Monday, August 4, 2008

Old School Religion rears its head at Lambeth

There were, apparently, two Lambeth Conferences taking place over the last few weeks - one about establishing relationships, seeking common ground, and listening; the other about insensitivity, political judgment, pompous paternalism, institutionalism, and, in the end, appeasement.

What is odd is that the former conference was actually planned by some of those who sought to impose the latter paradigm of conference on them. One has to wonder how this might be so.

This has been clear throughout Lambeth. The only conclusion I have come to is that skilled individuals were involved in the planning but they were under the thumb of Institutional leaders and, in particular, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Of course, this is reminiscent of oft-repeated 'bifocal' vision of Church that holds in tension the Body of Christ and Institutional Religion. Usually, in that view, the Body of Christ is held up as, well, God's vision of who we should be, while Institutional Religion is portrayed as a necessary evil to be ignored if possible and reformed if feasible.

It is ironic, but perhaps not surprising, that this Archbishop of Canterbury should find himself on the side of Institutional Religion and against the Body of Christ, and one has to wonder exactly what Rowan Williams - a scholar without parallel - had to do to twist his former theological perspective into the one on display at the last day of Lambeth.

Amid the experience of the Indaba groups - which almost every bishop who has spoken or blogged has described in glowing terms - there have been institutional presentations that violate the Indaba/bible study model - on the proposed "Covenant", the pastoral forum, the Windsor continuation process, and, now, the Archbishop of Canterbury's final summation of what has to happen for the Communion to survive (survive, at least, in the way he thinks it should survive).

To say that Williams comments were paternalistic is like saying that John Wilkes Booth's action in assassinating Abraham Lincoln was not "helpful" to post-war America - it was, in other words, a gross understatement.

But it was to be expected.

Conservatives will rejoice - though most likely they will ignore the call to withdraw from their incursion into the North American Provinces, and will likely also not back off of proposed incursions in England. Some have already left in all but name. No doubt their plans for a new Communion will continue unabated. The North American conservatives show no indication that they will back down and are, in fact, ramping up their attempts to alienate not just parishes but in some cases whole dioceses from their North American provinces.

Progressives - with much hand-wringing - will likely also ignore the call for permanent moratoria. Most likely this will first - and most immediately - be seen over the blessing of same-sex couples, which will continue in the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and in some of the British provinces - ironically, most likely in England (though probably not publicly). The self-imposed moratorium on the consecration of those people whose "manner of life" represents a challenge to "some of" the Communion will probably last a little longer, but will go the way of all flesh in Anaheim at the 2009 General Convention (the Episcopal Church is nothing if not a democratic Church).

And what about the Anglican Communion? I expect it will continue to muddle along, uncomfortable about the "P.D.A"s - public displays of anger - and name-calling (so unlike the genteel model of relationship bequeathed to the Communion by our English cousins), wishing that we could re-focus on the really important issues - world hunger, global warming, the distribution of resources, violence and dictatorships, freedom and justice.

And stop worrying about trying to figure out who God thinks should love who.

Monday, February 25, 2008

American Religion - some interesting numbers

The Pew Forum on religion in America has just published a new survey and its figures are very interesting and well worth a look. A link to the survey is at the end of this entry.

On a very general scale, it is interesting to see what percentage of the overall population is still considered "Mainline": 18.1%.

Breaking that figure down into individual denominations produces the following: All Anglican groups (but primarily TEC) represent 1.4% of the total population. Other Mainlines: Presbyterians 1.9%; Baptists (mostly American Baptists - not Southern Baptists) 1.9%, Lutherans (all brands) 2.8%; Methodist (all brands) 5.4%

The "Maps" pages are not well presented, and so the information is difficult to determine, especially where the largest number of the Mainline Christians (as a percentage of the overall population) actually live (again, see the link below). However, it is possible to say that "Evangelical Protestant" is stronger in the South, especially the Deep South. They also have a higher percentage nationwide of the general population than do the Mainlines (26% to 18%).

