Why is the Episcopal Church near collapse?

I link the following story and highlight a few salient points not because I am any kind of expert on the Episcopalian church (I definitely am not) but because it provides a pretty stern warning for those out there who would like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to imitate the liberal tactics espoused by the Episcopalians (and other liberal mainline churches, which are losing members in droves).

It appears that people who go to church actually prefer churches that stand for something rather than just reflecting the pieties of the secular culture.

Read this on the collapse of the Episcopalian church.

And read this on the huge decline in membership of liberal mainline churches and why it is happening.

A few key quotations:

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.

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.’

Why are Episcopalians leaving one of the oldest denominations in America? Perhaps that can be answered by New Hampshire’s V. Gene Robinson, the openly homosexual Episcopal bishop. When he addressed the fifth annual Planned Parenthood “prayer breakfast” April 15, 2006 in Washington, D.C., he declared that “religious people” are the enemy.

Indeed, this is what we need. Religion without any actual religious people.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B has had three main careers. Some of them have overlapped. After attending Stanford University (class of 1985), he worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. In 1995, he took up his favorite and third career as father. Soon thereafter, Heavenly Father hit him over the head with a two-by-four (wielded by the Holy Ghost) and he woke up from a long sleep. Since then, he's been learning a lot about the Gospel. He still has a lot to learn. Geoff's held several Church callings: young men's president, high priest group leader, member of the bishopric, stake director of public affairs, media specialist for church public affairs, high councilman. He tries his best in his callings but usually falls short. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

32 thoughts on “Why is the Episcopal Church near collapse?

  1. No man can serve two masters, either he will love the one and hate the other.

    As I said on my facebook when linking the story, you cannot survive if you are not rooted in the truth. The whims of popular culture are not rooted in truth and cannot stand the test of mortality.

    I also think of Helaman 5: 12, where we are taught to build on the rock of Christ. We do that by keeping the commandments, and following the prophet.

  2. This is all covered in “The Churching of America” – one of the best books on the history of religion on America. Stark and Finke’s basic thesis is that denominations that “secularize” over time lose “market share” in the religious economy, and those that succeed tend to avoid secularization (as long as they aren’t too far removed from society as to be total outsiders).

    Quote: “Humans want their religion to be sufficiently potent, vivid, and compelling so that it can offer them rewards of great magnitude. People seek a religion that is capable of miracles and that imparts order and sanity to the human condition. The religious organizations that maximize these aspects of religion, however, also demand the highest price in terms of what the individual must do to qualify for these rewards”

    Of course, many of the liberal commentators and academics in the ‘Nacle really don’t like that book, even though Finke and Stark are not making any claims on which religions are “true.” I recall one commentator from the JI blog stating “well, the vast majority of religious scholars think the book is bunk” (the old logical fallacy of appeal to authority), but then couldn’t provide any actual evidence to refute their (very well researched and very well backed up) claims.

    Stark and Finke also argue that the religous marketplace is constantly in a state of upheaval, with mainline, secularized denominations falling apart, more conservative ones becoming more secularized, and new “upstart sects” being created (and sometimes failing and sometimes catching on). They go so far as to argue that the “Great Awakenings” weren’t so much sudden growths of religion as merely when the elites deigned to notice this cycle. (Thus,though they don’t discuss this in the book, to me it seems that the so-called “rise of the nones” isn’t so much a rejection of religion and a turn to rational atheism as a search for new religions).

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Churching-America-1776-2005-Religious/dp/0813535530

  3. Ivan, great stuff. Thank you for sharing.

    I’ve said it here before, and I’ll say it again: if your ethical/moral/religous beliefs cannot be distinguished from the op-ed page of the New York Times, then at some point, traditional church will cease to be interesting or compelling to you. Reading Slate while ensconced in a Starbucks on a Sunday morning will fulfill your cravings for the transcendent. And that perfectly explains the implosion of the progressive mainline “Christian” faiths.

