December 21, 2014

Today We Visit the Liberal Circus

One of the main acts in American Christianity’s liberal version of the “circus” — the Episcopal Church USA — completed its triennial General Convention here in Indianapolis last week and, as usual, created a lot of conversation. You can read a summary of the General Convention and the decisions they made HERE, but here are a few highlights:

  • A quarter of the nearly 400 resolutions involved structure, governance, and administration, designed to help the church continue to transition into the 21st century.
  • In one of its more controversial moves, the convention authorized provisional use of a rite for blessing same-gender unions.
  • In another well-publicized decision, the convention approved two resolutions that offer support for the transgender community. One makes clear that the ordination discernment process is open to them, and another guarantees their equal place in the life, worship and governance of the church.
  • In a move that some call ironic, the church approved moving out of the Episcopal Church Center Headquarters in New York City for budgetary reasons. This took place in the context of the church’s actions in recent years, going to court to retain many church properties of congregations that seceded from the denomination.

Several articles have sprung up around the web, commenting on the week’s activities. Here are a few, obviously critical of the direction TEC is taking.

Three other pieces captured my attention, because together, they form a conversation, one I invite our iMonk readers to join today.

The first is an editorial in the NY Times by Ross Douthat called, Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?

Douthat calls The Episcopal Church USA one of the “most self-consciously progressive Christian bodies in the United States,” and notes, “It still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.”

In his most critical statement, he says bluntly, “Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism.”

Douthat, who also argues that conservative Christianity has been damaged by compromise with contemporary American culture, though in much different ways, offers a well-known conservative analysis of the situation.

This decline is the latest chapter in a story dating to the 1960s. The trends unleashed in that era — not only the sexual revolution, but also consumerism and materialism, multiculturalism and relativism — threw all of American Christianity into crisis, and ushered in decades of debate over how to keep the nation’s churches relevant and vital.

…But if conservative Christianity has often been compromised, liberal Christianity has simply collapsed. Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance. Within the Catholic Church, too, the most progressive-minded religious orders have often failed to generate the vocations necessary to sustain themselves.

For all his doomsday predicting, however, Douthat expresses hope for a better future for more progressive forms of Christianity. He quotes an excellent study by Gary Dorrien that gives an overview of the development of American Liberal Christianity. Dorrien writes:

For millions of liberal Protestants and progressive Catholics the church remains a spiritual home, a community of fellowship, and the place where they live out their idealism. For them the church remains distinctive for its capacity to inspire community and a sense of transcendent good. The idea of a liberal third way between authority-based orthodoxies and secular disbelief has no less relevance or coherence in the 21st century than it held one hundred years ago.

…To put it bluntly, liberal theology has broken beyond its academic base only when it speaks with spiritual conviction about God’s holy and gracious presence, the way of Christ, and the transformative mission of Christianity. That is not how a great deal of liberal theology has spoken over the past generation, to the detriment of liberal theology as a whole. In the past a spiritually vital evangelical liberalism sustained religious communities that supported the entire liberal movement. What would the social gospel movement have been without its gospel-centered preaching and theology? What would the Civil Rights movement have been without its gospel-centered belief in the sacredness of personality and the divine good?

When the social gospelers spoke of the authority of Christian experience, they took for granted their own deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer, and worship. Today the loss of the transcendental, biblical voice in liberal theology is one important reason that much of it gets little notice. Liberals often show more concern about the postmodern status of their perspective than about the relationship of their perspective to gospel faith.

In this light, Ross Douthat wishes that liberal Christianity will rediscover a “religious reason for its own existence.” He does not see evidence of that in the recent General Convention of The Episcopal Church USA.

* * *

Diana Butler Bass thinks Douthat is asking the wrong question, and so she wrote a piece in Huffington Post called, Can Christianity Be Saved? A Response to Ross Douthat.

Bass has never bought the narrative put forth by conservatives, and wrote a book to make a different case: Christianity for the Rest of Us. She reiterates her perspective in yesterday’s HP article:

His argument, however, is neither particularly original nor true. It follows a thesis first set out in a 1972 book, Why Conservative Churches Are Growing by Dean Kelley. Drawing on Kelley’s argument, Douthat believes that in the 1960s liberal Christianity overly accommodated to the culture and loosened its ties to tradition. This rendered the church irrelevant and led to a membership hemorrhage. Over the years, critics of liberal churches used numerical decline not only as a sign of churchgoer dissatisfaction but of divine displeasure. To those who subscribe to Kelley’s analysis, liberal Christianity long ago lost its soul–and the state of Protestant denominations is a theological morality tale confirmed by dwindling attendance.

Diana Butler Bass thinks this misses the bigger picture.  Noting that “decline is not exclusive to the Episcopal Church, nor to liberal denominations–it is a reality facing the whole of American Christianity,” her interpretation is that “decline only means, as Gallup pointed out in a just-released survey, that Americans have lost confidence in all forms of institutional religion.”

For Bass, then, “The real question is not ‘Can liberal Christianity be saved?’ The real question is: Can Christianity be saved?”  Her answer is an unabashed “yes.”

Indeed, I think that the better story of contemporary Christianity is that of an awakening of a more open, more inclusive, more spiritually vital faith is roiling and I argue for that in my recent book, Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening.

She joins others, like Phyllis Tickle (The Great Emergence), in suggesting that we may be at some kind of turning point in the history of Christianity. In conjunction with western culture’s transformation from Enlightenment modernism to postmodern thought and sensibilities, churches of all kinds are facing institutional decline, questioning at the foundations, and decreasing influence in their communities. In her book, Bass chronicles her growing understanding that

…inherited religious identities like “Protestant,” “Catholic,” and “Jewish,” were in a state of flux in the United States, that actual attendance at weekly religious services is significantly down, that people mix and switch religions more easily than in the past, that traditional religious institutions are in a sustained decline, and that even general belief in God has eroded over the last thirty years.

Many individual congregations may be successful, yes. But the overall picture for religious life in the United States is not terribly encouraging, especially for Christians.

(Can you say, The Coming Evangelical Collapse?)

In spite of the current trends, Diana Butler Bass remains confident that this “death” will result in a “resurrection” to new and even more vibrant forms of Christian faith in the future. How we face what’s happening is not just a matter for folks like the Episcopalians, but for all who bear the name Christian.

* * *

The third article in this conversation was written by James McGrath. He comes back at Ross Douthat a bit more strongly, entitling his article, Can Non-Liberal Christianity Be Saved? 

Like Bass, he has little confidence that “conservatism gives churches more staying power,” and he likewise notes the data that indicate they are declining right alongside their more progressive brethren. He disagrees with Douthat that liberal churches need to become more conservative to survive; in fact, he is clear about his opinion that the conservatives have been on the wrong side of history with regard to a plethora of issues, and still keep getting it wrong over and over again. Furthermore, it is their very conservatism that has been the problem, so how can it be an answer going forward? In addition, he decries the charges made by conservative Christians that those in more liberal traditions represent “a half-hearted, half-baked mixture of the traditional and the cultural, which does justice to neither,” and throws this counter-punch:“Those who claim to be ‘Biblical Christians’ are more prone than anyone to conflate their culture’s values (not all of them, to be sure, but many) with ‘what the Bible says.'”

Rather than seeing conservatism as the answer, James McGrath envisions a “big tent” Christianity in which respectful conversations can take place between those who disagree:

Douthat suggests that there can be a future for liberal Christianity, but it has to be one that sees renewed passion for conservative theology. I disagree – although I realize that only time can tell which of us was right. I think that a church which can embrace those who are theologically conservative, but also those who are theologically liberal, and become passionate about creating conversation between those who disagree, and passionate about the quest rather than adopting a particular stance reflecting a particular stage on the journey. We could even call ourselves “Evangelical Liberals.” We have a good news that we are passionate about proclaiming, and it isn’t about doctrines assent to which allegedly provides eternal fire insurance. Our core liberal convictions should lead us to stand on the front lines against injustice, and create meeting places where passion for our spiritual journeys is fostered, rather than a narrow conservative version which seeks to persuade people that they have already arrived if they just assent with all their heart to a creed or to four spiritual laws or to a particular doctrine of the atonement.

At any rate, he sees both traditions of Christianity continuing. The main question is, which forms will take center stage? Which will lead the way forward?

 

 

Comments

  1. “…eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.”

    Hmmmm. Sounds vaguely familiar…

    • There’s a reason Michael originally said that he was afraid that the “collapse” was going to mirror the collapse in the mainline churches.

      It explains why a lot of us here think “Jesus would always be in favor of tax cuts” and “Jesus would be in favor of ordaining men who divorced their wives to be with their male lovers” sound like the same noise.

  2. David Cornwell says:

    Some of these questions and suppositions I think about almost every single day. I’m not sure I have solid conclusions, just random thoughts. If my mind is clear enough I may offer some of these thoughts when the night is over. For sure I will be reading the thoughts of others. Conservatives however should be careful how they approach this and with the harshness of the answers they may be tempted to give, because in some ways the conservative church is a mirror image of those who are labeled as liberal.

    • Looking forward to your thoughts on the subject, David.

      • David Cornwell says:

        So far the discussion hasn’t clarified anything in my mind. Maybe it has in others however. And I’d probably do better to write my own thoughts out privately for my own clarification before attempting to share with others. One thing stands out: There is a lot of confusion about terms and there is also the use of stereotypes to make points in arguments. If I were to write just now I’d probably be doing the same thing.

  3. Clay Crouch says:

    The Episcopal Church has bared the brunt of the criticism and derision in the past for taking, what was at the time, unpopular positions on workers’ rights, civil rights, women’s rights (in and out of the church), and rights for the oppressed and marginalized. If history is any indication, I wouldn’t be writing any obituaries yet.

    • Indeed!

      I’m especially heartened by the way in which they’re reaching out to transgendered people – and, though it hasn’t been stated as yet, intersex people as well.

