Monday, 10 April 2006

A Church Asunder

The New Yorker magazine this week has an article by Peter J Boyer entitled A Church Asunder The Episcopal tradition confronts a revolt. This article is not (so far) available online, but a related interview is:

Faith Matters
Issue of 2006-04-17
Posted 2006-04-10
This week in the magazine, Peter J. Boyer writes about how the election of a gay bishop has divided the Episcopal Church. Here, with Matt Dellinger, Boyer discusses the controversy and the changing face of religion in America.

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Categorised as: ECUSA
Comments

Sadly, Boyer is stuck on the old canard that the more ridiculous the things that religions ask members to believe, the more people join.

In the US the denominational numbers are demographic -- the mainline numbers are congruent with their declining percentage of their demographic of the overall population (i.e., mainline Protestants parents have fewer children) -- FWIW, the Southern Baptists are no longer growing but are also declining (for the same reason) -- the number of Roman Catholics is increasing because of immigration (see all the furor about illegal immigration) -- the number of Mormons is increasing because they continue to have very large families.

Truth seems to have no bearing on denominational size.

Here is a link to a Baptist publication discussing the issue:
http://www.baptiststandard.com/postnuke/index.php?module=htmlpages&func=display&pid=4064

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Monday, 10 April 2006 at 2:59pm BST

Our church here in Portland, Oregon, is "broad" church in style and progressive (leading the way with the local Episcopal Peace Fellowship, environmental stewardship, open acceptance of gays and lesbians) - and is fast-growing. Like most Episcopal churches in the U.S., it is physically small. Our biggest problem, now with four Sunday services, is fitting everyone in. It is unfortunate that Boyer doesn't dig a little deeper to see what's really happening on the ground. IMHO when you combine our wonderful Prayer Book liturgy, a progressive and inclusive outlook, and characteristicaly good preaching - folks are hungry for that and we will see a reverse of the decline. In fact, the Episcopal Church saw a bit of an increase this yet overall - could it be that doing the right thing with respect to full acceptance of GLBTs could be part of the reason?

Posted by: Byron on Monday, 10 April 2006 at 6:28pm BST

Boyer may *attend* an Episcopal church (for now), but his upbringing...

"Episcopalians, to people who aren’t Episcopalians, are country-club people. I grew up in an evangelical family, Pentecostals and so on—the Baptists were High Church to us. To most denominations, Episcopalians were people who went to a sandstone church with high arches and stained-glass windows, and were very proper. They always got out just on time so they could hurry over to the country club."

...is clearly the POV he still carries. He views the Via Media as a "watering down" (which will ultimately fail to satisfy), instead of the Anglican *faith-claim* of the Gospel (i.e., we don't hold to the Via Media because it's a compromise, but BECAUSE IT'S TRUE).

It's precisely because we hold to the Truth of "reaching out with both hands" (as opposed to smacking away one or the other---or both!), that Anglicanism may be, ironically, the most *demanding* faith tradition of all. How much easier, on an intellectual/moral level, is "Do it because the Pope says so!" or "Do it because conservative Evangelical scholars says this is 'the plain meaning of Scripture'!" than the Anglican way of "read, mark and inwardly digest" Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, and then DECIDE FOR YOURSELF (and then, if in TEC, gather regularly and elect democratic representatives to collectively/contemporaneously decide the Big Questions, discerning together re S,T&R, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit)

[It's exhausting just writing all the above down---no wonder so many (anecdotally, if not demographically, Prior!) would rather R-E-L-A-X, and let the Pope/conservative Biblical scholars decide for them?! ;-/]

God bless the Episcopal Church! :-D

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Monday, 10 April 2006 at 7:17pm BST

As long as God says You're home now, when I come, I'd gladly settle for water.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Monday, 10 April 2006 at 8:45pm BST

Prior Aelred:

Well, if your proposition is true, it seems that one thing is clear: if a church is not linked to a growing demographic it better know how to appeal to a growing demographic or growing demographics. Otherwise, it is doomed to decline.

It is also patently obvious that mainline churches, and most especially liberal denominations like ECUSA, don't know how to do this or they would not be declining in numbers at an ever accelerating rate.

