“The meltdown of liberal Christianity”

Why is the Episcopal Church near collapse?

Christ Church in Plano, Texas — a large congregation leaving the Episcopalian Church.
(image from Beliefnet)

The headlines coming out of the Episcopal Church’s annual U.S. convention are stunning — endorsement of cross-dressing clergy, blessing same-sex marriage, the sale of their headquarters since they can’t afford to maintain it.

Somehow slipping out of the headlines is a harsh reality that the denomination has been deserted in droves by an angry or ambivalent membership. Six prominent bishops are ready to take their large dioceses out of the American church and align with conservative Anglican groups in Africa and South America.

This is no longer George Washington’s Episcopal Church – in 1776 the largest denomination in the rebellious British colonies. Membership has dropped so dramatically that today there are 20 times more Baptists than Episcopalians.

U.S. Catholics out-number the Episcopal Church 33-to-1. There are more Jews than Episcopalians. Twice as many Mormons as Episcopalians. Even the little African Methodist Episcopal denomination — founded in in 1787 — has passed the Episcopalians.

Among the old mainstream denominations reporting to the National Council of Churches, the Episcopal Church suffered the worst loss of membership from 1992-2002 — plunging from 3.4 million members to 2.3 million for a 32 percent loss. In the NCC’s 2012 yearbook, the Episcopal Church admitted another 2.71 percent annual membership loss.

Convention attendees were told that they had spent $18 million this year suing their own local congregations — those which have protested the denomination’s policies by trying to secede. The New York hierarchy has consistently won in court – asserting that the local members signed over their buildings decades ago. As a result, some of the largest Episcopal congregations in the United States have been forced to vacate their buildings and meet elsewhere.

So now, convention delegates were told, the denomination is the proud owner of scores of empty buildings nationwide – and liable for their upkeep in a depressed real estate market where empty church buildings are less than prime property. It’s the classic “dog in a manger.” The denomination has managed to keep the buildings – for which it has little use.

“The accelerating fragmentation of the strife-torn Episcopal Church USA,” writes Christian author Charlotte Allen. “ in which large parishes and entire dioceses are opting out of the church, isn’t simply about gay bishops, the blessing of same-sex unions or the election of a woman as presiding bishop. It is about the meltdown of liberal Christianity.

“Liberal Christianity has been hailed by its boosters for 40 years as the future of the Christian church. Instead, as all but a few die-hards now admit, the mainline churches that have blurred doctrine and softened moral precepts are declining and, in the case of the Episcopal Church, disintegrating.”

A few years ago, the annual national Episcopal convention overwhelmingly refused even to consider a resolution affirming that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Upon returning home from that meeting, Bishop Peter H. Beckwith, leader of the Springfield, Illinois, diocese, wrote in a pastoral letter that the Episcopal church was “in meltdown.”

Beckwith has joined bishops in the dioceses of Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, California, and South Carolina in asking their church’s top official, the Archbishop of Canterbury in England, for permission to pull out.

Beckwith says the failure of the resolution introduced by conservatives to declare the church’s “unchanging commitment to Jesus Christ as the son of God, the only name by which any person may be saved” was extremely disturbing.

At this year’s convention, David Virtue reported: “In all the talk about same sex this and transgender that, there is absolutely no talk about sin. A psychologist friend of mine opined that talk of ‘sin’ here would be considered psychologically damaging and offensive to a lot of people, especially gays, so it is off the radar screen. ‘No sin, please; we’re Episcopalians.’

Full story at Beliefnet.org.

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  1. Steve Seitz says:

    This article is timely. My 4 year old son and I were driving past a church this evening. It was a very stately church made out of rock. When he asked me what type of church it was, I was shocked to realize that it was now a restaurant. So I told him that it had closed. When he asked why, I figured that I had to keep it simple for his young mind. So I sadly told him that they closed because they no longer preached the truth.

    Interestingly, it looked like it easily could have been an Episcopalian church.

  2. FrMichael says:

    Well the premise of the story is certainly true, perhaps it should be mentioned that the quoted story and convention were five years ago.

  3. Tom Byrne says:

    And yet in this country at least all the ecumenical babble since VII has focused precisely on these liberal denominations that have been falling apart since the late 1960s. I am reminded of the military attache to the German ambassador to Vienna on the eve of Wold War I, who when asked by Kaiser Wilhelm about the readiness of the Austrian army famously replied: “Your Majesty has allied us to a corpse”.

    • anonymous says:

      Well, a funny quote, but “typical Prussian superiority”-mindset:

      The Austrian Tyroleancorps was a sturdy mountain division that fought courageously in WW1. The Austrians were poorly led and poorly equipped in general. The famous Captain Georg Von Trapp was an officer in the Austrian Imperial Navy, and fought as a submarine captain valorously, and successfully (yes, the Austrians had a seaport access at Trieste and a formidable though small submarine force that was the state-of-the-art, as much so as the vaunted Kaiser’s untersee fleet).
      Be careful of that “corpse.”

      Anyway, 4 years later, the Prussian bellicose superiority-mentality set things up for another Austrian, a wounded corporal, to eventually take over Germany in…

  4. Michael McDermott says:

    We have seen this sick scenario played out time and again by the ‘Tolerance Gaystapo’

    The Evil Ones keep the Empty Church Building and the Full Bank Accounts…

    And the Parishioners meet under a tarp in a parking lot

    All in all the folks under the Tarp are the Lucky Ones, for they have kept their Faith, as opposed to Money.

    • Anonymous says:

      Two thumbs up, MMcD.

    • Anonymous says:

      Michael, the LGBT group did that to one Episcopalian church in California, and the male priest left and took most of the parishioners with him and joined the Anglicans. Another denomination sold them one of their older churches for a good price, and they seem to be doing just fine while the once pretty Episcopalian church grounds look unkept now. To be spiteful, they will probably sell it to Muslims as another Episcopal church did. They are destroying themselves in more ways than one but do no know it.

      • Anonymous says:

        It seems another Episcopal group and an Anglican group is in that church now and is calling it by a different name. I do not know how liberal they are, but it seems they do not push same-sex “marriage”, at least not for the time being.

  5. What is this — statistical spaghetti? Throw out a a number and see what sticks to the wall?? Why cite data from 2002? Why no more current data? I think a simple comparative table, listing denominations and membership at each of two dates, would clarify much.

    Why not name the four Dioceses considering changing affiliation?

  6. The Watchman says:

    Western civilization has lost all concept of what is sin especially mortal sin. Governments are trying to run things as if God does not exist. Once you take God out of the equation something more sinister and diabolical fills the void. It is high time that western culture turn to an Almighty God of love and mercy and his Son Jesus Christ King of Kings Lord of Lords True God and True Man. Jesus Christ willingly died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and our eternal destination. America turn to Almighty God and repent and convert before the Second Coming of the Son Man who will come as a thief in the night like a just judge. I love you Jesus. I thank you Jesus. I trust in you Jesus. Pray America Pray!

  7. Old news and somewhat misleading numbers-wise. It’s the Anglican Realignment, well into its second decade. In Catholic-speak it’s schism in part — and unfortunately coming to a diocese near you.

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