On his Daily Show one evening, Jon Stewart compared the importance of his home region in presidential elections with that of his guest, Newt Gingrich. "I'm from the Northeast," he said. "We used to be important."

Let me play Stewart to Christianity Today's Gingrich: "I'm a mainline Protestant. We used to be important." Though we Methodists boasted allegiance from three of the four members of the ballot in 2004's presidential election, this seems to have been more a cultural accretion than anything else. The one whose faith mattered—President Bush—has made a career out of his fluency in speaking evangelicals' language. The Republican Party has courted evangelicals long enough and well enough to have almost an insurmountable majority in Congress and, soon, in the Supreme Court as well. Congratulations, evangelicals: You're in charge.

We mainliners had our day in the sun. Remember Prohibition? It was more than an opportunity for cool gangster outfits and Kevin Costner's best movie. The national banning of alcohol by constitutional amendment was a result of Methodist efforts to "spread Scriptural holiness over the land." Oddly familiar, isn't it? Groups like the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, led by the great Methodist social prophet Frances Willard, prayed, raised money, and badgered politicians to get their way. The Temperance Union was the forerunner of the cute old ladies of the United Methodist Women (UMW) who, in a church I pastored, often gathered to bake and gossip and pray.

We did then what you do now: We imposed our way on a divided populace by sheer force of electoral muscle and religious rhetoric. Our effort to take America for Christ is now a peculiar cultural artifact, a curiosity gathering dust on ...

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Christianity Today
The Almost Formerly Important
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March 2006

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