Hmmm. Sounds like ECUSA is just as bound to wither away and become increasingly irrelevant under the demographic model as under any other alternative, so why seek refuge in this theory? It certainly provides no comfort to ECUSA.

Steven

P.S.-I personally think that demographics is a heavy and important factor, but not the only factor. And, I think over-emphasis on this by Southern Baptists as well as ECUSAns is merely a way of avoiding difficult questions that should be asked and answered. /s

Posted by: steven on Monday, 10 April 2006 at 9:40pm BST

I think Steven has a point. The Episcopal Church and the other mainline denominations face real challenges in evangelism, and we don't seem to have developed much of a strategy for dealing with them. That said, it is difficult to have an honest discussion on this issue in the midst of our current conflict because the conversation pretty quickly focuses on whether theological liberalism is the primary reason for our predicament. (Is not! Is so!. Etc.)

Posted by: Jim Naughton on Monday, 10 April 2006 at 11:27pm BST

There are parts of Boyer's interview which are completely lost on me, as a dumb Limey. I don't understand the joke about "whenever there are four Episcopalians there are five" and I haven't the foggiest idea what "Cheever-y" means.

I'm also in some difficulty with J.C. Fisher's concept of the Via Media. While it is, at first glance, positioned over against the traditional extremes of the Roman magisterium and protestant sola scriptura-ism, I think that Mr/Ms Fisher's blend of individualism ("DECIDE FOR YOURSELF") and imitations of secular representative democracy would not have appeared at all typical of a "Via Media" to Hooker, Keble or even Ramsay.

Posted by: Alan Harrison on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 12:32am BST

"Sounds like ECUSA is just as bound to wither away and become increasingly irrelevant..."

Steven, that was the working theory on Good Friday, too. ;-/

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 3:50am BST

Alan - Just to translate the phrases you questioned:

The phrase is "Wherever there are four Episcopalians there is always a fifth" (not "five") - i.e., there is a bottle of whisky. This refers to Episcopalians' not being one of those denominations which ban alcohol, and indeed, that Episcopalians have been known to enjoy a drink.

"Cheever-y" refers to the early/mid-20th century writer John Cheever, the social environment in whose fiction was the Northeastern US upper middle class, a very large proportion of whom have traditionally been Episcopalian.

Best
Uriel

Posted by: Uriel on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 12:06pm BST

Alan: I have no idea what "cheever-y" means either; I thought it was a misprint.

However, as far as the joke goes, it's not "Where there are four Episcopalians, there are five." It's "Where there are four Episcopalians, there is a *fifth*," meaning "Where four Episcopalians gather together there will be a fifth (of, say, bourbon or scotch or something like that. We haven't come in line with the rest of Europe in using the metric system of liters, etc. - or is it litres?)

Funny how we have this thing in America about not coming in line with the rest of the world.

Posted by: Marc on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 12:15pm BST

Hi Alan
Ummm, Episcopalians are known historically for our love of a party. "Wherever there are four Episcoplians, there's a fifth" is an old joke. A "fifth" is a bottle of whiskey, slightly less than a fourth of a gallon, or a quart. We are also referred to as "Whiskopalians." Here's another joke:
Q: How many Episcopalians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Two; one to change out the bulb and one to mix the drinks.

John Cheever was an American author who wrote of the dissipation of middle class, suburban, America. An analysis of his work is found here:
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~MA95/dyer/contents.html
This web site, Narcissistic Personality Disorder, uses Cheever as an example.
http://72.14.203.104/search?q=cache:K2QRD-C_-XgJ:www.halcyon.com/jmashmun/npd/traits.html+john+Cheever+episcopal&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=6
"Appearances are all there is with narcissists -- and their self-hatred knows no bounds. The most dramatic example I can think of is from John Cheever's journals. Throughout his life he had pursued surreptitious homosexual activities, being transiently infatuated with young men who reminded him of himself in his youth, while also living in a superficially settled way as a married family man, a respected writer with an enviable suburban life, breeding pedigreed dogs and serving on the vestry of the Episcopal church. When his secret life (going to New York City for a few days every now and then to pick up sailors and other beautiful boys for brief flings) came to scandalous light, his family sought to reassure him by telling him that they'd known about his homosexual activities for years. Now, a normal person would be ashamed and embarrassed but also relieved and grateful that scandal, not to mention chronic emotional and marital infidelity, had not caused his wife and children to reject and abandon him -- but not the narcissist! Oh, no, Cheever was enraged that they would ever have thought such a thing of him -- if they really loved him, they'd have bought his artificial "country squire" persona: they would have seen him as he wished to be seen: they would have believed his lies without question or doubt."

So, Boyers is quite complimentary to us:-/, although we are most recently known as Episcopagans:-O
Cheers!
Anna

Posted by: faithwatch on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 1:05pm BST

"Cheever-y" would be a reference to John Cheever, and American fiction writer whose tales are often located in the country-club suburbs.

I've not read the article, as I am awaiting my copy in the mail, but perhaps the other reference was the to old joke, "When two or three (Episcopalians) are gathered together [from the Prayer of St. Chrysostom]] there will often be a fifth," meaning a fifth of booze.

Baptists, some Methodists, and lots of others in the American spectrum of churches see Episcopalians as not sufficiently Christian because unlike them, we are not teetotlers [which I am even unsure how to spell, which shows how far gone I am].

Posted by: Cynthia on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 1:19pm BST

“There are parts of Boyer's interview which are completely lost on me, as a dumb Limey. I don't understand the joke about "whenever there are four Episcopalians there are five" and I haven't the foggiest idea what "Cheever-y" means.”-- Alan Harrison

I don’t know what he means by “Cheever-y” either, Alan, but “a fifth” is a measure of liquor. It’s 750 ml, enough to get any man wasted, unlike an eigth/pint which the some of the above people have mistaken to be a fifth, which is about 16 oz which is what you’d be seeing people sipping off of. Then, there’s the good old handle which is 1.75 liters

Posted by: Kurt on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 1:50pm BST

I think Steven has a valid point. In my diocese (Pittsburgh) the conservative parish get the support of the diocesan machine (although at this point +Duncan spends most of his time elsewhere). It's hard to get people to come into the doors when your diocesan bishop is saying they church is counterfeit. But thats not the only problem. Parishes need to look out how they differ from other churches in their communities or the national church as compared to other national churches. How we market ourselves is one way of growing. You don't start an soup kitchen in an upper class suburban neighborhood.

Bob

Posted by: Bob in Penn on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 2:15pm BST

Steven,
You have a point. The mainstream of ECUSA (and of the Anglican Church of Canada) has not done well reaching out to new and growing demographic groups.

But it is interesting that 2 of the controversial candidates for Bishop of California have strong track records of doing just that, taking moribund parishes and building them into lively centers of evangelism and outreach

Posted by: Jim Pratt on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 2:21pm BST

We may be wandering far off topic, but there are many questions about church growth involved here. In the first place, TEC has varied from .5% to 1.5% of the population from its inception -- it may be astonishing that its influence has been so great considering its size, but such is the case. Second, the majority of active Episcopalians are adult converts, so we must be doing something that attracts people (are any of the candidates for PB craddle Episcopalians?). This implies that we are not keeping craddle Episcopalians active in the church (although they seldom go elsewhere & continue to self identify as Episcopalians, which is why a poll can say that 8% of the population of Rhode Island are Episcopalians while the church recognizes only 1.5%). Third, regarding evangelization, I agree that there is much that could be done, but only if TEC really wants to go that way (remember the Charleston woman's comment on The Decade of Evangelism, "I don't understand this evangelism; I think everyone who OUGHT to be an Episcopalian already IS one!"). I have said for some time that the only way that rthe 20/20 Vision can succeed is if TEC does Hispanic ministry -- if we do, it will take care of itself -- if we don't it simply can't happen. You can't recruit people who aren't there -- as Archbishop Weakland said to the Benedictine Priors back in 2000, "Don't think that there is some change you can make in recruiting that is going to bring us the numbers that we used to have, because our main recruiting base was the big German farm families, and they don't exist any more."