      I do not think many American evangelicals have any notion of what being transgendered is about. If they did, there might be more compassion shown, though I wonder…

      • I appreciate the explicit inclusion of transgendered people as well, and I think it would make an intersexed person feel welcome.

      • You shouldn’t have to offer somebody ordination in order to reach them. For all my criticisms, the Episcopal church does make a concerted effort to be more understanding of a wider variety of people. On the integrity vs. integration scale, they’re leaning hard toward the latter.

        • Miguel – ???

          If they’re qualified, then why not?

          • All qualified persons should be allowed into office. This would be a lot simpler if we could all agree on what the Bible says those qualifications are.

          • Miguel – if I can paraphrase a Civil Rights statement here, I believe it is about the content of a person’s character, not their physical gender or sexual orientation.

          • @numo – Implicit in your statement is the fact that you categorize a person’s sexual preference as a physical trait and not as part of the content of their character.

          • Numo, obedience to God’s law when it comes to sexual practice is an issue of character. Taking God’s clear commandments and spinning them on their head to mean the exact opposite of what they clearly say shows a determination to subvert God’s revealed truth with our opinions or preferences.

          • Sexual orientation is *not* the same thing as sexual activity.

            I think some of you are assuming that LGBT people are all immoral simply for being LGBT.

            That’s unfortunate at best, imo.

          • Agreed. There is a distinction, and it is important. However, these is still significant disagreement amongst believers as to what constitutes sexual immorality, as clear as scripture seems to be on this. But the LGBT community does have a lot of unfair assumptions made about them.

          • numo – I don’t assume that LGBT people are all immoral simply for being LGBT. I used the word “preference” in the physiological sense (evaluated judgment) rather that “orientation” because preference allows for input on our part where orientation implies “I’m just this way.”

            If I were categorized simply on my impulses and desires I would fit in the LGBT category. But categorized based on my preferences I am a straight husband and father.

          • Oops, “physiological” should be “psychological”

        • I’ll assume you guys are talking about Gene Robinson, the gay priest who was confirmed bishop in 2003.

          As for qualifications (bouncing off Miguel), the standard ones for bishop can be found in 1 Timothy 3 and in Titus 1.

          And, if I could bounce off of Justin, several comments above, who may have been referring to Bishop Robinson when he mentioned “ordaining men who divorced their wives to be with their male lovers”; this is not simply about homosexuality, and here’s why:

          Gene Robinson left his wife and his small children to move in with his lover. The fact that his lover was male is almost beside the point, and this is never discussed. If he had left his wife and small children to move in with a woman, would he be qualified as bishop? According to 1 Timothy and Titus, no.

          Robinson has become the poster boy for homosexual ordination in the Episcopal Church, although the larger issue in his case may in fact be adultery and abandonment.

          • He did that because he realized he was gay. That’s a pretty good reason in my book.

            Are you suggesting that divorced people be excluded from the priesthood? Or just gay divorced people? Or people who committed adultery before their divorce…?

          • I’m saying that the adultery and abandonment have been overlooked in Bishop Robinson’s case. It’s been made to look like discrimination on the grounds of homosexuality.

            A counter-question: were there no priests who remained faithful to their familes who could have been confirmed instead? Or is the Episcopal Church deliberately provoking their conservative wing?

          • I don’t have direct knowledge of this situation. But I have read that Bishop Robinson is personally well-liked by his congregations.

  4. Listening to these guys fume about Episcopanianism is a bit like listening to right-wing Republicans talking about Obama. They latch onto whatever they can find to criticize, and seem happiest when the other side shows some vulnerability.

    Episcopalianism is to be saluted for sticking to its principles, even at the cost of losing members. Their critics–conservative Christians–talk a lot about their fundamentals, but at the end of the day will do anything to keep on growing. And what are these radical principles, that cause so much complaint…? Gender-inclusive language…? Respect for GLBT people (including the “T”)? A healthy suspicion of dogma…? Sounds like Jesus would make a better Episcopalian than (U.S.) “Anglican.”

    • That Other Jean says:

      This! The God who shared His ife with Samaritans, whores, tax collectors, and women didn’t favor inclusiveness? Do we read the same Bible?

      • Jesus hung out with the sinners like us. But then He CHANGED us with the Gospel while giving us grace and forgiveness in all areas yet to be changed. He reconciled us to the Father. But He didn’t say it was OK to stay the way we were.

    • Damaris says:

      “Episcopalianism is to be saluted for sticking to its principles” — Which ones? They’ve changed a lot over the years, and some of the principles they espouse now were not at all their principles half a century ago.

      • Excellent point…

      • Clay Crouch says:

        “They’ve changed a lot over the years, and some of the principles they espouse now were not at all their principles half a century ago.” – Which ones and what’s your point?

        • Damaris says:

          The use of artificial birth control (1930), the ordination of women (late 70’s), ordination of practicing homosexuals (last 10 years or so) would be some. Whatever you think about those decisions, they do represent a change in principles. If we respect the denomination at all, we have to assume that their previous stances were the result of principles concerning human sexuality and church structure. Now those stances and the principles behind them have been overturned.

      • Back in the day, they used to have a reputation for being a hoity-toity upper-crust white church. All that changed in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Was this unfair to bigoted holdouts?

        Their embrace of ethno-racial diversity is of a piece with the ordination of women and recognition of gay marriage. Each case constitutes an end to pernicious discrimination.

    • Episcopalians have been giving up on having principles that aren’t delivered to them from the upper-middle liberal intelligensia. One of the tropes you see, for instance, is that we are not about doctrine, but about worship; but practice on the ground is to take all sorts of liberties with the prayer book texts. One can get through the new same-sex blessing rite without saying ANYTHING in common with the 1979 rites, of any sort, except for the Lord’s Prayer. Why is this? Because the church is still in the thrall of the academic radical feminists who are trying to suppress any male references to God.

      The raw fact is that ever since 2000/2003 the church has been losing membership and attendance at the rate of about 3% a year. A very large part of this can be directly attributed to departures, and the statistics seem to show that almost all of the decline may be so attributed. There’s a lot of talk about inclusion, but the main targets of same are sexual minorities who don’t reproduce, not that the upper middle class is having kids at replacement rates anyway. Congregations are old, and most clerics are ordained late in life.

    • Adrienne says:

      “Listening to these guys fume about Episcopanianism is a bit like listening to right-wing Republicans talking about Obama. They latch onto whatever they can find to criticize, and seem happiest when the other side shows some vulnerability.”
      I’m afraid this can be applied generously to both sides of this issue in politics but I would have to say marginally less so in a church setting. There is a stirring (what with Mormons and Episcopalians with apology t-shirts on at gay rallies) at the moment about coming to terms with the fact that past approaches to implement acceptance and tolerance in relation to what the Bible teaches may have been misunderstood. But we must be slow and careful to respect our Lord’s Word. We, as Christians should never do anything hastily, as we have spent a few millenia merely coming to grips with His character and will. And just as in politics, the ONLY thing standing in our way and will continue to do so, is our own unwillingness to consider we could be wrong. This particular denomination seems to be called to be the part of the Body that freely, openly, unapologetically loves those who tend to be rejected by more legalistic, traditional (?) ones and that is wonderful. However, it cannot overlook the often uncomfortable, SAVING aspects of Christianity, particularly the ones about acknowledgement of sin. Yes, we all love a good party where everyone is invited, but Dad says you gotta do your homework first or you can’t go!;)

  5. hmm,interesting stuff. It all makes me wonder what the future of christianity will be like. I hear alot of people saying it will become some expression of existentialism. But i’m not sure that will be the case.

  6. I think history has and will continue to show that those churches rooted most strongly in tradition have the strongest continuity and staying power. This tradition must inform both your theology and your doxology. The mainlines maintained traditional doxology while committing theological iconoclasm. Consumer driven evangelical churches think they have maintained their theology while their “innovations” reinvented the doxology of the church in vacuous and trendy manners. Both lead to decline, imo, as they eat away at what the church has built over centuries. Jesus Christ is the ultimate foundation, but there is other stuff between him and the steeple. When you knock out your supports, don’t be surprised when you loose stability. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy are mutually supportive, so the weakening of one eventually leads to the weakening of the other.

    That being said, I have encountered a surprising number of staunch conservatives in my frequent yet sporadic interactions with the Episcopal church. The number of breakaway congregations pales in relation to the remaining number strongly considering it. The leadership is not acting in the interests of their constituency, but rather promoting their own agendas and forcing them down the throats of the members. Their bishops are accountable to no one, and where abuses are protected, they will flourish. This is why I am an outspoken proponent of federalist ideas in denominational polity structures. Accountability is not optional if you think the work of the church is important. Schori behaves like a pompous, spoiled dictator. Nobody has the right to question her, not even Rowan Williams! (“Enter the conversation” rhetoric be damned!)

    The issue I have with the “big tent” approach that mainline progressives are advocating is that it assumes that in theological conflict either neither party can ultimately be correct, or that if one is, it doesn’t matter. There’s room for in-house debate on many topics, but the constant ducking of issues through relativism and inclusivism makes me sick. It’s as if it almost doesn’t even matter what God might have to say about some things.

    • Josh in FW says:

      +1

    • You make it sound as though the only authentic Christian tradition is this conservative tradition. (The Quakers are shrinking too, by the way.) Schori may well be a dictator, but she was elected. I don’t see why the opinion of a state-appointed British cleric should carry any special weight over hers.

      • The “state appointed British cleric” is pretty much church-appointed these days. I think the state merely rubber-stamps the Church of England’s choice.

        • True. But he’s not the pope. And unlike Schori, he is unelected and unaccountable to his supposed constituents.

      • There is no alleged monolithic “conservative tradition” wherein all true Christians lie. Even if this were possible, nobody could agree where to draw the line. But there has to be such a thing as heresy, otherwise everybody is orthodox. To believe Jesus did not rise from the dead, Christ is not the only way to the Father, and God has nothing absolute to say about how we ought to behave places you far outside the realm of Christian orthodoxy.