A slightly different set of numbers is unrelated to the general population. This set breaks down where members of the Mainlines and the Evangelicals are located as a percentage of that denomination or affiliation group (rather than of the general population). If you want to look at the pie-charts then go to "portraits" (again, see link below). I include here general figures for "Evangelical" and "Mainline", and then additionally break out "Episcopalian" from "Mainline".

These figures show that the largest percentage of Mainline Christians live in the South (34%) as do the majority of Evangelicals (50%), and of Episcopalians (40%). Next comes the Mid-West (Mainlines 29% & Evangelicals 23%), though here Episcopalians only represent 13% of Episcopal Church membership. The last two regions are the smallest generally, though, again, our denomination is different. There are 19% of Mainlines in the North-East, 10% of Evangelicals, and 26% of Episcopalians. In the west the story is similar: Mainlines 18%, Evangelicals 17%, Episcopalians 21%. We are weaker in the Mid-West and stronger on the Coasts than Mainline denominations generally. This tells me we are stronger in urban and suburban areas than in rural areas.

Interpreting the significance of other numbers is also very interesting - here's an overview of some of them.

1. When Membership is broken down by age it becomes readily apparent that a picture of a vibrant Evangelical denominational group and a dying Mainline denominational group -or a dying Episcopal Church - is a myth.

That said there is some divergence between Mainline and Evangelical and Episcopalian in each of the age categories. Overall the numbers show only an average 3 percentage point difference between the first two groups (statistically that divergence is not really greatly relevant), but a greater divergence in the Episcopal Church. The Evangelicals have slightly more young people (age 8-29 +3%) than Mainlines, but 6% over the Episcopal Church. With young to early middle-aged (age 30-49) there is a +3% of Evangelical over Mainline, but 10% over the Episcopal Church. Mainlines have slightly more of the middle aged and older folk than Evangelicals (age 50-64 and 65+) at +2%, and +4% respectively with the Episcopal Church being+ 8% and +6%.

2. Educational background. There's a larger statistical difference between educational levels than age levels. Mainlines have more members reach higher levels of education, with Episcopalians again leading this pack. For college & post-graduate there are 70% more Mainlines than evangelicals and four times as many Episcopalians; and Evangelicals have 77% more members without high school diplomas than Mainlines, and sixteen times as many as the Episcopal Church (that’s really staggering).

3. Children at home. Surprisingly there's not a real difference here, except that Episcopalians seem to stop at two children per family. Given the age break-down in #1 above I'd say that Evangelical families produce no more children than Mainlines/Episcopalians do. This is particularly relevant considering the criticism leveled at recent comments by our Presiding Bishop.

4. Income. For incomes between $30,000 and $75,000 there is no difference between Mainlines and Evangelicals, though there are fewer Episcopalians in this income spread. But in two other income groupings there's a significant difference. Below $30k there are 36% more Evangelicals than Mainlines, and 47% more Evangelicals than Episcopalians, and above $100k there are 62% more Mainlines than Evangelicals but five times (yup! FIVE times) as many Episcopalians than Evangelicals.

5. Both Mainline and Evangelical denominations are predominantly white: Mainlines at 91% and Evangelicals at 81% of membership, and the Episcopal Church at 92%. This compares with a general population that, according to the Census Bureau (in 2006) is 66% white.

Overall the figures present a very revealing picture of Protestantism in America. We Episcopalians have a particularly well-educated membership with nearly 80% having attended college, and 57% being awarded a degree. We are somewhat wealthier than other Mainlines, and significantly so when compared to Evangelicals. While more than half of Mainline membership is under 50 only 40% of Episcopal membership is under 50. No Protestant group is doing well with the minority population -- the only one that's growing compared to the other ethnic groups.

With regard to our Church we clearly have work to do! But the myth of a vibrant young Evangelical group as compared to a moribund overly-elderly Mainline/Episcopalian group is clearly that: a myth.

These figures also give us an idea of who is attracted to our denomination - well-educated and financially successful/secure folk. It tells us both where we could focus our evangelistic efforts, and who is less likely to be attracted through the doors of the local Episcopal Congregation.

The actual report itself can be found here:
The Census Bureau information can be found here: