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George Will on Episcopalianism

“The Episcopal Church once was America’s upper crust at prayer. Today it is ‘progressive’ politics cloaked — very thinly — in piety. Episcopalians’ discontents tell a cautionary tale for political as well as religious associations. As the church’s doctrines have become more elastic, the church has contracted. It celebrates an ‘inclusiveness’ that includes fewer and fewer members.”

– George Will, “A Faith’s Dwindling Following,” The Washington Post.


  1. N. Dan Smith wrote:

    I am not so sure about the characterization of the ECUSA being progressive politics. It should probably also be noted that ECUSA started shrinking before any of the traditional measures of inclusiveness (gay marriage, gay clergy, women clergy, etc.) became an issue. But shrinking the church is.

    At any rate, my wife and I joined St. Bart’s in Beaverton two and a half years ago. From what I can tell, we are the only young, regularly attending couple who does not have children. Therefore, we were “rock stars” among the community. The organist’s wife told her friends “nobody becomes Episcopalian.” At any rate, in spite of the politics and the departures from orthodoxy, we have found our place in a community of Christians who worship the triune God.

    Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  2. Jody+ wrote:

    I’m no longer certain that the declines within the Episcopal Church have as much to do with progressive politics as that progressive politics is another symptom of the same issues that have caused the decline, i.e. a denomination primarily wedded to a particular social class and an ineffective bureaucracy incapable of policing itself and intent on falling on the sword of its own misguided social views.

    That said, there are some very bright spots in particular ministries in ECUSA and I imagine that those will only continue as the denominational shell collapses, as with other mainOld Line protestant churches. The above comment and others like it are evidence of this.

    Incidentally, other denominations and non-denominational churches need to take note of what is happening in ECUSA and the other old line churches, not as evidence that progressive politics is evil (though it may well deny orthodoxy in some cases), but for warnings about what may already be starting within their own ranks (the decline in the SBC is a possible example).

    Saturday, October 18, 2008 at 9:12 pm | Permalink
  3. anonymous wrote:

    Isn’t that precisely Benedict’s criteria for a “successful church” i.e., “contracted” with “includes fewer and fewer members,” presumably more “hardcore?”

    Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 3:15 pm | Permalink
  4. bobby grow wrote:

    I would imagine that the [hard]core of Benedict’s successful church would be presupposed by a ‘core of orthodoxy’ that is faithful to both scripture and the church’s thought through the centuries.

    In other words it seems that Will’s statement is highlighting ‘a cart before the horse’ method, so that instead of orthodoxy leading the way; orthopraxy has become the core determinative—and culture’s questions (modernity) has been allowed to shape the church’s trajectory; instead of heaven’s (Jesus).

    Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 4:05 pm | Permalink
  5. anonymous wrote:

    That would be an example of begging the rhetorical question, wouldn’t it?

    Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  6. bobby grow wrote:

    Indeed, I guess I missed your sarcasm in your first and second comments ;-).

    Enjoy your anonymity.

    Sunday, October 19, 2008 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  7. anonymous wrote:

    The sarcasm of my second comment was not directed at you, bobby. It was meant to underscore the basic incoherence of the “numbers” game.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 7:56 am | Permalink
  8. bobby grow wrote:

    Who are you anonymous?

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 11:53 am | Permalink
  9. anonymous wrote:


    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 2:03 pm | Permalink
  10. bobby grow wrote:

    Let me rephrase:

    Anonymous, who are you? There’s no getting around the vocative ;-).

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 2:19 pm | Permalink
  11. anonymous wrote:

    I’m a rank heretic who obviously supports doctrinal revision, complete with inclusive innovations like women’s ordination and sanctified sodomy.

    Monday, October 20, 2008 at 5:56 pm | Permalink
  12. bobby grow wrote:

    So come out of the closet, then ;-) . . . whatever.

    peace out.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 1:42 am | Permalink
  13. “…young, regularly attending couple who does not have children… The organist’s wife told her friends “nobody becomes Episcopalian.”

    It seems to me that everywhere I turn, there is a young couple or two that has begun going to an Episcopal church (and they have never been heterodox believers, in my experience). This trend may grow; I could name lots of people who have proved the organist’s wife wrong.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 5:26 am | Permalink
  14. Hill wrote:

    Thomas, while I acknowledge the empirical truth of your observation, for every young couple I hear about that has started attending an Episcopal church, I hear about another that has left one for Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. I think the actual phenomenon is an exodus from the mainstream Evangelicalism in both directions: towards more Free Church and charismatic groups in one direction and towards Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy in the other (crude oversimplification). For many ex-Southern Baptists, etc. Episcopalianism is a welcome introduction to liturgy and “the Church” but as these individuals tend to be relatively “radical,” many of them ultimately find themselves unsatisfied, for the constellation of reasons typically associated with the decline of Episcopalianism.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 10:19 am | Permalink
  15. Hill,

    I agree with you; I was merely pointing out this general phenomenon in relation to the topic of this particular church’s decline.

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

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