“Authentic” Philadelphia Main Line mansions ruined by McMansion interiors?

Common critiques of McMansions spend a lot of time on their exterior: the mishmash of architectural styles, the large garage facing the street, the oversized front door and windows, and the impressive front that doesn’t extend to the sides and back. But what happens if the outside of the home is an “authentic” exterior and the insides are changed to reflect more modern, perhaps McMansion-like, tastes?

Something unsettling has been happening on Philadelphia’s storied Main Line. Magnificent early 20th-century mansions, which are meticulously maintained on the outside, have had their interiors transformed to the very height of muddled McMansion style. This is no isolated incident, but a veritable epidemic among the mansions of this traditional old money bastion. For example, this 1929 stone manor in Haverford is well presented on the outside, but the interior is some post-modernish mess where the lowlights include a garish abstract area rug, a pair of hideous curved couches in the living room, and glossy black tile. The brokerbabble tells it one way—”grand old world made new”—but it looks more like grand old world messed up. Meanwhile, the high price tag, $2.9M, virtually ensures that no one will take on the challenge of restoring this country estate to its former glory…

This raises an interesting question: can a home be a McMansion just because of its interior? This is not the traditional definition of a McMansion but the criticism is along the same lines of the complaints about the exterior: it is not “authentic” and is more garish and driven by popular tastes (granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, etc.).

While the exteriors of homes can be protected by preservation districts and regulations regarding teardowns, how would those who don’t like these McMansion interiors fight against them?

And while this article suggests this is a “veritable epidemic” for older mansions like these, are there any numbers to back this up? It is unreasonable for people to update the interiors in older homes to match newer tastes?

Differences in political activism in mainline and evangelical pastors

Christianity Today contrasts the political stances and activities of mainline and evangelical pastors. The data is summed up this way:

[A] new study from Calvin College’s Paul B. Henry Institute shows that for the past decade, evangelical pastors have been more likely to take public stances on political issues and candidates than have their mainline cohorts. Overall, some differences between evangelical and mainline clergy are shrinking as mainline pastors become more conservative and evangelical pastors become more socially active.

This is some interesting data: it suggests both mainline and evangelical congregations don’t hear much about politics even as pastors themselves took stands on particular public issues and a sizable minority supported a political candidate.

On the whole, however, it looks like there are not too many differences here between evangelical and mainline churches in these matters. Outside of more mainline pastors being more liberal on political and economic issues than their congregations, about half of evangelical and mainline pastors engaged in some form of political activity in church. Perhaps we would need some more data to find sharper differences (such as about the particular congregations and contexts where these sorts of activities took place – this could be found in the National Congregations Study) or more qualitative data that could provide insights into how politics is acted upon in particular congregations and through particular pastors.

Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants

Joe Carter at First Things discusses some comments made by sociologist Rodney Stark in a recent interview. Stark suggested that the Mainline denominations, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and a few others, are now the periphery while Evangelicals are the core.

Carter argues:

No offense to my mainline friends, but I’ve never understood why they continue to be considered mainstream by the the mainstream media. The Southern Baptist Convention has as many members as all mainline denominations combined. Yet the dying denominations get all the attention.

I suspect that within my lifetime the only mainline denominations that will continue to exist will be those that, as Stark notes, are led by clergy who are “generally evangelical in their convictions.”

While Carter may have a point about Mainline denominations receiving an inordinate amount of attention compared to their size, there are still some reasons to consider and track the Mainline:

1. They represent an important historical era of Christianity in the United States and their slow decline is of interest. Once the dominant denominations, they are now in a different position. How their theological beliefs have changed over time is fascinating. Tracing these changes is useful just as tracking how Evangelicalism has changed and will change over time is also useful.

2. Mainline denominations have historically had middle-class and upper-class adherents as opposed to more conservative denominations which had less education and lower incomes. While this gap has narrowed today, these denominations still often represent money, tradition, and influence. These are interesting qualities that are attractive to journalists and others.