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Sunday, November 26, 2006

A question for my co-religionists 


I am Episcopalian, and outside of places like Princeton Episcopalians are becoming scarcer than hen's teeth. There are only a few more than two million Episcopalians in all the United States, which is truly pathetic in a country with so many churchgoers.

Now I learn that it's because we're too educated:

[Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to run a national division of the Anglican Communion] gave an interview to the New York Times revealing what passes for orthodoxy in this most flexible of faiths. She was asked a simple enough question: "How many members of the Episcopal Church are there?"

"About 2.2 million," replied the presiding bishop. "It used to be larger percentage-wise, but Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than other denominations."

This was a bit of a jaw-dropper even for a New York Times hackette, so, with vague memories of God saying something about going forth and multiplying floating around the back of her head, a bewildered Deborah Solomon said: "Episcopalians aren't interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?"

"No," agreed Bishop Kate. "It's probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion."

I'm sorry to say, but my Church has chosen an idiot as its presiding bishop. What are we, Shakers? The point of virtually every Christian denomination worth its salt is not merely to replenish its ranks, but spread its particular beliefs. Indeed, if a church's message is not worth spreading, why bother believing in it at all? Would an Episcopalian out there please answer me that? (I'd do it myself, but I skipped church today.)

Mark Steyn, of course, raises a more troubling question, relating Bishop Kate's attitude to that of Fatma An-Najar, the Palestinian who on Thursday became the first grandmother in history to blow herself up trying to slaughter Jews. Mother Najar had eight children and no less than 41 grandchildren. Steyn asks, "If Fatma An-Najar has 41 grandchildren and a responsible 'better educated' Episcopalian has one or two, into whose hands are we delivering 'the stewardship of the earth'? If your crowd isn't around in any numbers, how much influence can they have in shaping the future?"

Any Episcopalians out there who want to try their hand at answering that?

Since the odds of an Episcopalian (other than relatives of mine) actually reading this are rather low, we'll go all-inclusive and invite responses from any member of the Anglican Communion.

Via Glenn.

33 Comments:

By Blogger Cobb, at Sun Nov 26, 06:08:00 PM:

I'm an Episcopalian who has been disturbed as of late by our willowy spine in light of various multicultural overproductions. I have had no particular problem with the ordination of women or of gays precisely because the duties of the priesthood haven't changed because of the gender of the priest. But I am quite concerned that if our church sees fit to modify the rite of Matrimony in order to make some point about.. well it doesn't quite matter what reason they give, I'm going Catholic, or at least Anglican.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 26, 07:07:00 PM:

I'm an Episcopalian and unlike sixoseven, I am a traditionalist. I have more in common with our African brothers than my American co-religionists. I agree with Mark Steyn that our Western culture is doomed unless we wake up to our demographic problem. The hordes in the world’s history have destroyed many enlightened and educated civilizations. We will be no exception. The Episcopal Church is likewise drifting into oblivion because of its elitist attitudes and the result is that, from what I see, there are few young people in church and priests are hard to replace when one retires. Personally, the church has moved away from me because so much of what was in the service and the core beliefs have changed to accommodate the present, with little effect it appears. Some years ago an Episcopal bishop publicly doubted the existence of God; one wonders what is next.  

By Anonymous waylhgr, at Sun Nov 26, 07:19:00 PM:

I'm a Presbyterian and agree with everything you've said. My church has gone down the same path. As for your new leader, cheer up, at least she's not gonna reproduce!!  

By Blogger Purple Avenger, at Sun Nov 26, 08:30:00 PM:

VHEMT

"Phasing out the human race by voluntarily ceasing to breed will allow Earth's biosphere to return to good health..."  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Sun Nov 26, 09:09:00 PM:

It's a real evolutionary loser being responsible when no one else is.  

By Anonymous From Right to Left, at Sun Nov 26, 10:42:00 PM:

We Jews have had this problem for a while now. Low fertility and high intermarriage ... not good. We've been fighting it for years and yet have seen little change.  

By Blogger geoffrobinson, at Sun Nov 26, 11:49:00 PM:

"A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross."

The church multiplies through the gospel, the good news. The good news is that God, through the work of Jesus the Messiah and via faith in Him saves sinners under the wrath of God for their rebellion. So the good news requires bad news.

And is there any bad news coming from most Episcopalian.

