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.