  4. The LDS Church isn’t free from this infestation of liberalism either…

    We have leaders who endorse “social justice” and focus on “fairness” rather than on personal responsibility, or even upholding the laws of the land (AoF #11). Recent press releases include terms like “white privilege”, and I recall one former president of the church claim something to the effect of “We can’t expect poor people to join the church…” thus invalidating the faith of many poor people around the world who do join the church even when very poor…

    Anytime false worldly philosophies are taught, the spirit of God will not uphold that person, and LDS folk are damaged.

  5. So I’m reading these articles and wondering, “would any of the Episcopal properties make good LDS chapels?”

    I assume the answer to that is “no.” But it does seem a pity for so much property to remain fallow.

    I was also reminded of Matthew 5:13:

    “Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”

    That’s one thing we Mormons are very good at – being distinctive.

  6. “That’s one thing we Mormons are very good at – being distinctive.”

    I don’t think we are any longer distinctive enough. Too many of our members crave Episcopalian secularization than righteousness. Stating that has not made me very many friends, but I will not back down on that.

  7. “I don’t think we are any longer distinctive enough.”

    I think the solution to that problem is already in the works.

    I am not much looking forward to it, but we can’t say the prophets haven’t warned us recently and repeatedly.

  8. I don’t think it has too much to do with gays. Liberals are, by definition destined to be non-religious in general. Just look at Europe. It is natural that the secularly educated and empathetic would leave their apostate and abominable traditions for more pragmatically moral and practical pursuits. Sitting in a hard pew listening to an ancient and irrelevant litergy week after week will only appeal to those who have a bit of nostalgia for sectarian antiquity, or a taste for ritual.

  9. I get to sit with my daughter in Sunday School, and I’m thrilled to see how they are teaching the youth these days. This month they are talking about prophets and apostles.

    I was able to testify of the time Elder Russell M. Nelson came to Italy in the spring of 1985. He was giving a fireside in the E.U.R. chapel in Rome when he began speaking in tongues. I had taken Latin in high school before my mission call, and had a deeper understanding of Italian than the average missionary. So as I listened to Elder Nelson, I remember being intrigued with his obvious Utah accent combined with perfect grammatical Italian. Then he said something that, while still grammatically correct, was a construct most missionaries would not be familiar with (possibly something involving past perfect tense). I could sense a wave of disbelief sweep the hall, and when it appeared in my mind to reach Elder Nelson, he switched out of Italian in mid-sentence. Afterwards I had the chance to chide the missionaries who thought they’d heard Elder Nelson using incorrect grammar. But I also had a chance to talk to a recent member who reported understanding Elder and Sister Nelson even before their words were translated by the interpreter.

    As for prophets, we not only believe that there is a living prophet who can receive revelation on behalf of the entire world, but that we are all prophets in our respective spheres (our own lives, our families, our callings). That’s what it means to be, for example, set apart under the authority of the priesthood.

    Each of us, in our sphere, is expected to be like unto Moses.

    As for whether there are members who crave something less than the amazing heritage God has granted to us, J. Golden Kimball did once say something about the small percentage of Saints (10%?) that would reach heaven. Humor aside, I presume at that final day a lot of folks will be anxious to embrace the ordinances that will allow them to return to God and those they love, secularized Mormons no less than any others.

  10. According to the regular reports on the (excellent) vlog Anglican Unscripted, The Episcopal Church is surviving financially, including sustaining a bloated episcopal structure and administration, mainly by selling-off church buildings and suing the traditionalist parishes who break away from TEC (to seize their buildings, money and property). Seemingly there are over 100 on-going court cases trying to get such assets to fund TEC officialdom.

    It’s a kind of self-consuming parasitism.

  11. “I think the solution to that problem is already in the works.”

    Sounds like a future post to expand on this statement.

  12. I remember some of my colleagues from these mainline churches discussing these issues in grad school. They debated about how the churches no longer felt that they could discuss sin and repentance and whether this was helping or harming them. I think most saw it as a problem that put ministers in a position where they felt that they couldn’t really help people with their struggles in life. When people feel that Church has nothing to offer them or can’t help them with the problems of life, they tend to stop going.

  13. Meg, how I would love some of the old, unused Churches in England to be used as our chapels. They are so beautiful, and to think of the generations after generations of families who worshipped there… sigh…. Sadly they mostly get sold off and turned into house conversions, youth hostels or shops.

    My wife often says she hopes that our grand cathedrals will survive into the millennium and be converted into temples.

  14. Celebrated homosexual Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, quoted in your post, recently announced his divorce. The article says his partner was called the “husband”, which rather suggests all sorts of possibilities.

    Interesting – or not.

    Article about Robinson

  15. re: church buildings belonging to other religions being bought/rented and converted to LDS chapels.

    I’ve thought that would likely happen in the lead up to the 2nd Coming, (or the lead-up prior to the 3.5 years of tribulation) and shortly after the 2nd Coming, when people join (or at least attend) the church in droves. I’m not exactly sure of the timing, whether the mass conversions start to happen before or after the beginning of the “tribulation”, and if they continue during the tribulation. And then it’s another question of just how obvious the truthfulness of the church is after the 2nd coming. It’s said there will still be members of other churches/faiths after the 2nd coming, so it will not be immediately, _universally_ and _totally_ obvious to everyone.

    So even though a “falling away” is predicted for the lead-up to the 2nd coming, I’m not sure that that prophecy also precludes simultaneous mass conversions. There could be both going on at the same time, and that prophecy does not necessarily specify a net loss.

    My personal feeling/belief is that the mass conversions will not be mainly among caucasians. And by that I mean non-caucasians throughout the world, and non-caucasians throughout North America and Europe.

    I think we are seeing, and will see more of, the parable of the rich/noble (caucasian/Western European) people turning down the invitation to the wedding supper, and the relatively poorer/downtrodden peoples (non-caucasian) being invited and accepting.

    So even if the chapel-conversion process doesn’t necessarily go on in North America (although I think it will to some extent), I believe it will happen in a greater degree elsewhere in the world.

    I just heard on the radio, in a report on China’s crackdown on Christians and the demolition of Protestant churches, that there are 110 million native Chinese Christians (ie, not foreign Christians) living in China. Good golly, that’s 110 million people who are half-way converted to Mormonism.

    Great inroads are being made by the church in India. IMO it is going to be the next South America/Africa.

    South Asian Indians are already socially organized to a degree in the US via their cultural societies/associations and various temples (Hinduism, Sikhism, and various associations along language/ethnic lines such as Telugu and Malayalam). I personally think those societies/associations/temples will be fertile grounds for mass conversions in the run-up prior to the tribulation; and we’ll see/read stories along the lines of entire congregations joining as in the early days of the modern LDS church in England

  16. Anyway to tie that previous comment back to the original topic/post (if my comment went through)….

    In the case of the Episcopal church, and others, it’s not just _individuals_ who are leaving their churches, it is _congregations_ who are leaving as a whole congregation (hence the fight over the land/buidlings) from the larger Episcopal church body due to doctrinal disagreements. The members in those congregations are essentially staying “true” to their “conservative/traditional” Episcopalian heritage, and in a way it is their “mother church” which has apostatized.

    _Those_ congregations are sort of “ripe” for proselyting to the restored gospel, in a vein similar to the congregations in England who sought out Wilford Woodruf and his contemporary missionaries and apostles.

  17. Well, if unneeded church buildings do go up for sale, it would be wonderful to be able to sing with some of those wonderful organs (real pipes!)…

  18. “The LDS Church isn’t free from this infestation of liberalism either…”

    That’s an understatement. The Episcopalian church sounds like a good match for a lot of Mormons like the OW people and the likes of John Dehlin and followers.

    Like h_nu said above, the Spirit of the Lord will no uphold people who adhere to worldly teachings and secularization of religion. The Spirit cannot endorse false teachings. This should be a heads up to those who want to go down that road.

  19. Bookslinger:

    What is the reference for a “falling away” prior to the 2nd Coming? I don’t think I’m familiar with it, and that surprises me. Are there explicit statements on the subject? And by “falling away” you’re referring to Church members?

  20. One of the early liberal ministers in the American Episcopalian Church is Bishop John Spong. Here are the 12 Points he believed Christianity needed to modernize:

    1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
    2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
    3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
    4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
    5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
    6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
    7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
    8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
    9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
    10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
    11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
    12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Shelby_Spong

    Just shows you how far some move away from religion: No creation, no miracles, no resurrection, no Jesus, no right and wrong.

  21. The first time I read the Book of Mormon about 15 years ago I just assumed that “The Church of the Devil” was a reference to the Catholic church. The more I thought about it the more this seemed wrong, however, and of course I was wrong. The Church of the Devil is the church of the world, i.e., the church that teaches the doctrines of modern-day political correctness (the philosophies of men) and the church that denies the reality of the Resurrection and the Atonement.

  22. @MT, re: latter day falling away. Thanks for asking for the refs. I’ll have to go look up specifics, but off the top of my head, I seem to remember them from some of the Pauline letters and from the Revelation of St. John.

    If I remember correctly, Paul refers to two “falling aways”. One is what we now refer to as the “Great Apostasy” that started at the death of the last apostle. The other occurs in what (I seem to remember) Paul referred to as happening in the “latter days”. Not only does Paul refer to items specific to _our_ “latter days”, but I think in some passages he had some dual-meaning items that apply both to the latter days of _his_ dispensation, and the latter days of _our_ dispensation. The “itching ears” and “won’t endure sound doctrine” lines from Paul can apply to both the 3rd/4th century and the 20th/21st century.

    Then in the book of Revelation, those “latter days” are pretty much the latter days of our dispensation, in the lead-up to the 2nd Coming. If I remember correctly, there is persecution and falling away of saints described there too.

    Then back to Isaiah, and he bounces all over the time-line, back and forth, and he covers some pre-millennium things too. Actually, Isaiah’s story pictures mostly have 2 to 3 meanings. He can be talking about 3 apostasies: a) it mostly was the apostasy of the Kingdom of Judah, the one which led to the Babylonian captivity, b) the apostasy of the meridian of time (ie, 90 to 325 AD), and c) our “latter days” too. Isaiah has passages that describe the 2nd Coming and the millennium, but also the _lead-up_ to the 2nd coming, which has lots of parallels to the wickedness that lead to the Babylonian captivity.

    The passages in Isaiah where he denounces the vanity, bells, mufflers, stomachers, mincing-as-they-walked, made me think of our superficial celebrities and “the beautiful people” and how our media puts them on pedestals, and how mindless people try to imitate them.

    In the lead-up to the Babylonian captivity, according to Chronicles, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, the leaders of the Jews “filled the streets of Jerusalem with innocent blood.” We are doing that today with abortion of millions of babies a year around the globe. And if anyone discounts those deaths as “mere abortion”, as in “pre-birth”, I would point you to the statistics of the thousands of small children and teens who go missing every year in the US and are presumed to be sexually abused and murdered. (I put forth these points as examples that Isaiah’s prophesies were dual or triple meaning, to 2 or 3 periods in future history.)

    Then, if my memory cells aren’t totally playing tricks on me, Discources of Brigham Young, and TPJS also contain references to the saints being seduced away, as well as persecuted away, from the church prior to the 2nd Coming.

    Then there is the parable of the Tree of Life, which leads me to believe that the majority of those who embark on the path and grab hold of the rod don’t actually make it to the tree. That parable can be applied to many dispensations. The fall of the Great and Spacious Building can be interpreted to be the collapse of society at various times in history (ie, the Fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, the collapse of society immediately prior to the 2nd Coming.)

    And, one of the points I’m trying to make is that while people (and entire congregations and entire churches) apostatize away from Judeo-Christian religions that were basically or mostly good prior to the 1970′s, the same thing happens to the true (ie, LDS) church: more and more people leave, at an increasing rate over time, even when the net growth is still very positive.

    Who knows, maybe the “itching ears” and “won’t stand sound doctrine” lines from Paul might also apply to New Order Mormons and to Kate Kelly.