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 2:42pm BST

I think the Good Prior has an excellent point WRT how the larger demographics of society affect church membership.

But something else Boyer said strikes a chord for me. He seems to suggest that the bulk of church-goers want someplace that'll give them easily grasped, and *definitive*, answers. So I wonder if that demographic which packs the fundamentalist, evangelical venues aren't at a stage of their faith that researchers like Fowler or Kohlberg would describe as "legalistic." The "I want to know the rules, and the rules are written in stone. Never violate THE RULES" folks.

Might make an interesting research project for a social psychologist :)

Posted by: David Huff on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 3:01pm BST

David --
I believe that you are absolutely correct -- I am more familiar with Fowler than with Kohlberg (although I suspect that they are very similar). The former rector of my home town parish (which grew substantially under his leadership -- largest confirmation classes since the 1930s) told me, "The people who are leaving the parish are going because I won't tell them what to think." BTW -- a significant part of the growth was a result of his outreach to the gay & lesbian communities.

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 3:45pm BST

Here are some of the hard questions I believe will need to be answered in taking the demographic approach-

Who is ECUSA appealing to demographically? Conservatives or liberals? Red state of blue state? (Although this question is more accurately divided--as may have pointed out--into red county and blue county and--even more accurately--into blue (urban) and red (non-urban) constituencies).

Is ECUSA prepared to give up most of its heartland appeal in order to have more appeal to urban populations? Conversely, is it willing to give up most of its urban appeal to do better in the heartlands?

Can ECUSA appeal to both with tailored messages and approaches in their respective geographic areas and stay together as a denomination?

Can it seek to appeal to both in all geographic areas (perhaps with different churches giving different messages) and stay together as a denomination?

Will ECUSA be able to do this and avoid charges of hypocricy both from without and from within?

And, is ECUSA's concept of truth to be held hostage by demographic necessities? Should it try to change its message to fit the demographics of particular locales or people groups-conservative, liberal, latino, anglo, etc.?

Style is one thing, but content is another. It may be a do-able thing to put together a service that is "friendly" in terms of music and culture to particular ethnic groups, but how about the message? Sooner or later the rubber meets the road.

I could go on, but that's enough for now.

Steven

P.S.-I was surprised to find that our English friends did not know what a "fifth" was. Was this never a term of art elsewhere, or has metrics simply wiped it out? /s

Posted by: steven on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 4:20pm BST

Prior et al.,
I hate to say it but I don't think it has much to do with birthrates at all. Instead, it has to do with the cultural cycle--most Americans (can't speak for Brits and others) disappear from church in their teen-age and college years. Once they have small children is when they start to return. The *real* question as I see it is: how's our retention rate and are we attracting the returning-to-church set?

Posted by: Derek on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 6:58pm BST

Steven --
I have no idea nor influence in any of these questions -- personally, I agree with Dean Alan Jones that we should do what we think is right & the rest will follow.

Derek --
You might be correct in suggesting that exactly correlation between denominational membership & family size is purely coincidental, but I don't believe that you will ever convince any statistician of it. As I said, most active Episcopalians are adult converts (this is certainly true in the monastery) -- this would mean that many cradle Episcopalians drift away & don't come back but many others join the Episcopal Church -- (It has been suggested the you don't convert to the Episcopal Church -- you visit an Episcopal Church & realize that you've always been an Episcopalian without knowing it).

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 8:04pm BST

Prior Aelred said,

"remember the Charleston woman's comment on The Decade of Evangelism, "I don't understand this evangelism; I think everyone who OUGHT to be an Episcopalian already IS one!"

LOL! I thought that I had heard most of the good old Episcopalian jokes, but this is a new one on me!

Posted by: faithwatch on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 9:53pm BST

"Is ECUSA prepared to give up most of its heartland appeal in order to have more appeal to urban populations? Conversely, is it willing to give up most of its urban appeal to do better in the heartlands?"

Just a quick response to this one: JCF, Queer Episcopalian Rad, coming to you from the U.S. heartland! ;-p (Which is to say: Steven, are you positing a false dichotomy?)