The problem isn't limited to demographics. Episcopalians can't give a sufficient reason, for the most part, to go to church instead of watching NFL pre-game programming on ESPN.  

By Blogger ben, at Mon Nov 27, 12:06:00 AM:

I am also an episcopalian with more in common with my African Brethren than the Epicopals in my current town. I've met Bishop Robinson, and feel he's a great guy. The real reason I now attend church at a Lutheran Church (MS, if you know/care what that means), is that the episcopal service closest to me (within a 30 minute drive) is pretty wishy washy. I went to a months worth of services, and the bible was used as the main text one week. It was usually cited, but most of the time, our minister taught us about our religion without using the religion's main text. So, now I go to a service with a similar liturgy, and where the Pastor actually takes the gospel seriously. I do hope the Episcopal church in America wakes up and turns around, but I'm not very hopeful.  

By Blogger Cobb, at Mon Nov 27, 12:46:00 AM:

I'm a traditionalist as well, but I find it a very serious matter to drop that Episcopalian tradition for Catholicism, something I can't do merely because I don't like what the Church is doing right now. I realize that I was confirmed roughly speaking into both faiths, and I was educated under Columbans and Jesuits, so I understand a bit about the Catholic rites. It just seems to be a huge jump and very presumptuous to make a judgement about the whole of a church. That said, the more I see Anglicans of Caribbean and African descent, the more appealing they become.  

By Blogger Andrewdb, at Mon Nov 27, 01:31:00 AM:

I am a convert to The Episcopal Church - what can I say, I'm a lib when it comes to doctrine - I think +Spong is kind of a mystic (and yes, he enjoys being a pravacatour) but even I think that Rite C has GOT to go.

Although I was raised Generic Protestant, my father's family is Morman. If you want evangilism, I suggest we all spend a year and go door to door with the Book of Common Prayer.

can only hope ++Stori is on a steep learning curve here. I truly hope she demonstrates a better grasp of media relations, and quickly, or else TEC will be in deep trouble. And what about that Cope she wore at her installation - I guess she thought that was all part of the message, but it made +Chane look downright traditional (and you know that takes work).  

By Blogger Sissy Willis, at Mon Nov 27, 08:53:00 AM:

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, is your man:

“Christianity is the very soil of this place. Look at what you did in the past, remember what you did.”

Earlier this month, the country’s first black archbishop questioned the right of Muslim women to wear the veil in public, saying it did not “conform to norms of decency”. He said: “I think in British society you can wear what you want, but you can’t expect British society to be reconfigured around you.” His comments put him at odds with Williams, who defended the right of Muslim women to wear the full veil.

Sentamu also took on the BBC, which he claimed was biased against the Church of England: “We get more knocks. They do to us what they dare not do to Muslims.”

In an impassioned critique of the “systematic erosion” of the majority faith by an “illiberal atheism”, he castigated the abandonment of traditional Christmas cards in favour of Season’s Greetings versions, the introduction of “Winterval” in the Christmas holiday period and the Royal Mail for not featuring Jesus on Christmas stamps.
 

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Mon Nov 27, 08:57:00 AM:

*Not An Episcopalian, but might once have seen Jesus after during a hallucinogenic experience in college*

Breeders are a real problem, eh? The poor tend to outbreed the rich. That ought to make the rich nervous, but it ought first make everyone worried about how our limited resources will manage an enormous population.

Another thought - What if future wars could be fought genetically. That is, if China wanted to invade India, they could just line up a hundred million unarmed breeders to march across the border. With numbers like that, there's not a whole lot India could do. In three generations they'd be speaking Mandarin in Mumbai. Nations with big populations they're having a hard time feeding/employing can simply declare genetowarfare and send the folks over the border.

Mexico doesn't have the vision for this sort of offensive, leaving it to small packs of guerrilla freedom-seekers.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Mon Nov 27, 09:19:00 AM:

I don't know if anabaptists fall under the "Anglican Communion" umbrella, but here are my thoughts...

I agree with Geoff, who said:

"The good news is that God, through the work of Jesus the Messiah and via faith in Him saves sinners under the wrath of God for their rebellion. So the good news requires bad news."

Or, at least the first part (I don't know that the Good News has any "bad news," but that's another topic...)

We are called to be faithful to Jesus' message. Not to triumph in a genetic breeding race to defeat our enemies by having more children than they do. We're not called to "win" a culture war or an actual war. We are called to be faithful, to preach the good news, as Jesus said, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor!"