  23. I’m thinking you wouldn’t put a lot of stock in an article that interviewed a bunch of people at a Sunstone Symposium about why the Mormon Church is on the verge of collapse. You might want to look for some less biased sources.

    It would also do us good to remember that the Mormon growth rate has slowed dramatically and we’re losing young members just like everyone else.

    On the bright side, taking over Episcopal chapels would mean that Mormons would finally have some decent organs and architecture. I’m in favor of that!

  24. Kristine, that is an interesting comment. I would agree with your point on Sunstone, but the article was at Beliefnet, which appears to be a pretty unbiased source. In addition, the article was pretty unbiased, with quotations from many different sources. So I am not seeing the bias you claim is there. Yes, the Mormon growth rate has slowed, and people go inactive, but we appear to be doing better than a lot of other churches.

  25. @Kristine and Geoff B: The fact that new wards and stakes are being created, and new chapels are being built, not only all over the world, but even in the US, indicates that the core of active Mormons is growing.

    In my opinion, the lowering of missionary age to 18 is going to help stem the loss of young adults. The stats on that should be in, in about 2 to 4 years, as the first 18-year old elders get off their mission and survive (or not) the crucial 1 to 2 year post-mission period when returned missionariess tend to go inactive, if they do go inactive that is. (By that I mean that when an RM goes inactive, it’s usually 1 to 2 years after getting off their mission.)

    And then all that information (the new percentage of young men who go on a mission versus the prior percentage before the lowering of the age, plus the new post-mission retention percentages) will tell us (or leadership, since I don’t think they publicly release detailed stats) if the lowering of the age to 18 had a beneficial effect on retention, and if so, how much.

    The missionary “surge” of a triple cohort of sister missionaries (19, 20, & 21 year olds) going out at once will be almost all leveled out in October of this year. (Starting at the announcement in October 2012, then 6 months to ramp up the surge, then a 1.5 year mission.) And the corresponding surge of a double cohort of elder missionaries (18 and 19 year olds) going out at once will be almost leveled out in April of 2015 (6 months to ramp up, then a 2 year mission.)

    So in the April 2015 conference, the number of full-time missionaries serving will give a good picture of what the long-term size of the missionary force will be. and we will be able to extrapolate likely conversion growth based on stats per missionary.

  26. In the business world, it’s not unusual for large businesses to have their growth rates slow as they get larger. It’s simply harder to grow something big at the same rate as something smaller. The reason Warren Buffett gets all the praise he does is that he’s the exception rather than the rule. Berkshire Hathaway has met every profit target for the past 45 years and has done so in dramatic fashion. 99.9% of corporations can’t do that.

    On the issue of the Episcopalian Church imploding, it is indeed happening. Go to other Christian news aggregator sites. They are talking about the same thing. It’s most definitely an accurate phenomenon. The Lutheran and, to a lessor extent, the Presbyterian and Methodist churches, are going through the same thing (minus the very ugly and public lawsuits over church properties.)

    And while the Church is having a wave of folks leaving, folks are still coming in, and the net is still an increase. Other mainline churches are having percentage *decreases* year-over-year. The comparison is stark, and it’s in the LDS Church’s favor.

    The much ballyhooed “dramatic” church growth slowdown actually doesn’t pan out when you look at the numbers. I wish disaffected in Utah could step outside their little myopic echo chamber and see what is going on internationally and in other parts of the US. Growth is happening there, despite what shenanigans might be going on in the Utah area.

  27. Brothers and sisters on this blog, you make excellent comments and I feel edified! Thank you. Rame, thank you for pointing out John Spong’s complete opposite of our beautiful Articles of Faith and Proclamation on the Family. Nothing else needs to be said about the (natural) man’s ideas. Bookslinger and Michael, yes, let us look at and be inspired by everyday miracles and conversion stories happening everywhere. I served my mission in Utah and I saw the good, the bad and the complacent there. Complacency I think has more to do with material ease than anything else, whether in Utah or Florida. Satan likes to start his work with seemingly “small” distractions…

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