There is, admittedly, a bigger North/Dixie split, however. Is there something in the (white, usually) U.S. Southern mindset, which requires a *group to despise*, in order to maintain its identity? (Southerners, please chime in!)

*****

Re (per Alan H) my alleged "blend of individualism ("DECIDE FOR YOURSELF") and imitations of secular representative democracy would not have appeared at all typical of a "Via Media" to Hooker, Keble or even Ramsay."

When I say "decide for yourself", I'm being *descriptive*: each and every one of us WILL decide for our individual selves, whether we acknowledge it or not (I think the latter---when conscience is defaulted to a Pope or a Protestant Bible tract---leads to dysfunctional passivity, IMO).

...but I do not think I am being "individualistic", by acknowledging the individual conscience. It is through acknowledging our subjectivity, that we are best able to *relate* to others' subjective POVs also (for which if "representative democracy" isn't the best way to negotiate them, it is---paraphrasing Winston Churchill---simply "better than all the other ways"!)

Would "Hooker, Keble or even Ramsay" agree? I don't know, Alan. But I am emphatically *not* an "originalist" (made famous in the U.S. by antediluvian S.C. Justices like Antonin Scalia), testing every question by what (one imagines) the voices of history would say: the Holy Spirit still speaks, HERE & NOW! :-D (If we will but listen...)

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Tuesday, 11 April 2006 at 11:58pm BST

Regarding the demographics: in light of the number of us who are converts, many of whom see themselves as "recovering" from a church tradition that didn't allow freedom of thought, and freedom in one's relationship with God, we may be in a low before the next big surge. I have some hope that once again people will find simplistic answers will not sustain them in a growing relationship with God, and they will once again come looking for a place where God is not only worshipped, but also engaged. In recent years the statistics are that the numbers have leveled off. In addition, there were some studies done in the last decade that suggest that indeed attendance at worship is growing, even in numbers of "confirmed communicants in good standing" are not. It may only be a matter of time until a more thoughtful, more challenging, church for a grownup faith is attractive.

Posted by: Marshall Scott on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 at 3:03am BST

Is ECUSA prepared...to give up most of its urban appeal to do better in the heartlands?...Should it try to change its message to fit the demographics of particular locales or people groups-conservative, liberal, latino, anglo, etc.?

Why should it? Why not specialize in providing what it does best for people who like that kind of thing? Other people can go to churches that do the kind of thing they like.

Why not say: We're the Episcopal Church. We specialize in high liturgy, classical music and nice architecture. If you want guitars, try the Catholics. We ordain gays, bless same-sex unions and have lots of gays in the pews. If you're uncomfortable with that try someplace else. Our preaching is, at best, perfunctory. If you like good preaching try someplace else. We don't much care what you believe--if you like our services you're welcome to come, enjoy, participate, and go for Communion. No questions asked.

We're blessed in the US with denominations to suit every taste and every shade of theological opinion--all members of the Body of Christ. The hand isn't the foot; the nose isn't the belly button; the Episcopal Church isn't the Baptist or Catholic or Mormon or Holy Roller Church. Each Church has it's own particular function and calling--when Churches try to play different roles everyone loses

If this sounds too theoretical I should mention that I was on the Evangelism Commission of my diocese, as the powers tried mightily to appeal to non-traditional clienteles, in particular, to demographic groups that were growing--a complete failure. Hispanics, the fastest growing group? Forget it: if they liked being Catholic they weren't going to bother with the Episcopal Church which offered more or less the same thing; if they didn't like it they became Pentecostals. Young working class whites? Forget it: non-denominational ministries offered the music and ambiance they preferred. Trying to appeal to these and other groups didn't get anyone in and just undermined the Church's appeal to people who liked its characteristic specialty items.

Posted by: H. E. Baber on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 at 3:22am BST

Steven,

The term 'fifth' as a liquor measure is a pure Americanism, unknown even here in Canada. The reason is the unique size of the US gallon, 128 oz. as opposed to 160 oz. for everybody else who uses gallons. 750 ml. is approximately one-fifth of a US gallon, but not of a UK, etc. gallon.