        RW’s opinion should matter because he’s the head of the tradition. He doesn’t have any control in the matter, but the point is that the only opinion she ever even considers is her own (real inclusive and tolerant). She is an equal opportunity ignorer, whether it be the AoC, the vast majority of the Anglican Communion outside of the US and England, or the sizable chunk of her own constituency who are not happy with her leadership.

  7. A few thoughts I found compelling in Douthat’s piece…

    “It (The Episcopal Church) still has priests and bishops, altars and stained-glass windows. But it is flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.”

    “Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase. ”

    “The defining idea of liberal Christianity — that faith should spur social reform as well as personal conversion — has been an immensely positive force in our national life. No one should wish for its extinction, or for a world where Christianity becomes the exclusive property of the political right.

    What should be wished for, instead, is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence. As the liberal Protestant scholar Gary Dorrien has pointed out, the Christianity that animated causes such as the Social Gospel and the civil rights movement was much more dogmatic than present-day liberal faith. Its leaders had a “deep grounding in Bible study, family devotions, personal prayer and worship.” They argued for progressive reform in the context of “a personal transcendent God … the divinity of Christ, the need of personal redemption and the importance of Christian missions.”

    Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that per haps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.

    Absent such a reconsideration, their fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die. ”

    I’m not sure of the thinking of EC’s leadership, but it appears, at least on the surface, that the desire to bend to cultural trends outweighed the desire to live out scripture. I had a conversation with my boss, who is Episcopalian the other day, in which we joked that a co-worker “needed Jesus”…purely a joke…and she stated, “Well, there’s no sense in her going to church with me. We really don’t get into the Jesus thing.” Did the entire liturgy of the BCP escape her understanding? I don’t know…But it saddens me. When I had been burned severely by the post-modern evangelical church, again and again, it was in a small Episcopal church, where I attended anonymously and alone, that I found peace with God and the Church. I found it in the liturgy and the warmth of community there. I eventually spent some time in the ACNA, and am now back in the Methodist Church that I grew up in.

    The only thoughts I could offer on the Episcopal dilemma are from the preacher in Ecclesiastes…

    “What has been is what will be,
    and what has been done is what will be done,
    and there is nothing new under the sun.
    Is there a thing of which it is said,

    “See, this is new”?
    It has been already
    in the ages before us.

    There is no remembrance of former things,
    nor will there be any remembrance
    of later things yet to be
    among those who come after.

    The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
    For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”

    Amen.

  8. Rachel Held Evans will be contributing to this discussion/debate early this week. Read the 135 Comments/responses to her Facebook post from yesterday:

    Informal poll (for a possible post this week): Do you feel like you are caught somewhere between “liberal Christianity” and “conservative Christianity”, evangelicalism and mainline Protestantism? Without being nasty, what disappoints you about conservative evangelicalism and what disappoints you about liberal Protestantism?

    Tune in to http://rachelheldevans.com/

  9. You know what I think? I’m just tired of trying to wade through all of the issues that are out there. I just want to be a Christian. Period.

  10. Richard Hershberger says:

    Two thoughts:

    Ross Douthat advising liberal Christians to become more conservative is perhaps the most pure example of concern trolling I have ever seen.

    “In a move that some call ironic, the church approved moving out of the Episcopal Church Center Headquarters in New York City for budgetary reasons. This took place in the context of the church’s actions in recent years, going to court to retain many church properties of congregations that seceded from the denomination.”

    I am at a loss here. What is supposed to be ironic about this?

    By the way, in Episcopal ecclesiology it is meaningless to speak of a “congregation that seceded from the denomination” or, adjusting the vocabulary, a parish seceding from the diocese. The parish is a creature of the diocese, like a city government is a creature of the state it is in. Individuals can leave the parish, but they don’t get to take the parish property with them. Not even if many of them go. This is not the ecclesiology of my church, nor is it the ecclesiology I would chose, but I have little sympathy for those who claim (whether cynically dissembling or merely clueless) surprise upon discovering this.

    • It’s ironic because they’ve taken on the burden of maintaining dozens of empty properties at great expense at the very time they can’t even afford their own headquarters.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        Are the properties as a rule actually empty? I haven’t followed this, so I really don’t know, but it seems to me unusual for all the members to up and leave. There generally is a greater or lesser remnant, who presumably would remain in the building, though I’m sure the budgetary issues would be major. There is an ELCA congregation in Maryland that went through the voting process to leave the synod. It didn’t quite reach the minimum to leave, so the pastor and a big chunk of the congregation went on their own. So far as I know the remainder is still an active congregation.

        On the other hand, and I meant to point this out this morning, if you want to point at the Liberal Circus, you have ample ammunition with that stupid hat. Episcopalians aren’t unique in this, but they are particularly prone to truly awful ecclesiastical garb. To see what I mean, see http://badvestments.blogspot.com/

    • It’s the kind of irony where the church of one of the important dissenting congregations was sold to the muslims.
      That’s on top of three (at least) cathedrals closing or being sold in the last year, not that getting rid of that abomination in Northern Michigan was much of a loss. The national church is hurting for money.

  11. Douthat’s description doesn’t line up with my own experience of the Episcopal church (which, admittedly, has been through a monastery and through an emerging church plant, not through traditional Sunday congregations).

    The Episcopal church is the _only_ place in my adult life where I have heard a priest or pastor explicitly preach abstinence before marriage – and I’ve been involved with some rather conservative churches. It is also the only place I’ve heard people really deeply engaging the creeds, the church fathers, and the early history of the church, and discussing the importance of doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation – despite being a part of many very intellectual churches. And both Episcopal communities that I worship in are unabashedly Christian and unashamed to proclaim the uniqueness of our faith and their conviction that Jesus truly is God incarnate.

    So, I can’t speak for the Episcopal church as a whole, but the Episcopalians I know generally have much more sound doctrine and a much better grasp of orthodox theology than evangelicals (although admittedly not always as string a grasp of the Bible itself). And in terms of sexual morality, for evangelicals to find fault with Episcopalians is really the pot calling the kettle black; the only difference I’ve seen is that at least the Episcopalians have been willing to confess their faults to each other and to wrestle in community with the question of what is ethical, whereas many evangelicals just compartmentalize that aspect of their life and don’t let their faith inform it.

    • “The Episcopal church is the _only_ place in my adult life where I have heard a priest or pastor explicitly preach abstinence before marriage – and I’ve been involved with some rather conservative churches.”

      That’s pretty unusual for the Episcopal church–you must have found a solid parish. The clergy at our conservative Episcopal parish also preach this and require engaged couples to live apart and go through a marriage mentoring program. It’s not the norm. Several years ago the Diocese of Olympia (Washington state) even included heterosexuals shacking up as one of the groups of people that are eligible for ordination along with LGBTs.

    • +1

  12. The post noted Bass as saying:

    “I think that the better story of contemporary Christianity is that of an awakening of a more open, more inclusive…”

    Regarding being “inclusive”, Episcopal Priest Bryan Owen writes:

    “But can there really be a “genuine inclusivity” that doesn’t by necessity exclude some people’s beliefs and agendas? I doubt it. For the sake of being “inclusive” and “relevant” in a post-Christian culture, I note that we Episcopalians are increasingly willing to jettison traditional understandings of Christian faith and practice. By definition, that excludes conservatives (and even many moderates). It’s really hard to see how the current trajectory of the Episcopal Church as charted by General Convention can possibly recover a commitment to “genuine inclusivity” that actually includes persons who adhere to a traditional, orthodox approach to Christianity.”

    http://creedalchristian.blogspot.com/2012/07/let-us-try-to-recover-our-commitment-to.html

    • +1

      “being inclusive” is just a propaganda play anyway; we-cannot-accept-them-because-they-are-not-inclusive.

      Some of the most *SELF DESCRIBED* liberal and “inclusive” people I know are some of the most rabid bigots I know. Once anyone starts talking about being-inclusive I tend to look for the door.

      Why do we have to pretend we don’t disagree? Disagree fundamentally and substantively. You-are-wrong-and-I-am-right. Doing so doesn’t mean we go around burning each other’s villages.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        “Some of the most *SELF DESCRIBED* liberal and “inclusive” people I know are some of the most rabid bigots I know. Once anyone starts talking about being-inclusive I tend to look for the door.”

        Adam, some of the most SELF DESCRIBED conservative and exclusive people I know are the most rabid bigots I know. So what does this teach us? I suggest heading for the door does absolutely no good in moving this discussion forward.

        As for the burning each others’ villages comment, I’m not sure what you mean?

        • >Adam, some of the most SELF DESCRIBED conservative and exclusive
          > people I know are the most rabid bigots I know.

          Absolutely, I agree. But they don’t talk about being inclusive and then trash everyone other than themselves. The bigoted [and they are] conservatives I know come out and say “I don’t want to be around them”. It is just as lousy, but it is a tad more honest.

          > So what does this teach us?

          People are prone to bigotry, tribalism, self-deception, and sin. We knew that.

          > As for the burning each others’ villages comment, I’m not sure what you mean?

          We can disagree. I do not want to go to your church, you don’t want to go to mine. Group-A isn’t going to sit in the pew and pray together with Group-B. Person-A and Person-B aren’t likely to be best-friends. That’s OK. It doesn’t mean Group-A has to hate Group-B or vice-versa. Most As & Bs I know are fairly tolerant in person. And tolerance is the key to an open and civil society; acceptance is not required. There are exceptions, and talking heads make those exceptions look like the norm. The big-tent isn’t going to happen, or work, because people disagree – honestly disagree. Realism is that there are many tents and the focus should be on finding ways for those tents to exist in proximity to each other rather than believing they are somehow going to merge (because they can exist as tents peaceably, they can’t merge peaceably).

          • Clay Crouch says:

            Adam, thank you for your thoughtful response. I certainly agree with you about our approach to differences and our shared hope for a much needed dialogue on this and many other subjects

            All the best.

          • A phrase I oft-heard in my house growing up “others do not have to be wrong in order for you to be right”. I think it is apt in this discussion.

