Wednesday, 5 January 2005

ECUSA attitudes analysed

The Christian Century magazine published an article last August, written by Bill Sachs of the Episcopal Church Foundation entitled The Episcopal middle: listening to congregations and subsequent correspondence was published in November under the heading Episcopal decisions …

The article makes clear that the situation is not a simple one:

SOON AFTER the Episcopal Church’s General Convention of 2003, an unanticipated phenomenon became apparent. Though lay leaders and clergy frequently described themselves as dissatisfied with the convention, they were unwilling to align themselves with either supporters or opponents of its most controversial actions — electing Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire, and allowing the blessing of same-sex unions. More often than not, it was difficult to elicit whole-hearted dissent or support.

Leaders contacted by the Episcopal Church Foundation often depicted their dioceses and congregations as defined by a “20-20-60” breakdown: 20 percent endorsed the convention’s actions, 20 percent were against them, and 60 percent came down “somewhere else.” As one prominent lay leader expressed it, “I’m not drawn to either extreme and I don’t know where to turn.”

…the majority of Episcopalians are neither totally for nor against the actions of the church’s national body. They view the General Convention’s decisions as compelling a position on a complex issue before the church at the grassroots was ready to take a position.

And in the follow-up, Sachs summarises as follows:

…My point was that the convention’s actions do not reflect the outlook of the majority of people in the pews of Episcopal churches, as the Episcopal Church Foundation’s national survey and a variety of interviews and conversations have revealed. Members of local churches consistently describe the priorities of the convention, and the priorities of their congregations, as being distinctly different. Hence the foundation concluded that somewhat more than 60 percent of all members of Episcopal churches neither fully endorse, nor fully dispute, the convention’s decisions. Local leaders and even some bishops have stated to the foundation that the church was ill prepared for the actions the convention took. Thus a majority of Episcopalians report that they view the convention from afar and view its actions as imposing conclusions they are unprepared to endorse.

Kendall Harmon drew attention to these articles on titusonenine in December: On Bill Sachs and the Episcopal Church Situation from Parishioner’s Perspectives and more recently he cited these articles in a comment here responding to claims that:

The truly disaffected are a small minority of all Episcopalians. …It’s easy to get the impression that these folks appear to be a larger group than they actually are, as they generate quite a bit of noise.

and also that

…the “opposite camp” represents the majority of ECUSA members ;) I’m basing my use of the term “majority” on how votes went on both +Robinson’s confirmation and resolution C051 at General Convention 2003, as well as on the very small minority of U.S. dioceses joining this “Network” thing.

In response, Kendall said:

David Huff’s comments are simply untrue. Interested readers may look at the two Christian Century articles here to see but one of many examples of evidence to show this.

Those elected have long been seen to be less than fully representative of the parishes and dioceses which elect them, in a number of cases quite graphically so. As for Network dioceses, the support is not limited to dioceses, first of all, and there are many supportive parishes he does not mention, but he also does not mention the hostile environment which some encounter in the Episcopal Church when they seek to find out about the Network of affiliate therewith.

I see little comfort for Kendall in Sachs’ analysis:

…such dismay is not the prelude to endorsing the conservative response as exemplified by the American Anglican Council (AAC), which looks to create an alternative church. The majority of Episcopalians value honest acknowledgment of differences and engagement with them. They intend to be collaborators in an open-ended process of discernment, one in which accommodation of diversity, not foreclosure of it, matters.

Fewer than a dozen of the church’s more than 100 dioceses are poised to seek an alternative ecclesiastical structure.

The American Anglican Council does not publish any statistics on individual membership. Before the events of GC 2003 it had around 200 parish affiliates, and now it has, I believe, around 300, or some 5% of ECUSA parishes. The NACDAP does not publish any statistics on affiliation by parishes outside the affiliated dioceses, and within those dioceses there are significant minorities who do not support the Network. It seems likely that outside those dioceses the number of Network-supportive parishes is similar to the AAC number.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Wednesday, 5 January 2005 at 5:23pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: ECUSA

Which makes my point again :) If 20-20-60 is a reasonable guess, then we have 80% of Episcopalians *not* supportive of the hardcore AAC/Network.