The Canadian term for a 750 ml. bottle is "twenty-sixer", reflecting its size in non-US ounces. I've never heard a 'twenty-five Anglicans' joke, though.

Cheers,
Brian

Posted by: Brian Gilhuly on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 at 3:24am BST

Enjoying the advantage of not being on any Evangelism Commission, I have the luxury of agreeing with Dr. Baber, although with the caveat that I have found the preaching in the Episcopal Church far preferable to the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian & Roman Catholic sermons that I have heard -- in part this is also a matter of the different style of what one desires in worship, which is also congruent with the main thrust of Dr. Baber's comment.

TEC has never been and is never going to be a large church because we do not offer what most people want (or think they want) from religion, but what we do offer is something that some of us want very badly indeed.

I should also like to think that Marshall Scott is correct (TEC as "Catholicism for grownups") -- time will tell.

Posted by: Prior Aelred on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 at 2:52pm BST

I think H.E. Baber has a point, but I will take issue with one thing. My Episcopal parish has *excellent* preaching. Our priests are thoughtful, engaging, relevant, intellectual in the best sense, and they never "talk down" to the congregation.

FWIW, we are a pretty mainstream, broad church, which makes us a bunch of flaming "liberals" in our, particular diocese ;) and growing like gangbusters. (sorry to disappoint those who think that only conservative, "orthodox" parishes are growing...)

Posted by: David Huff on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 at 3:48pm BST

All:

A lot of interesting responses to the questions posed. I don't agree with most of them, but that's no surprise. However, I think it is very worthwhile for people to engage the issues related to demographics, and I'm pleased that so many took a shot.

It seems to me that the issues/responses basically boil down to: (1) Does ECUSA change its message to increase its appeal? Everyone says no. (2) Does ECUSA change its style of worship to increase its appeal? Most who touched on the issue seem to say no. (3) Does ECUSA need to try to seek out and better convey its message/style to growth demographics that are congruent with (or may be attracted by) that message and style of worship. I think the answer here is yes.

However, as the current disputes in the denomination (as well as the posts) illustrate, ECUSA's "message" means different things to different people. And, the groups looking for ECUSA's "message" will likewise vary depending on what that message is. So, how can ECUSA evangelize appropriately until it knows what its message is? Won't ECUSA, as previously suggested, end up with different groups in the denomination perpetually at odds with each other and with outsiders completely confused and turned-off by the inconsistencies? Can ECUSA ever hope to grow again while it remains a house divided against itself?

JCF:

Always interesting to read your posts JCF. Here's some thoughts.

I'm a Southerner who now lives in West New York. So, I can respond to some of your comments from first hand experience. The urban/non-urban divide is quite real and I was shocked to find when I moved up here 6 years ago that the folks around me were just as proportionately conservative/liberal as the ones I'd left behind in North Florida. Even in a "blue" state, the dividing line has more to do with urban location (particularly major urban location) than anything else.

No, Southerners do not need someone to hate (or at least no more than any other folks--such as yourself for instance). As a matter of fact, as a Southerner I have grown up with and always had to deal with the type of regional and irrational prejudices expressed in your post. As a young person in the 70's I soon realized watching television that anyone with a Southern accent was portrayed as ignorant, a bigot and/or just plain evil. Hollywood and the Northern attitude has seemingly not changed in the interim, nor have the negative and bigoted stereotypes.

Still, there are differences. From my experience, the prototypical Northern attitude is more reflective of Puritan roots, while the prototypical Southern attitude is more based on a sense of propriety and balance. The latter I think is more generally reflective of the Virginia Anglicans who settled at Jamestown (as opposed to the more inflexible types that settled in Massachusetts). But, that's only a vague theory on my part. And, unfortunately, this is a big subject and I've got to get back to work.

Steven

Posted by: steven on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 at 4:22pm BST

"So, I can respond to some of your comments from first hand experience. The urban/non-urban divide is quite real and I was shocked to find when I moved up here 6 years ago that the folks around me were just as proportionately conservative/liberal as the ones I'd left behind in North Florida. Even in a "blue" state, the dividing line has more to do with urban location (particularly major urban location) than anything else."

