Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Pope allows Anglicans back into the fold -in droves!

For years, small numbers of Anglicans have been quietly trickling back into Catholicism. But the Vatican's new policy, announced Tuesday, opens the flood gates to allow scores of new cross-overs. The new arrangements would allow not just individuals, but entire groups -parishes with their own priests, to enter into the Catholic Church. The Vatican's position addresses the increasing number of Anglicans, dissatisfied with their own church's liberal shift (ordaining women/gay clergy and blessing homosexual partnerships), seeking to return to Catholicism.

According to CNN, "...'hundreds' of Anglicans around the world have expressed their desire to join the Catholic Church. Among them are 50 Anglican bishops...",8599,1931193,00.html?xid=rss-world-cnn

On the surface, this may seem joyous news: 450 years after the Catholic/Anglican rift, a bridge forms across the chasm! Yet beneath the hype, the story carries an ominous message. The bridge is formed out of necessity, as disillusioned conservatives drift back into Catholicism, leaving behind more liberal Christians which may evolve or drift away from Christianity. In the developed world, Christianity is consolidating. It's contracting, not expanding.

European and US modern societies depict religions as irrelevant vestiges of our past. The faithful are leaving. Churches face a choice: either evolve with society to remain relevant, or double down on beliefs, knowing many may leave, but the remaining core, unwavering, will make it more likely that beliefs be handed down to the next generation. American Episcopalians have chosen the former, while the Catholic Church maintains the latter.

Which direction best guarantees the survival of Christianity? A lesson can be drawn from the current crisis in American Jewry. Depending on how strictly they observe Jewish laws/customs, Jews traditionally divide into three branches: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Being a minority in a Christian nation, American Jews are facing an increasing identity crisis. Many are marrying non-Jews, and having children that do not identify themselves as Jews. But this is primarily a problem for Reform/Conservative Jews. Orthodox by and large do not marry out. They preserve their beliefs and pass them on to their children. Orthodox also are far more likely to have multiple children, versus one or two for Reform/Conservatives (below the level of replacement). The predicted result is that within three generations, non-Orthodox Jews' offspring will be few, and most will not identify themselves as Jews, while the Orthodox will produce a large bounty of believing (Orthodox) Jews. 50 years from now, Judaism in America will be greatly diminished, and far more Orthodox than it is today.

Could a similar pattern arise in Christianity? Most Americans still consider themselves Christian, so this is unlikely to occur here -yet. But consider Europe. How many truly see themselves as Christian versus atheist/post-modern what nots? Those who practice a "light" form of Christianity could soon see their children marrying out with other religions or perhaps simply no religion at all. Only the more conservative European Christians will continue to pass on the faith to their kids. The fate of Christians in the developed world could parallel that of American Jews: Those who remain will be conservatives, while the rest may eventually disappear.

In this context, the Anglican defections foreshadow a possible Anglican rift, where those who chose to remain liberal Christians could eventually disappear, while the conservatives migrate into Catholicism, or another conservative Christian branch. Our current gain could eventually imply Christianity's loss.


  1. You say, "Which direction best guarantees the survival of Christianity?", but I would be cautious with your choice of words. The Church is not a growth industry or a political party. In the same way, contrary to what some people say, the Church does not have "positions" on "issues", it has teachings for our lives. We are the Church, but the Church does not "belong" to us, anymore than it "belongs" to the Pope. The Church belongs to its founder, Christ. As such, our obligation, as it is also the Pope's, is to be faithful to His teachings as understood through Scripture and tradition. This is regardless of whether it makes us popular or "guarantees" our survival. This Pope is something of a wry realist when he concedes that our's is a Church that may have to become smaller in order to remain faithful. But a minority faithful witness is not fruitless witness, like yeast in leavened bread (a metaphor he uses for today's Christian). And this witness already is showing its first fruits. Among the most dynamic and growing parts of the Church, are its more traditional orders and diocese. If fact, if the situation is one of contraction, it is in fact good compared to the more liberal churches, such as the Episcopal Church. To me, when you have such a church as the Episcopal Church, which has not only boasted a gay bishop in an openly gay relationship, but has also had bishops who have questioned the divinity of Christ, or more recently, a female bishop who, speaking before NARAL, declared abortion to be a blessing, you have a church that has definitely lost its way. There is more concern in the Episcopal Church today for political correctness than for doctrinal fidelity.

    In the end, it is traditionalists everywhere who stand to inherit the earth (by this, I do not mean any triumphalism, but rather, as in: "the meek shall inherit the earth"). It is simply a fact of life that if family is not on the top of your list of values, if you are inclined to other things, that you will likely not reproduce with the same assiduity. But this, in the end, is besides the point of our fidelity.

  2. Just one correction, the speech to NARAL was delivered by the president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Katherine Ragsdale, not a bishop. You can find a snippet of her speech in the Aug./Sept. edition of "First Things".

  3. I take umbrage on your unprovoked attack on the Jewish people! It is unbridled aggression!

  4. I took umbrage once... It made me kind of dizzy...