      • Richard Hershberger says:

        ““being inclusive” is just a propaganda play anyway; we-cannot-accept-them-because-they-are-not-inclusive.”

        Really? Who precisely has the Episcopal Church expelled on these grounds? Please be specific.

        • I think we’ve run into the normal right wing confusion between exclusion, and anyone telling me I’m wrong. You know where having gay preachers discriminates against me, because I think it’s wrong to have gay preachers.

  13. McGrath is right that that conservative churches have been on the wrong side of history before, but sometimes liberal churches have been too. For example, the progressive Protestant churches generally supported eugenics in its heyday and even preached sermons advocating it. It was the Catholics and conservative Protestant churches that opposed eugenics.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Back when Eugenics was not only Respectable Mainstream Science but THE Way of the Future? Endorsed by Academia, Science, and All The Right People? “Life to the Fit, Extinction to the Unfit! Only Perfect Seed Can Be Sown!”

      Funny how the Most Eugenically Evolved here in the States were the blond, blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon Race. Protestant, not Catholic.

      And then a cult of pulp villains took over Germany and tried to see how far they could take that Fashionable Mainstream Science of Eugenics…

      • It is a little-known fact about Hitler that he was not, in fact, a liberal Episcopalian.

        • The point is that it took Hitler to made eugenics unfashionable, not that liberal American churches are to blame for him. I was referring to the American eugenics movement, particularly in the 20s through mid-30s.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Thanks for clearing that up – chuckling out loud!

    • Clay Crouch says:

      Joel, I just reread your comment about being on the right/wrong side of social issues. If you have to go back nearly 100 years to find an example of being on the wrong side of an issue, then you make a strong case for TEC’s positions. I can’t think of one major social issue in the 20th century that the evangelical right didn’t fight against, tooth and nail. And there are some they are still fighting. As I mentioned in a comment above, this scapegoatinging of TEC by the conservative/fundamentalist wing of the Church is nothing new.

  14. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Either way, wish I was running a ferry service across the Tiber.

    Better Rome than Hyper-Geneva.

    • Brettongarcia says:

      There’s a fair amount of historical information to suggest that Hitler was raised a Catholic; literally singing in the choir they say.

      And that Hitler learned his anti-semitism, from a common Catholic homily: the “Jews Killed Jesus” homily.

      While this anti-Jewish, racist sentiment, was regularly expressed in the German Passion Plays.

  15. ALL ought be welcome in the church.

    But where many have gone off the rails is to affirm and even advocate behavior that goes against God’s word on the matter.

    We’re all sinners, and we continue in our sins. But we stay in the dynamic of repentance and forgiveness and never get to the point where we feel that our sins are alright…even a good thing.

    It’s not easy to say that. I don’t like saying it. But the truth is the truth.

    • Well if they sincerely repent of their sins, and can manage not to cause too much trouble for their fellow parishioners, I’m sure the “Anglicans” would be welcomed back into the fold.

  16. I visited an Episcopal Church for the first time in my life a few weeks ago, and I must say it was probably one the worst church experiences of my life. Actually, I was hoping that I was going to have some of my pre-existing stereotypes changed by going, but actually this particular church pretty much confirmed them. It was lifeless, cheerless, and a sermon from a priest who seemed to be delivering a sermon with about as much passion as one offering commentary on a New York Times article.

    • SottoVoce says:

      I hear the complaint that mainline services are “lifeless and cheerless” a lot. Could you explain what you mean by that? I can see how a person who is used to a typical evangelical service might find our reading the bold words out of the bulletin together, not to mention the pastor’s reading of a pre-written sermon, to be rather dull and zombie-like, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth about what bothered you specifically. I fully recognize that there are joyless, robotic churches out there and you may very well have encountered one of them.

      • Phil M. says:

        I don’t mind reading things aloud together, and to a point, I actually enjoy hymns. This church had a pipe organ that was so loud that it just about drowned everything out. And to be honest, reading a pre-written sermon bothers me a lot. It’s just not my cup of tea. It also didn’t help that God Bless America was one of the hymns that Sunday.

        I’m not saying that people should feel the need to put on a happy face all the time, but I do feel that there should be an underlying attitude of joy in churches. I did not pick up any of it there. I don’t know how else to put it other than what was being done throughout the service didn’t resonate with my spirit at all. I have loved other liturgical services. We sometime attend a Greek Orthodox church, and I absolutely love their service. When I’m there I feel the Holy Spirit is in our midst. At the Episcopal church, I felt like She probably left a long time ago.

        • SottoVoce says:

          Well, if it doesn’t resonate with you, it just doesn’t and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not sure how that translates to the other congregants lacking in joy, though. I asked because I get the impression that a lot of people who make this complaint are equating the lack of visible outward expression of emotions with a lack of feeling emotions, period. I’ll talk about that a bit more down below. (And I should note that I’m Lutheran, not Episcopal, so I’m sure there are differences between our experiences of the liturgy.)

        • I’ve been to a lot of evangelical churches that were dull and lifeless as well. And I’ve been to Episcopal churches where everyone was dancing around and speaking in tongues. Please do not judge an entire denomination based on a visit to one church.

          • Phil M. says:

            I wasn’t meaning to imply that I was judging the whole denomination based on this one experience. All I was saying is that this particular congregation seemed to back up every negative thing I’ve heard about them over the years. I wasn’t trying to cause trouble! :-)

    • “Lifeless and cheerless” to you is “calm and meditative” to others. Their preaching style is never going to become the impassioned pleading of a revivalist; they have a much different philosophy of ministry, and will not, to their credit, descend to the level of exploiting cheap entertaining gimmicks to make their worship appear more lively or genuine at the surface level only.

      If he actually preached a sermon on the text, you may have actually struck gold. Sometimes all you get is liberal commentary on social concerns.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        Miguel, you haven’t heard Bishop Curry of the Diocese of NC preach! A treat for this Episcopalian who abhors being yelled at from the pulpit.

      • Phil M. says:

        It was a woman priest (I don’t have a problem with that part), and the text was about the woman with the issue of blood in Mark 5. I don’t recall all of the things she touched on, but it certainly did go into the “liberal commentary on social concerns” territory.

        • Clay Crouch says:

          Phil, please tell me that you are not saying that Jesus had no “liberal social concerns”, because that’s what it sounds to me like you’re saying. The gospel is full of social concerns. In fact, if Jesus’ first sermon in Luke is any indication, the gospel is one big social/political concern.

          • Phil M. says:

            No, that’s not what I’m saying. But what I’m saying is that the way the passage was presented really made the issues more a matter of dealing with abstractions rather than concrete realities.

      • SottoVoce says:

        Took the words right out of my mouth, Miguel. I’ve been to evangelical church services where people were dancing, banging their own tambourines, and/or having dramatic interventions down at the altar. Were these services full of joy? Absolutely. But for a quiet, less demonstrative person like myself, the experience is positively traumatizing. Even a more typical evangelical service where lots of people simply put their hands in the air while singing can be very distracting for me–I’m just not comfortable putting my own feelings on display like that. My formal, liturgical church allows me to commune with God without being distracted by other people’s unpredictable reactions and I am very irritated when people assume that being quiet means we’re not joyful. It’s just a different approach, one that emphasizes not pushing your feelings on other people who may not be sharing your fervor today.

        • Phil M. says:

          I’m actually a pretty quiet and introverted person myself by nature. I grew up in the AoG, and many times I felt out of place when pushed towards more public displays of joy. I’ve definitely witnessed abuses and excesses in that area. At the same time, I’ve also experienced things personally that were very real during worship services. So I guess what I’m looking for is a church that leaves room for those sorts of experiences but doesn’t put all of its energy into them.

          I’m also a musician that’s played in many worship bands, so I feel like I’m pretty sensitive to picking up on when someone is “faking it” and when it’s the real thing. I hate the fake with a passion simply because I’ve experienced the authentic. I feel like music offers a way for people to relate to one another and God on such deep level that it can easily be used to manipulate people. But I also think that the Holy Spirit can move through music in a deep and profound way.

          • SottoVoce says:

            Oh happy medium, where art thou? Heh. Sorry you had a bad experience and thanks for your thoughts.

  17. At the risk of sounding hopelessly postmodern…

    The not-fully-developed thought keeps ringing around my brain is that these categories of conservative and liberal might not be helpful anymore. They seem to be proxies for the ancient – and seemingly more appropriate to Christian theological discussions – term “orthodoxy”. I get that “orthodoxy” and its cousin “heretic” were used to literally club people over the head (and burn them at the stake, or put them over the rack, etc etc), and it seems reasonable to me that we cast them off for a time.

    But it also seems the pendulum has swung too far the other way, and now we’re all far too invested in the invented categories of “conservative” and “liberal”. And really in the end we are talking about orthodoxy anyway, we just assume it to be implicit within our personally preferred category – if I’m conservative evangelical then of course conservative is equal to orthodox, if I’m liberal mainline Protestant, then of course liberal is equal to orthodox.

    Maybe the path forward is a robust, humane, cool-blooded discussion on orthodoxy? Perhaps it will allow us to evaluate the issues we’re discussing form a new light? Or perhaps it’s more likely that we’ll have the same debate using a different term?

    • Well okay then. Who gets to decide which one of us is the heretic?

      • Obviously it’s you.

      • On a more serious note – I have no idea. Maybe a miracle could happen and we could have a global (Christian) ecumenical council in which orthodoxy is clearly defined against modern heresies?

        • Great! In that case, who gets to be on the council? Who gets to set the agenda? (Some emperor? I think there is only Japan’s.) And will voting require a mere majority, high majority, consensus, or what?

  18. I am an Episcopalian. Our parish like the majority are filled with OWLS ( old white liberals ) There are few children and almost no people of color. Most Bishops don’t believe in the resurrection, sin , or the virgin birth. These have become just myths. They like to quote the bible on social issues but fail to read the passages about suing your brother or sister. 75% of the church have under 90 people at Sunday services. They only have 600,000 people coming on a Sunday. They never go through the membership lists which is why they show 1,900,000 members but only 600,000 going to church. They really only qualify for cult status. They are the church of ” whatever you want to believe “. I am currently exploring other church”s to attend before the one I do closes within the year.

