Christianity is the largest of all the religions currently practiced in the world and the United States has the largest population of that faith with approximately 173 million adults. Under the umbrella of Christianity there are several divisions, with Protestantism being the second most prevalent of those. Not surprisingly, America has the largest population of Protestants as well. There are many ways to distinguish through the denominations of Protestantism, but here in a discussion of the three biggest American Protestant churches, the focus will be on the level of conservatism in the church, baptism and approach to women in the ministry.
- Southern Baptists: With over 16 million faithful, this is the largest Protestant church in the United States. This is an evangelical church, and thus highly conservative, yet their numbers are growing while those of mainline Protestantism are declining. As one can guess from their name, the Baptist faith places special emphasis on the ritual of baptism, maintaining that it is reserved for those who choose it knowingly, which precludes infant baptism. Further, they only allow total immersion in water. Southern Baptists state that, although men and women are equal, women can not be Pastors. Women do still perform many church functions and often seek out volunteer opportunities.
- The United Methodist Church: Although Methodists can be a mixed bad, ranging from extremely evangelical to firmly liberal, this group, numbering around 7.2 million, are a firmly mainline faith, and show the dedication to social justice that generally manifests in mainline, or mainstream, churches. They believe God begins a covenant with a person during baptism and so have no issue with infants have the rite performed, and while immersion does occur, so do many examples of baptism with less water. United Methodists do allow women in the ministry.
- The Church of God in Christ (COGIC): This Pentacostal church has roughly 5.5 members in the United States and declares itself to be firmly evangelical. Similar to the Baptists, COGIC does not permit infants to be baptized, but they do have a ritual that can be performed instead. Similar to the United Methodists, however, COGIC does allow women in the ministry.
Analyzing the similarities and differences between just these three versions of the Protestant Christian faith could be the focus of much more than a few paragraphs. In the end, those that feel a kinship with these faiths will join, those that do not will go to another community church.