In my last post, I shared an article highlighting the Protestant Episcopal Church’s struggles to pay off budget and retain members. Although I’m well aware that the internal struggles of the PECUSA are not the same as the various Eastern Christian Churches, I thought that article made sense to share in light of the recent posts on Matthew Heimbach. Why? Well, because the Heimbach scandal suggests there is something in Orthodoxy that has allowed him and his friends to latch onto Orthodoxy as supportive of their views. So, what would happen if the Orthodox responded by knee-jerking in a completely opposite manner? The PECUSA struggles suggest we’d lose members. Now, numbers are not everything–quality is more important than mere quantity, as every mission plant pastor/priest knows, but they can be indicative at times and I suspect they might be in the case of the PECUSA.
There are some reasons to treat the drastic reduction cautiously, though. Michael Hout, Andrew Greely, and Melissa Wilde, in “Birth Dearth: Demographics of Mainline Decline” Christian Century 2005, argued that the falling birth rate has hist the mainline churches as is the main cause. In addition, Mark Chaves,American Religion, 2011, has argued that every major religious indicator has been trending downward, across the board, except diffuse spirituality (e.g. “spiritual but not religious”). If Chaves is correct, we’re all in a world of hurt.
So, do these cautions undercut the previously posted article on the PECUSA? Not entirely, but it should help put it in a larger context and perspective. Yet, even with that context and perspective, it is clear that some people, and even parishes, are leaving the PECUSA over the discarding of traditional church positions on certain key issues. I believe this ought to remind us that the response to one extreme (the TradYouth guys) might not be best performed as an extreme turn in another direction.
This brings me to one of the main lessons I think we Eastern Christians, especially we Orthodox, should learn from the PECUSA: dividing the church too rigidly into the “liberals” and the “conservatives” hurts everyone. Orthodox Christianity needs to find a way to express her faith such that it can transcend such divisions. This is not easy, not at all. I’m not claiming to have the silver bullet here but I would argue that one starting point would be to tackle each issue on its own, struggling against the temptation to reduce those who differ to stock arguments/positions. For instance, I believe married bishops should be allowed again. Am I a leftist? I do not believe our church can perform “gay marriage.” Am I a rightist? Our Orthodox Church is too small to handle what is happening in the PECUSA. We have erred in creating an environment that encouraged TradYouth to believe Orthodoxy supports them. Yet we cannot err simply in going the route of the PECUSA. That can’t be the answer either. We need our own answer–one that seeks to be a transcendent voice.