Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Killing a Church

Virginia's Supreme Court recently ruled against conservative former Episcopal Church congregations trying to keep their property as members of a new theologically orthodox Anglican denomination. Hundreds of local churches across America are agonizing over whether to remain in the old and increasingly heterodox Episcopal Church or depart, potentially losing venerable church properties.

Former Dallas Morning News editor and current syndicated columnist William Murchison remains in the old denomination. He published his book about the Episcopal Church just in time for the denomination's implosively historic 2009 General Convention, which officially sanctioned gay clergy and same-sex unions. Himself a long-time active Episcopalian in the theologically orthodox Diocese of Dallas, and partial to the church's Anglo-Catholic wing, Murchison sagely traces the church's fall from America's most culturally elite church to an increasingly marginal, though still highly entertaining religious sideshow.

The Episcopal Church's current crisis technically began with its 2003 election of openly homosexual Bishop Gene Robinson, igniting growing tensions with the nearly 80 million member Anglican Communion, especially its increasingly dominant and conservative African members. But Murchison traces the church's wrong turn to the 1960s, when Episcopal elites increasingly chose for cultural conformity rather than cultural transformation. Like other Mainline Protestant elites, Episcopalians began to shed "exclusivist" claims about Christianity in favor of pluralism, where every ideology has a voice except for orthodoxy.

Not surprisingly, the rejection of orthodoxy in favor of cultural and political fads, whatever the spiritual consequences, has been disastrous for Episcopalians and all Mainline Protestant denominations, all of which have been losing members since the 1960s, between 25 and 40 percent. Former Presbyterians and Methodists and Lutherans either gave up on organized religion, or they joined evangelical or Catholic churches, or they, more permanently, died (!), leaving few if any descendants, as Mainline Protestants, especially Episcopalians, have notoriously low birth rates. The current Episcopal Presiding Bishop even celebrated this demographic collapse, claiming that Episcopalians were protecting the planet by abstaining from children.

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