    • David, please be careful about the use of the word “cult”.

      I’m a Baptist, and my experience with Episcopalians has always been positive, lively, and biblically conservative. The discussion several comments above about “lifeless and cheerless” has not been my experience at all, and in fact my wife and I considered an Episcopal church before we discovered the Baptist church we’re in now.

      Sadly, though, all of my Episcopal friends are either leaving what’s now the Episcopal Church for an Anglican communion, or fighting the good fight in a losing battle. I have two good friends who are bishops (one is retired and mourning the schism that he couldn’t prevent; the other relatively young and feisty and won’t quit) and a lot of my info comes from them. I’ve seen what’s probably the best of the Episcopal Church, and sorry to say at this point that its future is probably Anglican.

  19. Joseph (the original) says:

    now here’s an interesting statistic:

    i was married in a beautiful Episcopal Church that incorporated the Episcopal priest & an independent, non-demoninational charismatic Evangelical pastor in the ceremony. even went thru required marriage counseling with the Episcopal priest beforehand…

    that marriage devolved into a convoluted mess of deceit, adultery, secrecy & just plain wack BS 16 years later…

    be careful what religious mojo is incorporated into one’s spiritual foundation. the outcome just might turn around & bite you in the derriere when you least expect it…

    :)

  20. As a person raised Catholic, just left an evangelical church after six years and now trying to figure the whole church thing out and where to go, I have to wonder why so many people keep trying to make scripture line up with agendas instead of the other way around? I like the CS Lewis quote, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.”‘

  21. You know I understand Tina’s lament up higher in the comments, “I just want to be Christian.”

    I’ve never been to an Episcopalian Church, I’ve just read the news about their trouble and membership loss over the years.

    I’ve got a gay friend who is a member in another part of the country, he was once a worship leader for a small Southern Baptist church plant back here a decade or so ago. I know he was over joyed about the ritual of blessing for a same sex union.

    I know these are all random thoughts, but just yesterday I lost an old high school friend to a sudden heart attach at fifty years old. We played baseball together for many years through public school, and went to church together at a local United Methodist Church. I remember playing ball with kids who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, one Catholic, a few Latter Day Saints, some COGIC, a lot of Baptists and few mainline denominations such as myself.

    Those years were wonderful because we all really loved baseball, and we hadn’t yet gotten old enough to separate ourselves out by our ideologies. We hung out together after games, we worked and sweated together at practices, we were a some type of genuine community of young boys. If coaches or parents tried to proselytize us, I was at least oblivious.

    Now flash forward to the Facebook age where we can all reconnect, and I see the same people segregated by their church identities and their political affiliations. I see endless “funny” posts and links dinging Obama, or Romney, or this or that. I get told why I am wrong in my beliefs and on a bad day I tell “them” why they are wrong in their beliefs.

    I’ve been to church in some holiness churches, some evangelical churches, and mainline “liberal” churches. You know I’ve seen problems in them all, and been a problem myself in some. I’ve seen people try so hard to fit in and be something they were not, I’ve seen women exhausted from all the volunteering, I’ve seen people hiding tremendous sinful problems, but thank God, they were acceptable sinful problems, so most folks turned a blind eye. I’ve seen those with unacceptable sinful problems drummed out. I’ve seen my wife grow so disillusioned that she now won’t go to church.

    But, you know, I’ve hardly ever felt the camaraderie, and joy I did back then with my dead friend Kyle when we are too young to separate ourselves off from one another.

    I don’t know the answers; I just know I’ve seen women who sure seemed to be called to be pastors (and were good ones to me). I’ve seen two good gay men, finally accept being gay enter committed relationships and be more at ease than I ever knew them to be before. One of the best artists and most civic-minded people I know is Lynn an old classmate who has never married and has lived with her “housemate” for years.

    Tina, I just wish to be “Christian”, I wish to have my wounds bound, I wish to be saved from being stoned, I wish to touched while being unclean. I wish I could play baseball with Kyle and all those boys again, even knowing several of us really don’t like each other very much anymore.

    Maybe that’s why so many churches of all ilks are seeing decline in attendance.

    • Exactly.

      I cannot sit here and say that homosexual behavior isn’t sinful when, as I understand the Bible, it is sinful. (I specifically said “behavior” not “sexual orientation”.)
      But I also cannot sit here and condemn those who engage in homosexual behavior when I, too, am a sinner.

      In discussing the Obamacare law with someone recently, and mentioning that some of the leaders in my church agree with it (which I do not–I fear too great of government control on health care and, not only that, we just plain can’t afford it, IMO!) the person advised me, “Just gently show them Scripture.”

      But here’s the thing: THEY can show Scripture also.

      If I bring up Acts 2, they bring up Romans 10. If I say I Samuel 4, they say I Corinthians 5. And on and on and on it goes. It seems that I am regularly outwitted, outdebated, outmaneuvered, outyelled, and outscreamed by people.

      When two people study the Bible–which we are supposed to accept as the guide to our lives–on the same subject and come out with completely, diametrically opposed positions on certain subjects, how in the world are we supposed to know which one is right? There are people who can use the Bible to “prove” that David and Jonathan were gay. I have heard the argument that, “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality.” (Which begs the question: Well, Jesus never said anything about beastiality, rape, incest or abortion, so are we to assume he had no opinions on those subjects?)

      I am one of those who is a conservative Republican and didn’t vote for Obama.
      Yet I refuse to condemn as “not Christian” those who did vote for Obama.

      It seems that to be a Christian in American society, not only do you have to believe on the name of Jesus the Son of God, you have to line up on the “spiritually correct” position on every single issue out there. I use “spiritually correct” here in the sense of “politically correct”. God forbid that you say the world wasn’t created in six literal 24-hour days, or that there might be some truth to evolution, or that maybe, just maybe, public prayer lead by a teacher or principal doesn’t have a place in a public school.

      What has happened to what Jesus himself said were the two greatest commands: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself?

      • Josh in FW says:

        Amen

      • Tina, couldn’t agree with you more. And here’s another thought on that vein…why is my salvation dependent on what someone else believes? Why are we having these shouting matches? Why does someone have to be wrong in order for me to be right? I believe that the power of free will and a personal relationship with Christ means that I do not need to worry about what they “other person” thinks is right. I do not need to condemn others’ beliefs in order to have my beliefs and a worship service that speaks to me.

        • If we tried to sit down and talk about belief and listen to other’s beliefs, we might find some commonality and the in good faith discuss our differences. I feel that my salvation depends on the Grace of God. I have a need to share this with others because it is such an awesome gift.

          The bible is a guide not a club. I attend a Torah study where I am welcome as a Christian. We have some spirited discussions but at the end of the day the question is “What do these words mean to you” I have read the Torah 3 times and have found the words saying different things at different times. I feel God is revealing his will to me in this way.

  22. Marko Requena says:

    ” think that a church which can embrace those who are theologically conservative, but also those who are theologically liberal, and become passionate about creating conversation between those who disagree, and passionate about the quest rather than adopting a particular stance reflecting a particular stage on the journey.”

    This should be the aim of chruch. As a church we have fought way to long the worng battel. We have been fighting the battle for behavior, and lossing the battle of the heart. We need to take at hard look at ourselves and remember that God want our heart not our behavior, becasue He knows that once the heart is His the behavior will come.

  23. After some thought, I have concluded that when reactionary conservative commentators claim that membership loss in the Episcopal church is a sign of God’s disfavor, it says more about the commenter than it does TEC. Conservative evangelicals really need to recover from their obsession with numbers. And God’s wrath is not driving people from TEC: Politics are. And not just the political stance of the leadership: The fact is that parishes and members do not have a voice. The leadership makes decisions many of them do not like and ignores their complains and concerns. At some point, if you want a say at all, the only way you can vote is with your feet. If Schori and friends had any remote framework of acceptability and process for airing grievances, many would stick around to fight it out for their churches. But the leadership squashes dissent. They are shrinking because of their tyranny.

    • I am not disagreeing with what you are saying (especially the fixation on numbers), but rather than an either/or (God’s disfavor v. members’ frustrations), could these consequences be a result of a both/and? Is it possible that the laity’s dissatisfaction and pulling away is based on the same reason as God’s dissatisfaction? God may be allowing that frustration to result in such consequences.

      • I just can’t buy the numbers as God’s wrath when Osteen’s church is doing so well. I insist this is simply a relational fallout, and not something that needs to be spiritualized.

        • I agree with you on the number issues (I have a big problem with large churches thinking their size automatically means they are being blessed, and the reverse), but cannot the relational fallout be tied to spiritual fallout? Does not certain faith, or lack thereof, actions have real/on the ground consequences?

          • It does for some churches. Other churches get away with it. I don’t want to take the place of Job’s friend who says, “Remember: who that was innocent ever perished? Or where were the upright cut off?” Offering spiritual interpretations of material events without a clear word of God on the subject takes us in the direction of John Piper meteorology. Also, so say that their decline is God’s chastisement assumes they are his children when a large part of the Episcopal church is apostate. The judgement of God on them could equally be rendered by granting them numerical success, and thus confirming them in their err for a greater judgement to come.

          • Well said.

    • You are exactly right. Tyranny is why they are shrinking. Shori allows no dissent. This is the same woman who was never a priest of a parish and has no idea what the people in the pews are thinking. She was also the one who on her resume for presiding bishop lied. She said she was the president of a seminary in oregon. It turned out to be a person in charge of adult formation in a small parish. She has spent years trying to erase the details of that lie. So what do we expect from someone suing other chriatians, lying on her resume, no parish experience, and is only inclusive if you believe the way she does.

      • Clay Crouch says:

        That’s a mouthful of accusations. Would it be asking too much for you to supply some sources? Otherwise your comments come off as merely polemic and don’t help the discussion one bit.

        • A booklet published by the Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding listed her major qualifications as: Pastoral Associate and Dean Good Samaritan School of Theology Corvallis, OR 1994 – 2000. Priest-in Charge El buen Samaritano Corvallis, OR and six years experience as Pastoral Associate and Dean, Good Samaritan School of Theology.

          There is no Good Samaritan School of Theology. You can even call the town or any Episcopal Church and ask.

        • The statement in her biography that she was “Dean of the Good Samaritan School of Theology” in Corvallis, Oregon, from 1994–2000, Episcopal Church Joint Nominating Committee for the Election of the Presiding Bishop, “Profiles of Nominees for the Office of Presiding Bishop”, refers to her having been in charge of the adult education programs of the Church of the Good Samaritan. Schori, Katherine Jefferts (July 28, 2006). “Troubling Questions Raised About PB Elect Katharine Jefferts Schori’s Ministry” (in English) (Personal communication to author Terry A. Ward). VirtueOnline. Retrieved March 19, 2011. “The Good Samaritan School of Theology was the then-rector’s term for all adult education programs, both internally and externally focused. They included initiation of such programs as Education for Ministry; “popcorn theology” (movies and discussion); a weeknight meal and education offerings for all ages; Lenten and Advent series; satellite-downlink programs with discussion (begun in the days when ECTN and Trinity were doing so many effective ones); invited speakers; Sunday adult forums; inquirers’ classes; confirmation classes; and so on. At one point, the School offered a set of historical liturgies, about seven or eight from the time of the church father Hippolytus through the 1928 Book of Common Prayer; the series featured instructed Eucharists

          • Clay Crouch says:

            Was there or wasn’t there a Good Samaritan School of Theology? I guess it’s how you define a school. Still a little short on sources. Virtueonline.org is, to say the least, not exactly a neutral source for information on TEC. Now I understand from whence cometh your vitriol.

          • I live in Oregon and can tell you there is no such school. Call and see if you can enroll or get a degree. At the best this was a dishonest attempt to pad a resume in which Schori has never been a parish priest at any level but associate. The name was made up by the rector for their adult education classes. I have been to the church and can assure you there is no school of theology on the premises.You are right when you say that it upsets me. Somehow I expected more !!!!!

    • Isn’t the U.S. Episcopal church run democratically? I understand that they have an upper house of bishops, and a lower house of laymen, and that the bishops tend to be more liberal than the laymen. Perhaps the process has broken down due to entrenched political identities…?

      • The episcopal church practices, you guessed it, episcopal polity, which is the ecclesial equivalent of a dictatorship. For an episcopacy, the Episcopal church includes much more democratic elements than, say, the Roman Catholic church. But bottom line is that the Bishops do not have to answer to anybody for their decisions. Elected leaders should have to. I don’t know all the fine print details (on my own denomination either; it’s a lot of reading!). It does make one wonder, though, how there became such a different perspective between the bishops and the laity. Is there something about being liberal that makes one more likely to wind up as bishop? Then how do we explain the PCUSA who doesn’t have them?

        Either way, it is generally not healthy when politics determine the direction of a denomination. Among conservatives, usually their political bend is based on conviction from their understanding of scripture. Mainlines aren’t necessarily so scrupulous with the text.

        • Oh ,we have sorta bishops in the PCUSA. The cynical take is that them that can’t hack it in the parish (often because of heterodox theology that still, for some reason, bugs the laity) move into the denominational bureaucracy, from when they make statements every so often to test the faithful.

        • I’m reminded of a review last month by Episcopalian Rev. Fleming Rutledge of the new movie about Gene Robinson’s ordination. At the q&a after the screening of “Love Free or Die”, the filmmaker was asked: “I don’t know much about the Bible. You have framed the debate in terms of civil rights. Why did you decide to do that without any reference to what the Bible says about this issue?”
          Apparently, the name of Jesus Christ never came up once in the film, even in Robinson’s own speeches and prayers.
          Review can be fond here: http://ruminations.generousorthodoxy.org/2012/06/love-free-or-die-movie.html

        • Miguel:

          I don’t know where you get the idea that the bishops don’t have to answer to the laity, or are out of touch with the laity. The bishops are democratically elected. They don’t control policy, and never have. Policy is created in the General Convention, and legislation can be introduced by anyone in attendance, clergy or laity. I think your concept that Bishops are out of touch is absurd; they spend most of their time visiting congregations.

          This bizarre meme that Jefferts Schori is some type of dictator is the opposite of the truth, and is basically a fantasy created by those who disagree with her, i.e. some of the conservatives in the church. She can’t create policy without agreement from the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, and the relationship is very much like the U.S. Congress and the President. Do you think the Presidency is a dictatorship ? The just-ended convention was endless legislation and and outstanding example of democracy in action.

          Not all bishops are liberal, either, but the liberals outnumber the conservatives, as liberals outnumber conservatives the TEC. That is simply the way it is. That is the demographic of the church as a whole.

          • I got the idea from Episcopal priest and seminary prof Paul Zahl, in this book:

            http://www.amazon.com/Perspectives-Church-Government-Views-Polity/dp/080542590X

            Zahl openly laments the inability of his denomination to reign in rogue bishops. They may be democratically elected, but do they have term limits? Has one ever been removed? I think that once they are elected they have an unhealthy amount of freedom.

            Obviously Schori doesn’t have the official power of a dictator, but she is shows no more mercy on dissenters. Case in point, the congregation who succeeded and lost their facility. She sold it to a Muslim group who offered less money than the departing parish, in a time of financial crisis no less! The message is clear: my way or the painful way. She is obviously willing to spend donor funds to make a vindictive point. What if she started to teach that Jesus was not a real man? Whose job would it be to hold her feet to the fire? Is there a process in place to deal with this? Did the general assembly approve the ordination of Gene Robinson? I don’t think so, unless I’m remembering incorrectly from the documentary.

            There may be a liberal majority in TEC, especially after the ACNA break off, but the conservative constituency is no minuscule minority. In my interaction with members from a dozen parishes in 3 states, the vast majority I have encountered have been conservative or evangelical, concerned with the direction of the leadership. Their bishops may be in touch with their concerns, but it doesn’t seem to factor into the decision making process. It just seems to me that the bishops are significantly more liberal than the laity. More than one insider comment on this post validates my observation.

          • Miguel,

            Bishops can be removed, they don’t have term limits, except for the Presiding Bishop who serves for 9 year term. The general assembly did approve the elevation of Gene Robinson to Bishop in 2003 in a democratic vote, with a roughly 2/3 majority.

            Jefferts Shori is enforcing the rules of The Episcopal Church, which like all heirarchical churches, the property is owned by the greater church, not the local congregation. It was the Central New York diocese who sold the church, not Jefferts Shori. Anyone who wishes to leave TEC can, but they can’t take the church with them, which is what Rev. Matt Kennedy was trying to do. I don’t know why the diocese made the choice it did in who to sell to. Kennedy is a prominent and very vocal dissenter via his website Stand Firm. Jefferts Shori is actually quite popular in the TEC, and a very mild-mannered individual; this portrayal by some of her as a power-mad dictator is quite fantastic, actually. Local bishops are elected by their diocese, so the idea that they don’t represent what the people in their diocese want also makes no sense.

  24. A few random thoughts on this theme (mostly snarky), coming on the heels on my denomination’s (PCUSA) General Assembly a few weeks ago:

    The PCUSA and the ECUSA are ecclesiastical siblings; both born with the USA (I know, their roots go deeper than that) and captive to its culture ever since. That culture used to be a warm comfortable place for a Protestant denomination to snuggle into; in the past 40-50 years, much less so. As the culture at large has become a lot more prickly place to reside, they both find themselves running hard to try to keep up with a culture that has no desire to slow down and let them catch up. Hence, Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle and their ilk, who are the current gurus of how the church needs to change so it can find itself in that warm cuddly place in the culture again. They are, and I’m sure they’d never admit it, the left’s version of Rick Warren and Joel Osteen. They may say different things, but the goal is the same, to find a way for the church to appeal to a certain demographic, whether white suburbanites or aging boomers.

    In the PCUSA, the long running battles may be viewed, not as theological arguments per se, but as a dispute over “which demographic shall we appeal to?” Aging boomers or the younger X, Y, Z, ABCDEFG generations? Democrats or Republicans? In the ECUSA, the decision was made long ago to appeal to the cultural left; the culture has responded with a resounding “Meh.”

    I find myself saying “A plague on both your houses” to both sides. I am doubtful that denominations (or independent churches, for that matter) so rooted in the surrounding culture can break out and offer something completely different, rather than the same old same old cultural accommodation.

  25. When I hear terms like theologically conservative and theologically liberal I have to wonder how those are being defined. The person and work of Jesus are things that we must be conservative/traditional on and can’t be compromised. Outside of that there is room for discussion.

    But compromise on the core issue of the Gospel and as Douthat said, “…similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism.” Just read about the history of the Unitarian Universalist Movement if you don’t believe him.

  26. Rachel just posted the essay I alerted you to above:

    http://rachelheldevans.com/liberal-conservative-christianity

  27. Randy Thompson says:

    Both the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church have lost 25% of their members between 2000-2010. And, among those still there, the membership is decidedly geriatric. This really does suggest a great deal of non-interest in these historic denominations.

    At the same time, I noticed that the Southern Baptist Church, about as fundamental as you can get, isn’t going anywhere either, numerically.

    I think it’s helpful to remember that the Church abides, but denominations don’t. The Church is still here, although the Donatists, Montanists, and Marcionites are not. This is a problem only if being a Donatist or a Montanist or a Marcionite matters to you.

    Increasingly, I sense we’re looking at the future church, whatever it may be, as a remnant church. Those who have survived the erosion of liberal theology, the erosion of liturgical integrity through a fixation on novelty and being contemporary, and the erosion of intellectual integrity through a thoroughly odd bibliolatry cut lose from common sense, if not reality, will make up a small, chastened, and wiser church.

    But, everyone, remember G.K. Chesterton’s concept of “cheat the prophet”! If you’re not familiar with this idea, it goes like this: Prognosticators pull out charts, statistics and studies and demonstrate what the future will be. Normal people listen to them with great interest, and then go off and do something entirely different.

    I find this helpful in evaluating my own prognosticating.

    • humanslug says:

      Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the imperial era of church history, and I see a lot of similarities between that time and the current state of the Western church — though in an odd, reverse motion kind of way. Instead of the church rising triumphant over pagan culture, we now see the church retreating back toward marginalization against the rising tide of cultural secularization and religious pluralism. And though a lot of the particular issues are different (or, at least, termed in different ways), both eras were times of intense religious argument and division, and both were times in which religion and politics were getting mixed together in the larger cultural struggle. The current debates between science and religion also seem eerily similar to those ancient intellectual duals between the students of Greek philosophy and early Christian apologists.
      Maybe the history of Christianity in the West in traveling in some kind of circle.
      Whatever the case, I think the near future is going to be one of baggage sorting for both liberal and conservative Christians and Christian institutions in the West. For some it will mean dropping some excess, non-essential religious baggage that has been collected over the centuries. For others, it will mean looking back and picking up some important items that were pawned off for shallow reasons.
      We can only hope that this process will be done with our agendas focused clearly on Jesus and His gospel — rather than on political considerations or cultural pressures. I suspect, however, that both will be occurring at the same time — with part of the church (both liberals and conservatives) trying to move closer to Christ and His teachings and the bigger part continuing their pursuit of other rabbits.

    • David L says:

      Maybe the issue of declining membership isn’t related so much to conservative vs. liberal but more to dogmatic vs. open discussion and the ability to deal with disagreement.

  28. Chaplain Mike – I wonder, are you getting tired of the culture wars?

    I know that I am, and – though I like your posts and find them to be excellent food for thought – I don’t know that characterizing TEC’s decisions as coming from “the liberal ‘circus'” is helping to create dialogue. To my way of thinking, it actually furthers the Us vs. Them mentality that I believe you are otherwise striving to avoid.

    fwiw, I’m ELCA myself, though (unlike you) definitely pro-LGBT folks in the church, and pro- same sex marriage, though I was pretty much on the other side of the freeway on those issues for a very long time. (And an active supporter of ex-gay ministry to boot.)

    I just wish we would all stop and listen to one another rather than trying to impose agendas – goes for all viewpoints, in all churches. It’s so easy to become blindered (think horse and buggy tack) without fully realizing what is happening. Been there, done that, have no wish to go back again.

    While I realize that many of the issues mentioned in your post have been and continue to be polarizing, I am so very tired of the infighting and accusations and finger-pointing that characterize so much of American Christianity (or American Christian culture, more like).

    pax,
    n.

    • numo,

      The phrase “Evangelical Circus” has been used by both Chaplain Mike and others writing for this site. It’s got little to do with the “culture wars.”

      Not all of the clowns at this circus have red noses.

      • it still comes across as polarizing, to me, anyway. I usually avoid reading opinion pieces and blog posts that have that kind of Us v. Them language in the headers, unless it’s clearly intended in a tongue-in-cheek fashion.

  29. cermak_rd says:

    I find it interesting that when some of the commentators seem happy about the liberal church decline, they don’t consider how this will, in fact, hurt them. When there is no left side of Christianity, the poles will change from leftward v rightward Christianity to left non-affiliated v rightward Christianity. This means that things like tax deductions for church donations, routine permits for new churches & church expansions, prayers before council meetings, crosses on public lands etc. will become far more disputed.

    Getting rid of leftward Christianity does not mean that the liberals will suddenly start going to conservative churches, after all. Putnam and Campbell, in “American Grace” stat that surveys show that when political opinion collides with a religion in an individual, it is the religion that loses. I am proof of that, as I left a religion due to political ideology (I really believe in enlightenment values) and chose a different faith that did not collide with that ideology.

  30. I once heard a speaker say to gaze at Jesus and glance at everything else. It’s good advice, particularly if you want to have actual relationships with people with whom you may not agree. I go to an interdenominational camp every summer. The only way we all get along is by focusing on Jesus and loving Him and attempting to love one another. Would that there were more places like that. In fact, church should be striving to moderate some of the extremes instead of following an increasingly hostile and contentious culture.

    I agree with the writer above that the powers that be will probably continue to duke it out and some remnant of the church will survive and go in another direction entirely. I can even see this in my own church, where the leadership is constantly trying to find ways to bring new people in and yet our most successful ministries involve grassroots efforts to reach out and help in our community. I do think that this sort of sifting has happened many times over the centuries. When the churches become enclaves of the well to do, they seem to forget about their reason for being. After a while, the Holy Spirit shakes things up, and new churches and denominations appear who are more willing to serve the least of these.

    • humanslug says:

      Another great place I’ve found for interdenominational fellowship and civil, open-minded discussion has been the Cornerstone music festival put on annually by Jesus People USA — particularly in their forums and seminars, but also just sitting around campsites talking with people you’ve never met before.
      Unfortunately, this was (supposedly) the last year of the festival due to economic difficulties.
      I’m definitely going to miss it.

  31. Two thoughts.

    I am an Episcopalian in on of the few growing diocese. My diocese would be considered conservative. After the vote for blessings for gay couples, our representatives left. There were deeply hurtful words thrown at these folks by others that were there. This can’t be the way we are supposed to behave. We knew it was coming – why make a show over something that wasn’t a shock. We’d even released a statement before hand saying please don’t do this. However, there was lots of “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” from the other side of the issue. The Church is just a polarized as the secular state. Sigh.

    This is an issue that we should be discussing, but in the midst please remember that, although it is a quickly shrinking denomination, there are real folks that just want to worship the living God in the Anglican tradition kneeling here.

    When we sing “The Church’s One Foundation” I weep. I came her from fundamentalist Baptist world by way of a hyper-charismatic non-denominational church. I joke that I learned about Jesus from the Baptists, the Spirit from the charismatics, and the Father from the Anglican tradition. When my knees hit the floor, I knew I was home. It is deeply saddening to be in a church so fractious.

    Secondly: Archbishop William Temple said: “the church needs to be very clear in its public teachings so it can be very pastoral in its application.” I believe that this is the great flounder of our denomination. We do not define our terms.

    I pray that we all may be one.

    • EV, it hurts to read this, but you’re right.

      What you said about Archbishop Temple, about the need for the Church to be clear in its public teachings and pastoral in its applications, reminds me of an anecdote about the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. It’s said that when the crisis about the confirmation of Bishop Robinson hit the fan here in the States the Archbishop exercised his leadership by running off on sabbatical and writing a book about Dostoyevsky.

      But that anecdote is probably unkind.

      • Well he did write a book about Dostoevsky:

        http://www.amazon.com/Dostoevsky-Language-Fiction-Christian-Imagination/dp/1602581452

        (And another about S. Bulgakov.) Writing books is a traditional activity for bishops (see JS Spong, NT Wright), though the practice is perhaps less popular today than in bygone eras. As for his response to the Robinson controversy, I found it clear and measured enough, though I obviously disagree with it. Or do you suppose the rift could have been healed if he had worked a little harder?

        • Gerald: no, the rift probably would not have been healed. It’s deeper than that. And I shouldn’t begrudge the Archbishop his sabbatical or his writing, although the person who told me about it did begrudge it because he was directly involved in the aftermath of Robinson’s confirmation. As I said, the anecdote was probably unkind but it’s part of the package of the whole affair.

  32. We wouldn’t be dealing with many of these problems and tensions if Jesus had returned to set up His kingdom during the lifetimes of His apostles as He seemed to have promised and as His followers seemed to have expected. :?

    • That’s what you get when you listen to a being whose communication emanates from eternity.

  33. I grew up in the Episcopal Church, years later when I came back I was heart broken to find that there was really no foundation to their beliefs, we spent a long time talking with the good Fr, but not once did we open a bible or discuss any doctrine. He didn’t want to commit to anything, mostly I think because his fear was hurting someones feelings.

    I also find all this bickering about liberal and conservative be just a bunch of hot air, who cares? Jesus was both, on some things he completely up-ended the rules of the time for the sake of mercy, and yet at others he had hard and fast rules. I hate both camps to be honest…

    The conservatives are pharisees, who live, punish, and explain through rules, rules, and more rules. You can’t do this, you can’t do that, give here or your a sinner, do this, do that….

    The liberals can’t stand for anything, nothing is ever wrong, the idea of a God who will Judge our actions one day isn’t in the cards. It’s all about love and feelings…

    But both are right and both are wrong, and that’s whats so maddening…

    I left the Episcopal church because they had no foundation, I loved the grace and mercy for everyone, but there where no limits. The hard parts of the bible weren’t discussed, or they where simply explained away. It looked like an enclave for old hippys (sorry, that’s how I saw it). I know not all Episcopal churches are like this, but the ones we attended broke out hearts.

    -Paul-

  34. I think part of the problem is that the Episcopal Church and the UCC have less people to lose. The Southern Baptists can afford (for lack of a better word) to hemorrhage a good portion of their membership without entering a terminal decline. I wonder how true that is for the smaller and more liberal churches.

    (I knew some people in a very small Quaker denomination and actually met a good number of the members at one time. Looking around it seemed that this particular denomination was not going to last more than two generations at the most without some massive changes in membership.)

  35. My main thought upon reading both the post and the comments is how useless the categories of “liberal” and “conservative” have become. Both the evangelical church (so-called conservative) and the mainline church (so-called liberal) are being hollowed out. They both are becoming the institutional versions of C.S. Lewis’s men without chests. We like to think that the problem/solution is being one or the other.

    Apparently not.

    It seems that the problem/solution must depend on something else entirely.

    • I know what people mean by “liberal” and “conservative,” but I just wish people would stop patting themselves on the back because of their stance.

