension with more conservative subcultures of the Christian community. Many church leaders accept and even welcome this. Believing that they are indeed "resident aliens" to use theologian Stanley Hauerwas's term, mainline religious leaders feel called to battle American cultural elements from consumerism and environmental exploitation, to free market capitalism and most American foreign policies. At the same time, they feel equally called to battle what they believe are fundamentalist tendencies within the Christian community, particularly those that translate into intolerance of homosexuals, the homeless, female clergy, and a kind of broad American civic religion.
Mainline religious organizations and individuals have played an important part in the shaping of the ethos of the Pacific Northwest. The institutional legacy is nearly omnipresent even though it is somewhat weaker than in other parts of the country. But from colleges and universities, to social service agencies, to lobbying efforts and grassroots movements, mainline Catholics, Protestants, and Jews have placed their imprint on the Pacific Northwest. Their relatively long history in the region suggests a pattern of adaptation based on a relatively consistent commitment by these traditions to engage the culture at a number of levels. As long as succeeding generations are educated into the theological roots of that engagement, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews are likely to continue to influence the culture of the region.