For me, the notion that we can be faithful by living irresponsibly (ie, being fruitful and multiplying past the point of sustainability) is akin to being faithful to one's spouse by engaging in prostitution. A rather goofy idea.  

By Blogger John B. Chilton, at Mon Nov 27, 09:46:00 AM:

I, too, am a cradle Episcopalian and in addition to The Emirates Economist I have a more occasional blog at The New Virginia Church Man.

If you skipped church this Sunday you missed Christ the King Sunday. And you missed a key message from the Gospel reading - what you believe about God will always be confounded by what God is. Episcopalians have always been open to doubt - it is our defining characteristic. We have something to teach fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise, about true faith. Our beliefs are not of the believe it or else variety.

To me our new PB is refreshingly undiplomatic. Mealymouthed she is not. It is an empirical regularity that those with higher income and higher education tend to have fewer children. And Episcopalians tend to be in that category - perhaps it is our failing that we have not attracted a broader spectrum of the population.

Was it worth it for her to point out that Episcopalians do not have a theological imperative to have lots of children, and Mormons and Catholics do? I believe it is worth questioning evangelism that encourages poor families to have more children simply so that denomination can increase its headcount.

Where she loses me is with the claim that Episcopalians chose to have fewer children because our conciousness has been raised by our education and our theology. That's BS.  

By Anonymous MTF, at Mon Nov 27, 04:23:00 PM:

Episcopalians may have chosen an idiot to head the church, but don't you think she's merely the most recent in a line of some length?

For years, bishops have seemed less interested in growing the ranks of communicants than in hectoring those ranks on "social justice" (whatever that is from moment to moment), environmental politics, gay politics, Republicans, the dangers of nuclear weapons in the hands of American politicians, Hugo Chavez, the evil "Israelis" etc etc.

It looks to me the Presiding Bishop is in the mainstream of the (shrinking) church.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Mon Nov 27, 05:00:00 PM:

I'm a member of the Reformed Episcopal Church (a small denomination that's been around since 1873), so I'm watching the TEC developments from the sidelines. But, consistent with my role as the Tigerhawk commenter who brings up matters of faith with annoying frequency, there's no way I'll stay quiet on this topic.

I disagree with the new PB on many points, but she is not an idiot. Her answer was defense by deflection; more on that below.

First, the fact that the question was about number of members indicates that the reporter doesn't know her subject very well. Everybody's membership numbers are greatly overstated. The relevant statistic is average Sunday attendance ("ASA"). Episcopal ASA has ranged from about 860,000 to slightly under 800,000 during the period 1992 - 2004. That number has trended downward in the last few years. (Go to: http://www.standfirminfaith.com/media/ECUSA_1992-2004_attendance.xls and click on the tab for Avg. Sunday Attendance.) This is much more pathetic than 2.2 million.

Back to the deflection. Bp. Schori explains the drop in Episcopalians as a percentage of the population by pointing to fertility rates: we're declining because we're such good eco-stewards. What she's trying to avoid are the ugly facts about how many people have stopped going to Episcopal churches and how poorly TEC's evangelistic efforts have fared.

Additonally, the overall decline in ASA masks the fact that some dioceses have increasing ASA, while others have significant declines. And there's a pattern to those changes that Bp. Schori also wants to avoid mentioning. Over the last 12 years, 20% of dioceses have had ASA growth in at least 7 of those years. Among the 21 theologically conservative dioceses (meaning part of the Network and/or Windsor compliant, i.e., their bishops are Camp Allen signatories -- sorry for all the arcane detail), 33.3% have had ASA growth in at least 7 years, while only 16.5% of the other 79 dioceses have experienced ASA growth in at least 7 of the 12 years. http://titusonenine.classicalanglican.net/?p=15622

A similar trend shows up in some number-crunching that matches up ASA changes with changes of the population of the different dioceses. The diocese that has done the best, using the metric of ASA as percentage of population, is the theologically conservative Diocese of South Carolina. http://72.14.253.104/search?q=cache:E4zKqaR6W1MJ:mysite.verizon.net/vze3fnty/index.html+titusonenine+ASA&hl=en&gl=us&ct=clnk&cd=3 By this measure, Bp. Schori's Diocese of Nevada comes in last.

Now, after the 2006 General Convention, theologically conservative Episcopalians are leaving TEC as whole parishes (e.g., Falls Church and Truro in Northern Virginia -- both venerable and highly influential parishes, particularly Falls Church) and perhaps soon as whole Dioceses (e.g., Fort Worth). The national ASA numbers will be terrible in a couple of years.

Of course there's plenty of room for disagreement about the reasons for these events. But my take is this: theologically liberal Christianity isn't worth even the minimal amount of trouble that it entails, spiritually or emotionally. The Schori brand of Episcopalianism will continue to wither slowly away. The only prospect for renewed growth in TEC is a return, however unlikely this may be, to preaching the faith once delivered to the saints -- the faith for which bishops like Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley were willing to go to the stake.

"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." 2 Cor. 5:21 (NASV)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 27, 05:02:00 PM:

Could it be that better-educated women tend to have fewer children, but that the bishop thought better of saying that and went with the ecological justification instead? MCU  

By Blogger Screwy Hoolie, at Mon Nov 27, 09:54:00 PM:

Dan Trabue.

That's the wisdom.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Tue Nov 28, 01:22:00 AM:

I think a lot of people who read this post have completely missed the point. It doesn't matter how concerned you are about the environment if 41 others want to kill you. You will wind up dead and the environment will be destroyed in the next generation. Demographics = Destiny. Generally, better-educated women do tend to have fewer children, and radical islam is dead set against educating women. More than one radical islamic leader has said that they are using the wombs of their women as weapons. I don't think the answer is trying to match their birthrate, but allowing their millions to immigrate is not helping the ecosystem.  

By Anonymous tyree, at Tue Nov 28, 01:47:00 AM:

"Jamal Miftah, a Muslim who lives in Tulsa, wrote a column for the newspaper Tulsa World condemning Al Qaeda and calling on fellow Muslims to reject terrorism.
In return, he was kicked out of the local mosque by leaders until he apologizes for his article—and threatened with violence by other members of the Islamic community of Tulsa, Oklahoma."

I don't know about anyone else, but the prospect of being outnumbered by even 2 to 1 by a congregation like this worries me.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Tue Nov 28, 03:16:00 AM:

Education is the solution, not the problem.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Tue Nov 28, 07:00:00 AM:

"It doesn't matter how concerned you are about the environment if 41 others want to kill you. You will wind up dead and the environment will be destroyed in the next generation."

And likewise, it doesn't matter how concerned you are about "41 others" if we reproduce beyond sustainable numbers, we will wind up dead and feeling pretty stupid in the next generation.

This statement assumes that They can "win" merely by having more children and that by reproducing more quickly than they do that we can "win." Honestly, doesn't that sound a bit silly?

And since this original question was posed to Christians, oughtn't our answer be not, "Let's make like rabbits and out-produce them," but "The field is white unto harvest, let us begin that which we were called to do. Let us be faithful."?  

By Anonymous tyree, at Tue Nov 28, 10:00:00 AM:

Dan...
Please re-read my post. I specifically added the line "I don't think the answer is trying to match their birthrate". Where did Tigerhawk, for that matter, say anything about "making like rabbits". I believe his summary question was "If your crowd isn't around in any numbers, how much influence can they have in shaping the future?".
Gaining converts to Christ would be a way of filling Episcopal churches again. Is Bishop Shori doing that?  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Tue Nov 28, 10:59:00 AM:

My apologies. You did, indeed say we ought not try to merely match their birthrate. On that, we agree, then. I was sensing from some comments that this was the notion they were endorsing but perhaps I misread.

I'm not episcopalian and am unfamiliar with Shori and therefore have no opinion.

I would clarify my position is not even to gain converts, but merely to be faithful. To preach -and LIVE - the good news to the poor, the outcast. To preach the God of Love.

If by being faithful, we "lose" in the global democracy, we still ought to only be faithful. As Christians, what else can we do. Coming from the anabaptist tradition, I'm rather used to being counted among the "losers" and think that should probably be the norm (for Wide is the road that leads to destruction but narrow the paths of righteousness).  

By Anonymous tyree, at Tue Nov 28, 03:15:00 PM:

Dan...
Apology accepted.
Your position is a noble, peaceful one, and I hope it is the one that "wins".  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Tue Nov 28, 04:44:00 PM:

Dan Trabue - be of good cheer. Overcrowding the earth is not going to be the problem after all, particularly not anywhere in Western Civilization. That threat has evaporated, and we are now worried about insufficient reproduction.