      The Church of Uganda, one of the more “conservative” churches in the Anglican Communion (in that their theology is that homosexual behavior is sinful, other basics would line up with a lot of Evangelicalism) is likely dealing with “social justice” far more than their western counterparts. ++Orombi was quite livid at TEC, yet his words of compassion (and seeking justice) for the boys kidnapped into the LRA are grace and compassion filled. Same when bombs went off in Kampala in 2010 — his response has none of the heady preachiness of Piper or Schori.

      Meanwhile the late Bishop Cavalcanti was decried as a “conservative” in some Anglican circles due to his stance on homosexuality, even though he was decidedly socialist — even described as a Marxist. This is not as black and white as some are making it out to be.

    • David Cornwell says:

      I know what these terms meant in the past. Not sure I know anymore. I went on a trip with my pastor when I was 14. i was full of questions about theology and politics. He explained to me in clear terms what being conservative meant, and also what being liberal meant. Even though he himself was conservative, he refused to deride liberals.or cast doubt on their salvation. He taught me a lot, not just about the church, Jesus Christ, and theology, but about life. I will always remember that that 150 mile ride through the hills of Eastern Kentucky and into the Bluegrass horse country. Today the things he taught me are belittled by a polarized and unloving version of Christianity and politics. I don’t like it much.

      • Joseph (the original) says:

        much of what is deemed distasteful can be categorized as either Jesus-lite, or Jesus-recast. it is the either subtle, or very overdone, agenda behind the use of the flavor-of-the-month Jesus that has is the off-color/smell version we may not wish to champion, applaud, acknowledge, or even encourage…

        so, Jesus is now the divine poster Child for many different, & mostly, antagonistic issues that can span the entire spectrum of mildly irritating to downright blasmphemous.

        i think it is the ‘posturing’ behind the distorted Image Jesus is relegated to that may be the most offensive to those that really know Him & live a life humbly reflecting Him to those that we encounter daily. it could be the louder & more insistent of the crowd (the entire right-to-left spectrum) thinking themselves the ‘best’ representatives of the Jesus i know the ones sounding the most discordant. i don’t need their perspectives or doctrinal definitions or their very sincerely felt agendas. i have no influence in the grander denominational guideline jostlings or the national/international proclamations regarding this or that current concern. i do not jump up onto any bandwagon, volatile cultural issue, portable soapbox warnings, etc. paraded by in the name of Jesus, His gospel, or His pet peeve topic…

        Lord, please, have mercy on us, your followers… :(

    • I think many people can define the words, but although they use a similar vocabulary they are to some extent using different dictionaries.

      More important — it’s less about definition than about usefulness. Justin’s comments point out the problem inherent in calling anyone either conservative or liberal. The label doesn’t really capture the nuance. The instruments have become too blunt to be useful.

      Certainly any analysis of what is going on in TEC requires nuance.

  36. does anyone else think that Diana Butler Bass looks like Joan Cusack?

  37. OK, here I go…one of those Liberal Episcopalians from the PNW. I debated whether or not to weigh in and have been absent for a few days because I knew this post was coming and wanted to be ready to post a comment.

    First of all, to all those who have been to none, or a few or just one Episcopal church and have allowed that to form their opinion, let me speak to that. Every denomination has a wide variety of expressions – even within something as stodgy as the RC church. There are 3 Episcopal churches in my small-ish city. One of them is really tiny, has a militant, but loving woman priest who is married to another priest (he just retired from a different parish). The services there are quaint and the sermons are definitely not mainstream.

    The 2nd one is nearly RC. In fact, the priest won’t serve gluten-free wafers because he follows the papal encyclical about the wafers having to at least have trace wheat in order for them to be sanctified. There is virtually no music at that church and the sermons are extremely Biblical with lots of great theologians thrown in for good measure. The priest is extraordinarily erudite and very conservative.

    Then there’s the one I attend – the largest of the three. We are growing like gang-busters since the arrival of our new priest. We had been waning severely in membership, but the new blood has brought on lots of new members. He just finished an advanced theological degree and has read more than anyone I’ve ever met. His sermons are very socially aware, very inclusive, but also based clearly and unerringly on the Bible. Our music program is pretty insane – we have 5 choirs, a bell choir, 2 guitar groups and a myriad of soloists and small groups. You’ll just as soon hear Mozart in church as any hymn. We do RC music (where appropriate) and even Duke Ellington. We have some hand-wavers, a few tongue-speakers and some frozen chosen pew warmers. We would like more young people, but have been growing particularly well in that area recently.

    My best friend attends the virtual RC-clone – it speaks to her and she loves it. I have several friends who attend the teeny church. It seems there is something for everyone here.

    I think if you looked at any other denomination in the country, you would likely find the same variability between churches. To say that we’re all frozen chosen or singing to the salmon would be unfair characterizations. And to say that everyone loves or hates the recent votes would be unfair as well.

    Unlike some churches I’ve been to, we have 4 readings each week from the Bible – topically selected to provide a cohesive theme to the service. The Revised Common Lectionary is a great way to work through the major theological roadstops in the Bible in 3 years’ time. The companion Daily Office covers a lot of the Bible as well. I have met priests who are non-committal in regards to dogmatic questions, but I’ve also talked to plenty of Methodist , Presbyterians, and other flavors who are equally unwilling to hurt people’s feelings by alienating them with dogmatic gotchas. I don’t think that Episcopalians have the corner on that market.

    To anyone who doesn’t think that the Episcopal church has any catechism, I refer you to the Book of Common Prayer – there is an entire section on catechism – and I challenge you to find a priest who doesn’t have most of it memorized or doesn’t believe it.

    I used to play organ as a substitute and at one point I counted over 100 Episcopal and Catholic churches I’d played in over the many years of my life. I have yet to meet a priest or a bishop who doesn’t believe in the resurrection, etc. Saying that is like saying that only gays get AIDS. It sounds bold and inflammatory and incites all kinds of discussion, but is simply not true.

    I would like to say in closing that I’m amazed at the amount of misinformation about our church that is being perpetrated right on these pages by people who have limited exposure or none at all to our church. I would challenge folks to look to their own denominations, even RC, and say the same isn’t true there. The Episcopal church is dynamic, as any denomination is, it is filled with a wide variety of people and experiences. Even in my small town, there is a huge variation in the churches, yet we all read from the same Bible and celebrate the Eucharist in common. We worship the risen Lord, speak the Nicene Creed every Sunday (except when we say the Apostle’s Creed during baptisms). We celebrate his Last Supper each week and share communion around the chancel in a personal, yet communal way. We have all kinds of different people behind the altar and serving in all aspects of the church.

    To me, it’s not about numbers – salvation has never been about the quantity of conversions, IMHO. I do not think that God is keeping score. It is not a competition (your church is growing more than my church). It is not about butts-in-seats nor is it about who has the best digs or the coolest clergy. It’s about providing a variety of Christian expressions to meet the needs of ALL God’s people, not just the people who are like you. And I said it above and I’ll say it again. You do not need to be wrong in order for me to be right. And I don’t need to be wrong in order for you to be right. Your salvation is not dependent on whether or not some churches have LGBT clergy. God is LOVE. Period. On THAT lies all the law and the prophets.

    • +100! (I’m ELCA – Lutheran – but am aware of combinations and permutations of belief and practice within TEC and am so glad you addressed this post and many commenters.)

    • fwiw, I am more than half Anglican in my beliefs at this point… someday I might take that jump from Wittenberg to Canterbury. ;)

    • Thank you LA. Two observations on your comments:

      Not too long ago as part of a new church search for my family, we attended an Episcopal service in a nearby small town in NH. What struck me most forcefully is that I heard more scripture read during that single service than in several Sundays at other local evangelical churches combined. I place my hope for the Episcopal church (and any other for that matter) in the fact that the Word of God will do it’s work.

      Second, your comments highlight the disparity between boots-on-the-ground churches and the direction of denominational leadership. It’s a very common problem (or phenomenon if you wish to sound more objective). I don’t understand that dynamic, but it is a common one. Nor am I at all certain what is to be done about it, if anything. How does all this high-level denominational messing about play in the pews?

      • Dave, from the pews very little changes. I know personally all the delegates sent from my state since I am very active in diocese wide events. I know that they each struggled with the voting, but honestly, there was far more angst in the pews over a recent diocesan vote regarding health insurance for church staff than anything voted on at the GC this year- it meant a lot to our budget. There really isn’t that much effect in the pews, except to have to be subjected to the kind of wrinkled noses and wagging fingers I experienced on this blog. Which is irritating because it distracts us from loving each other. I don’t see why everyone gets so concerned with telling us we’re wrong or not Christian enough or that we’re misguided – if you don’t agree with TEC, then don’t go to one. And if you went to one or a few, don’t paint the entire denomination based on such limited experience.

    • Clay Crouch says:

      LA, thank you for this comment. You have done a marvelous job painting a picture of the Episcopal landscape.

    • LA, thanks for the perspective. And as Dave D said, there really is a lot of bible read in Episcopal churches, I think because of the Book of Common Prayer.

      In the small town where I attend a Baptist church (conservative/evangelical, in an otherwise liberal American Baptist Convention), there are two Episcopal churches, one very conservative/evangelical and the other very liberal, in fact they just signed on a gay male as their new priest. There’s something for everybody.

      By the way, if I could plug the novels of Susan Howatch, I get a lot of insight into the Anglicans over in the UK with her six-volume series of “Starbridge” or Church of England novels. She paints the picture of a “big tent” in which the Church of England has room for evangelicals, charismatics, Catholics, liberals, neo-orthodox, you name it. Plus it reads like a high-class soap opera and she can really rub words together.

  38. It doesn’t even surprise me any more when the Episcopal church behaves this way. They opened the door by denying God’s word as authoritative a long time ago.

    Josh Mann

    Bibliocentric.com

  39. Im no professional, but I imagine you just made the best point. You obviously fully understand what youre talking about, and I can really get behind that. Thanks for being so upfront and so honest.

  40. Great article, exactly what I wanted to find.