What is the Episcopal Church?
A decade ago, the Episcopal Church was front page news in national media when New Hampshire faithful elected a gay bishop. Editors assumed readers would see this as a significant moment in U.S. religion. One scholar in 2003 likened the Episcopal Church to California. “Things happen there that they know will happen in the rest of the churches,” said anthropologist of religion Susan Harding.
On gay religious and political rights and opportunities that has proven true — for California. For the Episcopal Church, not so much.
Wednesday’s Washington Post, in a sad news story about another bishop, felt it necessary to add a description of the Episcopal Church as “a small but historically prominent American Protestant denomination.”
Has this church has gone from influential to afterthought, from elite to obscure, in record time? Yes and no.
It was always a small church but at least people knew it was an American Protestant denomination without being told. And they knew many of the Founding Fathers and 11 U.S. presidents prayed in Episcopal pews.
Now, when even the U.S. Supreme Court has no Protestant justices, that’s no longer common knowledge. Hence, the Post’s rare-bird-sighting treatment complete with taxonomy.
We have seen whole American religious landscape shift, denominational lines blur and points of religious distinction — theological and cultural — flatten out.
Or it may be that in nearly a quarter century since the first American Religious Identification Survey asked “What is your religious identity?” we have seen more documentation, more research, more reporting and classifying who is spiritually who.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Cathy Lynn Grossman