Saturday, July 14, 2012

Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?

IN 1998, John Shelby Spong, then the reliably controversial Episcopal bishop of Newark, published a book entitled “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Spong was a uniquely radical figure — during his career, he dismissed almost every element of traditional Christian faith as so much superstition — but most recent leaders of the Episcopal Church have shared his premise. Thus their church has spent the last several decades changing and then changing some more, from a sedate pillar of the WASP establishment into one of the most self-consciously progressive Christian bodies in the United States.

As a result, today the Episcopal Church looks roughly how Roman Catholicism would look if Pope Benedict XVI suddenly adopted every reform ever urged on the Vatican by liberal pundits and theologians. 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.

Yet instead of attracting a younger, more open-minded demographic with these changes, the Episcopal Church’s dying has proceeded apace. 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.
Read the rest here.
HT: T-19


Anonymous said...

The reader's comments are far more insightful than the writer of the article.

I think that this article just points to a crisis that has been in the making for over two generations at least.

Asking questions, not getting any meaningful answers except "repeater pencil" ( to quote Lester Young the genius saxophone musician), quotes is not the way to respond.

But, unfortunately, there will be many who will enthusiastically endorse the "repeater pencil" even as they sit wondering what it means.

I'm really not sure what "liberal" and "conservative" means in this article.

After all, is questioning or criticizing the priesthood "liberal", ( see the Parable of the Good Samaritan)?

Is questioning or criticizing those who interpret the Law, ( numerous referenbces in the N.T. about Pharisees, Sadducees, etc;),

One may wish for a simpler time when all the answers were there, supposedly. But such a time was never.

Jon Marc said...

How does the decline in attendance at ECUSA parishes compare to decline in attendance at other churches? Is it markedly different from, say, Presbyterians or Roman Catholics or simply a symptom of overall declines throughout the West?

John (Ad Orientem) said...

The last figures I saw indicated that the Roman Catholics were more or less treading water in ASA but were still suffering from a catastrophic decline in religious vocations which generally began in the years right after Vatican II. There has been some improvement in recent years, but there is still a critical shortage of priests.

As for Presbyterians, they have seen a precipitous decline in ASA although not quite as dramatic as the Episcopalians. It's worth noting that the Presbyterians are generally seen as a another liberal mainline Protestant denomination.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

One more quick thought, at least some of the Piskie's drop in ASA can probably be attributed to the mass departure of conservative Anglicans who bolted en mass following Vickie Gene being given his pointy hat. Several dioceses seceded from TEC.

The Archer of the Forest said...

From its own internal numbers (let me see if I can find that report in a minute), the Episcopal Church had lost about 23% of its members and ASA in the last ten years.

It is hard to gauge from the actual numbers how much of that is from people flat out leaving or from people simply dying off. The Episcopal Church has the oldest median age of parishioners of any mainline denomination due to the fact that we notoriously don't have children and we don't evangelize (at least to any normal demographic who is actually going to come to church regularly).

We've been told for years this lie that all this new stuff (Women priests, new fangled PC liturgies, full inclusion of GBLTQi(subsequent letters no doubt to follow)) will open the flood gates to membership, and all these disenfranchised liberal unchurched folk are going to come flooding into our pews. And yet our decline in membership and ASA is going down the tubes exponentially. To that lie, I have been saying the old folkism, "Fool me one, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

I have personally had 16 people in the last week tell me in some capacity that they are leaving or contemplating leaving because of the latest General Convention decisions. I'm just at a loss. For the first time in my ordained life, if people have asked me if they should leave, I've told them simply, "Yes, you should." It breaks my heart, but transsexual clergy? Pass.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Here's one that was released covering the Episcopal Church decline from 2006 to 2010:

I notice interestingly that the ten year report which was a bombshell has been removed entirely from the Episcopal Church's main website.

The Archer of the Forest said...

And if you want to read some really insane propaganda, read this article from the Episcopal News Service:

Again, notice how the link in the second paragraph/sentence about the "decrease is part of a trend that has seen membership decline by just more than 16 percent since 2000" leads to a "Page not found" dead end.

Brian Carpenter said...

Liberal Christianity is emphatically not about adding works to faith as the writer argues. It is about enthroning man's very fallible reason over God's own revelation, but trying to keep the outward forms of the orthodox faith.

I say this as the product of a liberal (Presbyterian) seminary and a former minister in the mainline Presbyterian denomination.

CS Lewis saw this pretty clearly long before the sociological results were manifest:

Anonymous said...

Anon@9:37 p.m.

In theology there is no such thing as liberal or conservative. These are political distinctions. There is also a difference between criticism and declaring one's personal views theology.


Michael Commini said...

Rather than leave a rather long reply on John's blog, I typed up a post of my own.

The Archer of the Forest said...

Here's the link to that 10 year study that shows Average Sunday Attendance down 25% in 10 years: