The liberal church in meltdown
The rift within the Episcopal Church is a sign of the failure of liberal Christianity.
Posted: 12/ 21/ 06 11:05 am
The writer here seems to be a conservative Anglican – and this article is highly instructive as to what is occurring in this hour in liberal mainstream churches -- it the article they name the Anglicans Methodists Presbyterians and Lutherans as all having these same trends. We will add to this list Liberal evangelical churches and liberal fundamentalist churches which as suffering from the infiltration of hundreds of homosexual, feminist, humanist and even atheist pastors that have silently crept into their midst. As has been plainly stated in other news articles on this website.
This past Sunday several churches in Northern Virginia announced that their congregations had voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate themselves with Anglican dioceses in Nigeria and Uganda.
Their reasons were the same ones that have prompted Episcopal congregations and even entire dioceses across the country to sever their national ties in recent months: decades of liberalizing trends in the Episcopal Church that have led to, among other things, the confirmation in 2003 of the openly gay V Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire and the election in July 2006 of a presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Diocese of Nevada, who is not only a woman (a contentious issue among conservative Episcopalians) but supports both Robinson's confirmation and church blessings for gay unions.
Jefferts Schori pooh-poohed the mass departure of the Virginians, declaring that they were a splinter collection of malcontents looking for a "quick fix" and that they had failed to embrace "diversity" and "tension," which she defined as the essence of Anglicanism.
She has her head in the sand. The Episcopal Church is in serious trouble only compounded by the current schism. It is a church in demographic free-fall, its numbers now standing at 2.2 million (by Jefferts Schori's own estimate), down from 3.4 million at its heyday in 1965. At the 2,700 Episcopalian parishes nationwide, the median Sunday worship attendance is 80 people, and the churches they attend would be crumbling ruins were it not for their substantial endowments left over from the 19th century, when most of them were founded.
Like other mainline Protestant groups in America - Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and the like - the Episcopal Church decided some 40 years ago that the future of Christianity lay in accommodating its theology and moral teachings to whatever was fashionable or politically correct in the secular culture. Militant feminism and blessings for gay sex were only part of the doctrinal upheaval. Avant-garde clerics and theologians throughout North America and Western Europe scoffed at the traditional Christian teachings that Jesus Christ had been born of a virgin, worked miracles, died for human sin, rose from the dead, and founded a church that was supposed to be the means of salvation.
All those liberal strands of Christianity are paying the price for their devil's bargain with secularism in vastly diminished numbers, as members figure out that when a religion lets them do whatever they want, one of the things they don't want to do is go to church on Sunday. The mainline denominations, which once represented 40% of US Protestants, now represent only 12%: 17 million out of 135 million.
To put it bluntly, liberal Christianity is in meltdown. The election of Jefferts Schori, a theological liberal who prayed to a female Jesus at last summer's bishops' convention, together with the bishops' vote not to endorse the bedrock Christian proposition that Jesus is Lord, proved to be the last straw for many Episcopalians who believe that the essence of their Anglican faith isn't "tension" but fidelity to the Bible and the Christian creeds.
In fact, those conservative Northern Virginia churches that split off on Sunday may be few in number, but they represent an island of vibrancy in an otherwise moribund denomination. They are large, prosperous, highly educated congregations in large, prosperous, highly-educated Washington, DC, suburbs: Fairfax, Falls Church, Sterling, Woodbridge.
They join four other Northern Virginia churches that have similarly severed their ties with the Episcopal Church, and two more churches are likely to schedule similar votes in January. These 14 churches, together with a 15th that had been expected to announce a vote on Sunday but did not, constitute only 7% of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia's 197 parishes, but represent 11% of its baptized membership of about 90,000 and 18% of its average Sunday attendance of 32,000. Live people instead of dead people pay for their upkeep.
What happened in Virginia is a sign of growing awareness among conservative Christians that they are not - contrary to the way they have been painted by the liberal denominations and their sympathetic friends in the liberal media - a theologically backward, inevitably diminishing minority of dissenters from the enlightened Christian mainstream.
The recent petition by evangelical Anglican clerics in England to be freed from the supervision of liberal bishops is another sign of changing times - for their congregations represent a full 34% of the 900,000 English Anglicans who bother to go to church on Sunday. It has finally dawned on orthodox believers in the west that they may have the numbers on their side after all. The worldwide Anglican Communion has 77 million members, and in the Third World, where the Anglican Church is growing rapidly, conservative Anglicanism prevails.
For years the wealth, historic prestige, and trendy theology of the Episcopal Church have secured it outsize press attention that has obscured its marginal status in worldwide Anglicanism and American Protestantism. The election of Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop and the pomp surrounding her installation at the National Cathedral in Washington seemed designed as displays of liberal triumphalism.
Lately, however, the cracks in the façade have been showing. There is talk among liberal Episcopalians of "remnant" churches, and Jefforts Schori's assertion in a New York Times interview that Episcopalians are "better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations" amounted to a candid admission of numerical decline.
Jefferts Schori has also indicated that she will use the resources of the national church to fight to the teeth in court any efforts by churches in Virginia and elsewhere to keep their property after they secede. Perhaps she will succeed, and tiny groups of liberals will replace burgeoning conservative congregations. When and if that happens, however, it is likely that she and her church will be competing with a thriving branch of American Anglicanism that takes the traditional teachings of its faith very seriously.