Additionally, as Simon mentions above, even in Network dioceses such as my own, there are *significantly* large minorities who do not support their agenda. As a member of a local Via Media USA affiliate, I could rattle off half a dozen parishes from the top of my head which support our group's work, incl. one parish which is one of the largest in the nation.

So I stand by my previous stmts. The truly reactionary AAC-supporters are a small minority who are simply good at making lots of noise. They are unlikely to gain much more steam than they have right now. Cold comfort to those of us mainline types stuck in Network dioceses, but it gives me hope for the future of the church as a whole...

Posted by: David Huff on Wednesday, 5 January 2005 at 6:51pm GMT

it is quite typical of us Episcopalians to just wish a probelm or disagreement would go away. We deal, as families often do, with individual situations quite well but not with taking positions. Inviting us to discussions or asking us to read papers just does not work.However, letting us get to know people who are personally involved does. That is how attitudes towards women priests have been changed.

Posted by: Columba Gilliss on Wednesday, 5 January 2005 at 8:42pm GMT

DHuff wrote: "Which makes my point again :) If 20-20-60 is a reasonable guess, then we have 80% of Episcopalians not supportive of the hardcore AAC/Network."

David, if it's 20-20-60 then 80% of Episcopalians are not supportive of ECUSA's hardcore liberals either!

Is ECUSA just a liberal humanist movement for societal redesign? I was aghast when the Bishops and GC approved Gene Robinson's nomination, knowing that the rest of the Anglican communion were asking for at least a delay, and that ECUSA's own theological group had also been unable to resolve the gay sex issue either. It was as if ECUSA's leadership said "we want to do this now" and "we don't care that the theology and communion issues aren't sorted out yet".

If that's the case then I don't think ECUSA can claim to be either catholic or apostolic any more, nor a committed member of the Anglican communion!

Posted by: Dave on Wednesday, 5 January 2005 at 11:40pm GMT

Dave wrote:
"David, if it’s 20-20-60 then 80% of Episcopalians are not supportive of ECUSA’s hardcore liberals either!"

Quite true, no arguement here. But the question at hand for the ECUSA is whether the current unpleasantness is worth splitting the church over or not. I think it's clear from Sachs' article that neither the 20% of "liberals" nor the 60% of "middle-of-the-road or somewhere else" folks think so. It's only a small minority of hardcore "conservatives" who champion this position (and I know for a fact that not all "conservatives" are on-board with this agenda).

So whatever subset of the 20% of "conservatives" who simply can't abide +Robinson and resolution C051 have a choice: learn to live with the rest of us, or go in peace. Staying, but continuing to be divisive and nasty, is both futile (based on the numbers above) and more importantly doesn't help *anyone*.

Posted by: David Huff on Thursday, 6 January 2005 at 2:55pm GMT

DHuff wrote: "So whatever subset of the 20% of “conservatives” who simply can’t abide +Robinson and resolution C051 have a choice: learn to live with the rest of us, or go in peace. Staying, but continuing to be divisive and nasty, is both futile (based on the numbers above) and more importantly doesn’t help anyone."

David, I'll make the same point again. It is just the 20% of hardcore "liberals" in ECUSA who support the driving through of these devisive and unbiblical changes to christian belief and practice; and they are the ones being nasty to anyone who stands in their way - who resists them pushing the "silent majority" of the church down their road.

I don’t think ECUSA can claim to be either catholic or apostolic any more, nor a committed member of the Anglican communion! If you want to be recognised as legitimate by anyone other than your liberal mates, you're going to have to learn to think about the rest of the Church and submit policies and decisions to proper theological treatment.

