Great article by Carol Howard Merritt, whose blog Tribal Church is hosted by the Christian Century.
In The Christian Century and the Rise of Mainline Protestantism, Elesha Coffman outlines the origins of term “Mainline.” The label commonly refers to the Episcopal Church, The Presbyterian Church (USA), northern Baptist churches, the Congregational church (now UCC), the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Disciples of Christ. Sometimes that list is longer and other times it’s shorter.
In America, mainline has referred colloquially to the railroad leading to the elite northwestern suburbs of Philadelphia. Sociologist E. Digby Baltzell described this Main Line in his 1958 study, Philadelphia Gentlemen: The Making of a National Upper Class…. By the 1950s, according to Baltzell, the term “Mainliner ha[d] become synonymous with ‘upper crust,’ ‘old family,’ or ‘socialite.’
It was not a term that denominational leaders came up with, but we have embraced it for many years. Now, it’s a good time to discard it. Why?