[BOB] ABERNETHY: One of the things that will certainly be going on in the New Year is more and more of something that we’ve already seen, which is this closer relationship between religious organizations in the United States and those in other countries. Rachel, you’ve been writing a lot about this.
Ms. [RACHEL] ZOLL: The growth or explosion, really, of Christianity overseas is having an impact within the United States. As just one example, the United Methodist Church, which is considered and is and always has been very much of a middle class American church, if the current growth trends continue will become a majority African church within the next couple of decades. They’re already dealing with the fact that there are Methodists from the Philippines and from Korea who are planting churches within the United States as well, and they’re trying to figure out the relationship there. Another impact of it is that a lot of very entrepreneurial, very evangelical-minded or evangelically minded African pastors are coming over here to plant churches in the United States. Now, for people who don’t watch these things closely, they are puzzled. Why does, in a very religious country, does anyone need to plant more churches? But these are very fervent believers, and they think that the American church has lost its spirit and has become co-opted so much by the culture that they’re here to save us.
ABERNETHY: Meanwhile, some U.S. Episcopalians are separating themselves from the main Episcopal Church and putting themselves under the authority of Nigerians or others in Africa or South America. Bring us up to date on that.
Ms. ZOLL: Sure. The Christians overseas tend to have a very theologically conservative view on the moral issues that we’re grappling with here, and what’s happening is that theological conservatives in the United States are making common cause with like-minded conservatives overseas. The Episcopal Church is not cracking up. It’s a very small comparative number of churches that have actually left the Episcopal Church, about 55 as of this date out of more than 7,000 congregations in the United States. But it’s not just the numbers. It’s the — a lot of those churches are some of the most vibrant churches within the Episcopal Church, and just recently an entire diocese voted to leave.
ABERNETHY: But do you expect more of that separating?
Ms. ZOLL: It’s not clear how many more will happen, but what we know that what will happen next year is a lot of litigation, and that is going to be very difficult for the Episcopal Church and for people who are trying to leave. It’s going to be expensive. It’s going to be ugly, and it’s going to take a long time to play out.
You can see what is going on, [the TEC leadership is] … playing games with numbers and categories. “Few” leaving actually means “congregations,” and congregations means congregations defined as a whole. This is collapsing all four categories into a very narrow and misleading picture of group number 2.
People know that in reality it is very difficult to get whole parishes or dioceses to take significant decisions about ANYTHING, much less something as important as this. Given the degree of opposition and hostility faced in numerous quarters from diocesan and national leadership, and given how many Anglican reasserters (such as your blog convenor) have been advocating a stay and be opposed but be faithful stance, it is actually surprising that the numbers from the four categories are this large.
The key point is, taken together the four groups illustrate a VERY SERIOUS problem. Good leadership owns the actual situation and then tries to deal with it, it does not try to redefine it narrowly and pretend it is less than it is