Mainline Protestant

The mainline Protestant churches (also called mainstream Protestant[1] and sometimes oldline Protestant)[2][3][4] are a group of Protestant denominations in the United States that contrast in history and practice with evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic Protestant denominations. Some make a distinction between "mainline" and "oldline", with the former referring only to denominational ties and the latter referring to church lineage, prestige and influence.[5] However, this distinction has largely been lost to history and the terms are now nearly synonymous.

A minister presides over Communion Sunday service in a United Methodist Church, a typical mainline Protestant denomination and one of the "Seven Sisters of American Protestantism".

Mainline Protestants were a majority of Protestants in the United States until the mid-20th century. A dip in membership across all Christian denominations was more pronounced among mainline groups, with the result that mainline groups no longer comprise the majority.[6] In 2020, Public Religion Research Institute conducted a religious census, based on self-identification, finding that an estimated 16% of U.S. Americans identified as non-Hispanic white mainline Protestants, slightly outnumbering non-Hispanic white evangelical Protestants who were 14% of the US American population.[7][8] In 2014, Pew Research completed and published the Religious Landscape Survey in which it was estimated that 14.7% of US Americans identified as mainline Protestant, excluding historically Black and African American denominations, while 25.4% identified as evangelical Protestants, also excluding membership in historically Black denominations.[9]

Mainline churches include the so-called "Seven Sisters of American Protestantism":

Also included in the mainline are:

The term 'mainline' has also been applied to Canadian Protestant churches that share common origins with their US counterparts.[10] In Mexico, the Anglican Church is historically tied to and formed from the US Episcopal Church.[11] The term is also occasionally used to refer to historic Protestant churches in Europe, Latin America, and South Africa.[12][13][14][15]

Mainline churches share an active approach to social issues that often leads to cooperation in organizations such as the National Council of Churches.[16] Because of their involvement with the ecumenical movement, mainline churches are sometimes (especially outside the United States) given the alternative label of ecumenical Protestantism.[17] These churches played a leading role in the Social Gospel movement and were active in social causes such as the civil rights movement and the women's movement.[18] As a group, the mainline churches have maintained religious doctrine that stresses social justice and personal salvation.[19] Members of mainline denominations have played leadership roles in politics, business, science, the arts, and education. They were involved in the founding of leading institutes of higher education.[20] Marsden argues that in the 1950s, "Mainline Protestant leaders were part of the liberal-moderate cultural mainstream, and their leading spokespersons were respected participants in the national conversation."[21]

Some mainline Protestant denominations have the highest proportion of graduate and post-graduate degrees of any other denomination in the United States.[22] Some also include the highest proportion of those with some college education, such as the Episcopal Church (76%),[22] the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (64%),[22] and the United Church of Christ (46%),[23] as well as the most of the American upper class.[22] compared with the nationwide average of 50%.[22] Episcopalians and Presbyterians also tend to be considerably wealthier[24] and better educated than most other religious groups,[25] and they were disproportionately represented in the upper reaches of US business and law until the 1950s.[26]

In the 1990s four of the US Supreme Court Justices were Mainline Protestants: Sandra Day O'Connor, John Paul Stevens, William Rehnquist and David Souter.

From 1854 until at least 1964, Mainline Protestants and their descendants were heavily Republican.[27] In recent decades, Republicans slightly outnumber Democrats.[28]

From 1965 to 1988, mainline church membership declined from 31 million to 25 million, then fell to 21 million in 2005.[29] While in 1970 the mainline churches claimed most Protestants and more than 30 percent of the population as members,[30] today they are a minority among Protestants; in 2009, only 15 percent of Americans were adherents.[31] A Pew Forum statistic revealed the same share in 2014.[32]