Posted by: Dave on Friday, 7 January 2005 at 11:22pm GMT

Hmm. Twenty percent means one out of every five Episcopalians. It apparently includes 12 dioceses, including David Huff's own diocese. If those 12 dioceses and that 20% "go quietly," I doubt the results would be anything like quiet. That 20% will not be spread evenly through the country, but will be concentrated especially in the South and Midwest ("red" areas). In those areas, it would mean massive church closings (if the congregation don't try to take the buildings with them); a lot of these tiny Episcopal churches could not stand that loss.

I'm sure David would be happy to know that many of those "troublemakers," who believe with the Christian church at large that sex was meant to be between a man and woman in an intended lifelong commitment, are in fact leaving. The Episcopal Church reports that 35,998 (about the size of a diocese) dropped out of active membership in 2003, whereas only 8,014 did so the following year ( I am aware of several churches who have been blessed with the impact of these "troublemakers" leaving, and now are in a state of crisis. One can also point to the flourishing Anglican Mission in America, leaving after the 2000 General Convention recognized sexual relationships outside of marriage, and now 70 churches strong. And, of course, we shouldn't forget those churches in California who have left, and would have done so quietly if the bishop hadn't gotten so concerned over the property on which they sit. One popular blog, "Pontifications" (, spends much energy in attempting to persuade conservative Episcopalians that they should leave, that the apostasy of the Episcopal Church is too great, and they should leave for the sake of their spiritual well-being. (The Pontificator quotes Gandalf's line on this subject: "Fly, you fools!" -- I find it highly ironic that you ultimately agree with the Pontificator in this issue. It does indeed appear that the Episcopal Church is well on its way to becoming an "inclusive" church of an elite and dwindling group of wealthy and well-educated individuals who hold to ultra-liberal social, political, and theological views, see the gospel as infinitely malleable to their own agendas and lifestyles, and hold in contempt those who do not accept their "inclusive" views.

I have bad news for you, David: Many of us are not leaving, and we will not be silent. This is our church too, and you cannot and will not exclude us from it. We are here, and the Episcopal Church will have to stop hoping we will go away, or will acquiese to the new agenda. It's not going to happen; the rest of the church will simply have to deal with us. We will not be intimidated by the spin you place on these statistics, which actually say that 80% disagreed with the decisions of General Convention 2003. We know that truth is not determined by popular opinion, though we know popular opinion is on our side, and even the Windsor Report acknowledges that the majority of the Christian world views the actions of General Convention 2003 as apostate. We will hold to the faith and practice of the Church as it always has been taught and practiced, and will ensure that our children learn it aright. We will continue to protest apostate actions and express our opinions, as is our right. We will hold to apostolic teaching and fellowship, and assert the authority of the Scriptures as they are plainly read (not the obfuscation of an agenda-driven exegesis of them). And, inside or outside of the Episcopal Church, we will prevail. We always have, and we always will. This new brand of sexually permissive Christianity is already withering on the vine, and its days are numbered -- check the statistics of the most liberal Episcopal dioceses for evidence. But long after it has passed out of existence, there will still be faithful Christians teaching the truths of sin and redemption, of repentance and faith, and yes, of marriage and chastity.

Posted by: RB on Saturday, 8 January 2005 at 3:23pm GMT

Apples, meet oranges.

David Huff and Dave's _Rashomon_-like dispute underscores the point of political theorist George Lakoff: the one who *frames* the debate, controls its outcome.

If _The Issue_ is "changing what the Bible says about homosexuality," then that 20-20-60 split is read "80% essentially agree w/ me", and if _The Issue_ is "changing traditional Anglican polity, in order to split the Church," then the 20-20-60 split is read "No, 80% essentially agree w/ me."

Is there a way out of the impasse? Not as long as each side insists on its frame, and refuses to see the Truth of the other side's.

