Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Analysis, Congregationalism and Decline

Busy week, so fewer posts. As penance, today I offer three interesting items for your perusal.

First, from San Diego; By Their Fruits Shall You Know Them: An Analysis of AAC and Network Activities:

Over the past ten years, the Episcopal Church has been subjected to increasing attacks for its breadth of theological perspectives and its hospitality to all. Since the consecration of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living in a committed monogamous relationship, the attacks have become more strident. A small but vocal faction, comprised of people both inside and outside the Episcopal Church has used significant resources to paint a false picture of our Church. These actions are similar to the attacks of the McCarthy Era, when a lie would be told often enough until it was deemed to be true. Half-truths are particularly useful to this approach because they require of the truth-teller a more detailed and sophisticated response than the attacker wields in the initial assault. The Internet only assists this kind of campaign of misinformation, offering a hood of anonymity to those dishonorable enough to wear it.

Regrettably, it is necessary to make a careful rebuttal of the unkind and dishonest representations of our Church which are antithetical to the spirit and words of Jesus, who calls us to be “one as the Father and I are one.” The American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network have created, through expensive DVDs, websites, and slick printed material, a gross distortion of our church that must be confronted...
Much of this information has previously been revealed in Jim Naughton's piece, Follow the Money and here at Jake's place in our discussion of the attempted coup. Catherine Thiemann's article is a nice summation that should prove to be a valuable resource, if the leadership of TEC ever decides to do something about these scoundrels, which is questionable.

Today the Parish Administrative Issue of The Living Church arrived in my mailbox. It contained the essay by Lionel Deimel and Christopher Wells that I mentioned last Friday. TLC is considered by many to be a rather conservative zine, although personally I think it is often judged much too harshly. I've read it for over 15 years, as at one time (pre-blogs era) it was one of the few regular news resources within TEC. An editorial caught my eye today; Creeping Congregationalism. Here's a quote:

...When this church was formed, it deliberately used the word "episcopal"in its title to make clear that it was a church governed by bishops. In recent years, many of ushave overlooked that fact and our churches have become more congregational.

Consider this: Some of our churches have decided on their own that they will change their form of governance. If they don't agree with their diocesan bishop, they find another one, usually from some foreign Anglican province, or they petition their diocesan for the ministry of a different American bishop. While this is a recent development, it should be pointed out that it is not the only example of a congregational trend. There are Episcopal churches that have been reducing their diocesan assessments - some not paying at all. A few have not paid their assessments or apportionments to their dioceses for several years...
Yet these are the same folks who like to claim they are "catholic" and/or "orthodox." As Thiemann said above, "...when a lie would be told often enough until it was deemed to be true."

The final item I found on Street Prophets...the sad story of a declining denomination. Try to guess the denomination before following the links:

...If there's a bright spot in the...statistical report for 2005, it's that "back-door" losses -- the number of adults removed from congregational rosters (not counting deaths and transfers) -- have declined by 2,453 members. That figure dropped from 44,219 in 2004 to 41,766 in 2005.

But...membership and contributions from members to congregations also declined, as did the number of baptisms, confirmations, and Christian education programs/students, according to 2005 congregational statistics reports.

Baptized membership fell from 2,463,747 in 2004 to 2,440,864 in 2005, a drop of nearly 23,000 members. And confirmed membership in 2005 was 1,870,659, a decrease of 9,554...
Must be one of those liberal churches, right? Guess again. It's the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, one of the most conservative of all the Protestant denominations.

I think we need to admit the truth that, in the West, Christianity, conservative, liberal, moderate, or whatever flavor you choose, is in decline. There are many reasons for this. To blame it on one group or another is nothing more than a weak attempt to avoid facing the facts. As we discussed last week, it is past time for us to recognize this trend and begin to respond to it.


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