Steven, I'm originally from the (suburban/urban) West Coast, then lived in NYC, then rural Central PA, now smalltown Michigan. And from *my* perspective an "urban/non-urban divide" is GREATLY EXAGGERATED (if not altogether "unreal").

Sure, central Pennsylvania is overwhelmingly "Red State", while my area of Michigan could be characterized as "purple" ;-) But nevertheless, with my California-Oregon-Big Apple background, I've NEVER felt out-of-place in these smalltown, rural Episcopal churches (I've been *out* to my rectors, and some parishioners---I think most in my current parish "strongly suspect"! *g*)

This is not to say I think smalltown Episcopal churches are progressive-LGBT "paradises": there was an anti-gay (marriage) initiative on the ballot here last time in Michigan, and I would not be surprised if many in my parish voted for it (even though my rector gave me permission to post a notice in the parish hall, citing Michigan TEC bishops' opposition to the measure---which passed BTW :-( ).

...but at the same time, what I consider to be the "unpleasantness" in TEC at this time, comes NOT because I can't stand to be around conservatives (I clearly can, and will continue to do so), but because a fringe group of *monomaniacal anti-gay extreme conservatives* can't stand to be around people like me!

Re "the South": there are many *wonderful Southerners* in this country, both in the South now, and elsewhere . . . and the best ones, IMHO, are ones who have *broken with* (or at least can constructively critique) the White Southern (hence, chauvinistic) Mindset. I'm just callin' 'em as I see 'em... ;-/

****

HEB, regarding

"We don't much care what you believe--if you like our services you're welcome to come, enjoy, participate, and go for Communion. No questions asked."

That's a framing of *cynicism* with which I am not at all comfortable. If you "like our services"---that is, if you believe in (thankfully) feeding on Jesus, with your brothers and sisters---then that IS "what you believe"! (or, in other words, "Lex orandi, lex credendi". :-) Contradictory, through-a-glass-darkly theological propositions meandering around in our heads being rather *besides the point*)

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 at 6:30pm BST

Hi JCF:

There are indeed conservative/liberal folks mixed up in different proportions all over the place in this great country of ours. I'm quite aware of that. And, in the city it doesn't make much difference as there will often be enough conservatives within traveling distance for 1+ church(es) due to population density. (And, enough liberals in the same area for several churches).

However, in the country people are more spread out. In areas where there are only enough conservatives in traveling distance for one church, there is unlikely to be enough liberals. (I'm speaking generally--i.e, my remarks don't necessary apply in venues such as rural New Hampshire, etc.). This is just simple math. Still, while this is an interesting subject overall, it is not what really concerns me.

To me, the primary question was framed in my last post. How can a denomination give radically different messages on the nature of sin and acceptable behavior to different groups and succeed evangelistically? How can a house divided against itself in this manner hope to win and retain people when it exhibits this type of double-mindedness and confusion?

Steven

P.S.-Your view of Southerners reeks of the type of politically correct puritanism endemic in certain sectors. But, since I have been dealing with this type of thing all of my life, it comes as no surprise. This doesn't mean I don't find your posts interesting to read--even if reflective of someone who is a bit of a ditzy dame.

P.P.S.-I couldn't help fulfilling your stereotypes with that last remark (mark it up to my own twisted sense of humor)--I haven't been referred to as a "chauvinist" in more years than I can remember--ahhh, the nostalgia!).

P.P.P.S.-I also calls 'em as I sees 'em. /s

Posted by: steven on Wednesday, 12 April 2006 at 7:00pm BST

Steven
Let us have no more personal remarks about other commenters please. Not even in P.S.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Thursday, 13 April 2006 at 7:41am BST

Simon:

You're right. My apologies to all, particularly JCF--who I wouldn't tease in the first place if I didn't think she was a very nice and interesting person.

Steven

P.S.-I hope you're only talking about negative personal remarks instead of compliments, or will at least make an exception here to let me counterbalance my last personal remark. /s

Posted by: steven on Thursday, 13 April 2006 at 3:12pm BST
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