I'm obviously not impartial here. What I say to Dave (et al) is that their frame _would_ have primacy . . . *IF* it were factually correct. But since it isn't (i.e. no one's "changing what the Bible says about homosexuality," because the Bible says *nothing* about homosexuality---it can't), ergo, the subsequent arguments following the presupposition of that frame (e.g. Dave's "I don’t think ECUSA can claim to be either catholic or apostolic any more, nor a committed member of the Anglican communion!") simply _do not follow_.

Nevertheless, having an incorrect frame does not mean that seeing their *worldview* (provided by that frame) *overturned* does not produce _genuine pain_. And for that pain, I (along w/ the rest of ECUSA, I think) am truly sorry.

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher on Sunday, 9 January 2005 at 9:16pm GMT

"And, inside or outside of the Episcopal Church, we will prevail. We always have, and we always will."

Probably so, RB. That's what _bullies_ demand: *Power*. Power over others, powers to define who's in, and who's out, power to frame the debate (and declare just what the "Scriptures as they are plainly read" say: it's always _conveniently_ like their *own* agenda). And while they wield power, at the same time bullies always moan and cry, and blame their victims.

It's in knowing my ultimate powerlessness, here on Earth, that I look to Heaven: where the last will be first (and bullies have a surprise in store).

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Monday, 10 January 2005 at 4:02am GMT

JCF wrote
"(and declare just what the “Scriptures as they are plainly read” say: it’s always conveniently like their own agenda)"

Which reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

"You can safely assume that you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do." ~Anne Lamott

Posted by: David Huff on Wednesday, 12 January 2005 at 2:50pm GMT

JCF wrote: "no one’s “changing what the Bible says about homosexuality,” because the Bible says nothing about homosexuality."

Hi JF, DH.

I wrote about "the gay sex issue", not homosexual orientation. Men having sex with men is condemned every time it is mentioned by the Bible's writers, including an apostle or two.

That has also been, and still is the teaching of the christian church; and the rest of the communion repeatedly asked ECUSA to refrain from actions that they had been told would be devisive.

ECUSA really can't claim to be either catholic or apostolic any more, nor a committed member of the Anglican communion!

Posted by: Dave on Thursday, 13 January 2005 at 7:48pm GMT

"I wrote about “the gay sex issue”, not homosexual orientation."

No. Sorry, Dave, it doesn't work that way.

"Gay" in its contemporary usage, means the same thing as "homosexual": "being sexually/romantically-oriented to those of the same sex."

Ergo, it is *just as nonsensical* (anachronistic) to speak of any kind of condemnation of "gay sex" in the Bible, as it is to speak of a condemnation of homosexuality.

*The issue is same-sex sexual orientation*: innate (most likely genetic/prenatal in origin), immutable, life-long, completly capable of being healthily (and _faithfully_) expressed, and *by any fair-minded evaluation, God-given*. If one doesn't *understand* this, they are painfully, disastrously _missing the point_.

And the Gospel: how can one love the God one hasn't seen, if they fail to love (love=understanding) the LGBT brother or sister they can?

Posted by: J. Collins Fisher on Friday, 14 January 2005 at 6:09am GMT

Hi JCF. What I'm saying is that the act of gay sex is written about in the Bible. What you said a few posts ago was the "the Bible says nothing about homosexuality".

The bible doesn't use the word homosexuality, but I still think that this arguement is very weak if you mean by it that we can find nothing of relevance in the bible.

There are other moral/ethical issues facing us today that were not addressed at all in the bible (human cloning for instance) but even then we can extract principles from the bible to help us in understanding what God's attitude might be.

However, in the case of homosexuality there is direct comment on same sex desire and sex acts. There are several instances where men having sex with men is mentioned - and it is always condemned as sinful.

Now, you might think that the bible's writers didn't realise that MSM isn't "un-natural" for some people, or you might think that they were just plain homophobic and wrong, but the MSM sex act was clearly condemned (along with adultery, fornication, incest, perversions, orgies and the like... and even plain old lusting !).

Posted by: Dave on Friday, 14 January 2005 at 5:11pm GMT
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