I know, it's hard to keep these competing crises straight when you're just trying to go about your business obeying our Lord, but that worm has turned. As an anabaptist, BTW, you are not remotely close to being in the Anglican Communion, though you might certainly find many individuals within it whose faith you respected.

As I am from NH and was Lutheran at one time, I imagine Ben and I have connections.

Cradle Episcopalians - indeed cradle anythings - tend to think that what they and their closest think are the "defining characteristic" of their church. I might agree with john b. chilton about a great many things, but the idea that doubt is the defining characteristic of Episcopalians would be greeted with, er, surprise by most people who have historically embraced that faith.

George Wiegel, and more recently Arthur C. Brooks, have related declining birthrates to lack of cultural confidence, particularly religious confidence. These certainly correlate in Europe and among American liberals, regardless of whether either causes the other.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Tue Nov 28, 05:52:00 PM:

"Overcrowding the earth is not going to be the problem after all, particularly not anywhere in Western Civilization. That threat has evaporated, and we are now worried about insufficient reproduction."

Actually, I don't believe the science or math backs up this statement. We're able to handle the near 7 billion people in the world today for one reason: Fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have been what allows us to feed 7 billion people - what with petrochemicals to artificially boost production and gas and oil to deliver food around the globe.

However, as fossil fuels deplete in the next century, we will be facing some crises. Who gets fed and who doesn't?

Or, at least that's how it seems to me based upon what I've read.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Tue Nov 28, 07:44:00 PM:

Easy. The societies that grow all the food will be fed. If food starts becoming scarce, first the farming subsidies will go away, and then aggriculture will suddenly become a growth industry. It's not like we're locked into current food production levels for the rest of eternity.

And people have been predicting "peak oil" and running out of various resources since the 19th century, coincidentally every time the prices rise. I'll believe it when I see it.

I think that Liet-Kynes said it best. It is virtually impossible to exhaust the resources of an entire planet.  

By Blogger Uptown Ruler, at Wed Nov 29, 06:55:00 AM:

my father just retired from the episcopal church in alabama; and ironically enough, my mother is now at age 59 in her second year of seminary at sewanee in tn.

personally, i think she made two points. the first being that the more education one has, often, the less children one has; this also seems to play out in one's income bracket.

the second point was that the episcopal church tries to teach stewardship of the earth and of each other.

every episcopal church i have attended or been associated has done an enormous amount of outreach in the community, from habitat for humanity, to working w/ battered women, to feeding the homeless, to sister diocese in 3rd world nations, etc.

i don't consider her an idiot, at best she made two points too close together which seem silly.

as for the church, we've had churches split when the prayer book changed, when woman were ordained, when a gay bishop was ordained; most denominations go through these splits.

as for the comment about "into whose hands are we delivering 'the stewardship of the earth'? If your crowd isn't around in any numbers, how much influence can they have in shaping the future?"

by that argument steyn would be lambasting americans for not having populations of 1 billion or more. wtf is all i got for him.

in 500 years, all our descendants may be chinese, indian, catholic, or mormon; should we get all in a tizzy about this and run around blaming each other for not having enough kids or recruiting enough for our religions?

For all people in their daily life and work;
For our families, friends, and neighbors, and for those who are alone.

For this community, the nation, and the world;
For all who work for justice, freedom, and peace.

For the just and proper use of your creation;
For the victims of hunger, fear, injustice, and oppression.

For all who are in danger, sorrow, or any kind of trouble;
For those who minister to the sick, the friendless, and the needy.

For the peace and unity of the Church of God;
For all who proclaim the Gospel, and all who seek the Truth.  

By Blogger Dan Trabue, at Wed Nov 29, 07:03:00 AM:

"I think that Liet-Kynes said it best. It is virtually impossible to exhaust the resources of an entire planet."

???

I suppose that Liet-Kynes is someone who had problem with math in school?

And did they never study the word, "finite?"  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Wed Nov 29, 10:49:00 AM:

Uptown,

You write, "in 500 years, all our descendants may be chinese, indian, catholic, or mormon; should we get all in a tizzy about this and run around blaming each other for not having enough kids or recruiting enough for our religions?"

How do you believe the church should fulfill Jesus' instruction to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you"? Matthew 28:19-20 (RSV)  

By Blogger Uptown Ruler, at Wed Nov 29, 07:28:00 PM:

I like prefer to try and live the Word.  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Tue Dec 05, 12:32:00 PM:

Selectively, it appears.  

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