John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter says that John McCain’s running mate, Sarah Palin is an example of a post-denominational Christian. No longer identified by particular practices or beliefs of separate Christian traditions, a post-denominational Christian has a style of believing that draws from many sources and is highly individualized.
The initial confusion surrounding Palin’s denominational identity, therefore, has a simple explanation: She doesn’t have one. Instead, Palin appears to be part of that rapidly expanding galaxy of “post-denominational” Christianity, where elements of Evangelical and Pentecostal styles of faith and worship fuse into a myriad of unique local combinations, and where old denominational loyalties are essentially dead.
Though post-denominationalists are, by definition, difficult to catalog and index, they’re unquestionably numerous. 2007 survey conducted by LifeWay found that fully one-third of American Protestants were contemplating attending a different church in the future, and of that group, only one in four said it would be important that their future church belong to the same denomination as the one they currently attend.
Indeed, Ron Dreher over at Crunchy Con has noticed the same thing about Palin, asking “What kind of Christian is Sarah Palin?”
It’s hard to say. People say she’s an Evangelical, but what does that mean, really? Is she a Pentecostal? A Bible churcher? Christianity Today reports that she was baptized a Catholic as an infant, but her parents raised her in Bible churches. She has attended Pentecostal churches in recent years. It sounds like she’s like a lot of US Christians today: a little of this, a little of that.
Allen says to that we should not confuse post-denominationals for Evangelicals.
Not all post-denominationalists are conservative Evangelicals. The “emergent church” movement, for example, is often considered an expression of independent Christianity, and the relatively loose and flexible approach to creedal matters of some emerging churches – sometimes called “generous orthodoxy” – is regarded as unacceptably fuzzy by many Evangelicals. Globally, however, the largest share of the post-denominational universe is occupied by various forms of Evangelical and Pentecostal spirituality, with a strong emphasis on Biblical literalism and a lively sense of the supernatural.
Some of these independent Christians are even hesitant to adopt descriptive labels such as “Evangelical” or “Pentecostal,” for fear that such terminology could breed a new form of denominationalism. This is part of what makes estimating the total Evangelical or Pentecostal population in America, or the world, such a maddening exercise, because depending upon the day of the week and what mood they’re in, many believers these days (including, perhaps, Palin) might consider themselves both, or neither.
Post-denominational Christians share a common identity and have formed their own culture. They may look like generic evangelicals to us main-liners, but they know each other when they meet:
Although independent Christians spurn membership cards, they typically have little difficulty recognizing one other – in part, because there’s a shared culture formed by music, conventions in praise and worship, and spiritual language, which different congregations dip in and out of to varying degrees.
For example, those who watched Palin’s announcement speech yesterday in Dayton, Ohio, might have noticed a throaty roar from the crowd when she said, “We are expected to govern with integrity and goodwill and clear convictions and a servant’s heart.”
That reaction wasn’t simply about approval of good government; the phrase “servant’s heart” is a popular bit of Evangelical terminology, used as a short-hand for Christian humility. A quick web search reveals thousands of churches, ministries, and bands that use some variation of “servant’s heart” in the title; there’s even a residential cleaning service in Calgary called “Servant’s Heart.”
Ironically, traditional Catholics may leans toward Palin while many post-denominationals will tend to identify with Biden:
There’s a bit of political irony for [Roman] Catholics. Given Palin’s strong pro-life credentials, it’s likely she will appeal to the most strongly “denominational” Catholics, those most devoted to traditional Catholic identity and teaching. Meanwhile, what one might call “post-denominational Catholics,” meaning those for whom religious branding carries less theological significance, may embrace Palin’s Democratic rival, Delaware Senator Joseph Biden, the lone Roman Catholic on either ticket, because of his progressive stands on social and political matters. In other words, the denominationalists on the Catholic side will back the post-denominationalist, while the Catholic post-denominationalists will probably pick the candidate who bears the Catholic denominational label.
Read the rest of Allen’s column here.
HT to Diocese of Bethlehem blog newSpin.