The Religion News Service has an article that tries to crunch some numbers to figure out the differences between “Anglicans” and “Episcopalians” in the United States. They’ve asked that the graph not be reproduced so you’ll have to click this link to view it yourself.
There are lots of problems with this data: it is dated and it is not clear that everyone means the same thing when they say “Anglican” or “Episcopalian.”
But if we take the data as it is, two things grab my attention.
First, over half of “Anglicans” think homosexuality should be accepted in society. (No clues as to what “accepted” means.) This is less than the Episcopal number but still substantial. More significantly, it is much, much different than the usual pronouncements we hear from the leaders of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) and its affiliated organizations.
Second, more than a quarter of Episcopalians identify as conservative. Historically, given the membership patterns in the Episcopal Church, this is not surprising. But it might come as a surprise for those who believe in the too-often presented image of the church as gone-off-the-rails-liberal.
So three conclusions:
First—and perhaps such an obvious point it doesn’t need to be said—membership in organizations is far more complex than the pronouncements of its leaders.
Second, there is an apparent disjuncture in both Anglican and Episcopal churches between the rhetoric at the highest levels and the reality of the membership. If it is genuinely true that over half of ACNA members think homosexuality should be accepted, then the disjuncture is particularly acute. ACNA leaders have pegged their flag to opposing homosexuality in part because they derive their legitimacy from international links to some other Anglicans, the first condition of which is opposition to homosexuality. What happens when their membership no longer supports such a position?
And third, wouldn’t it be great if we had similar data about other provinces of the Anglican Communion? I bet that if we did, we would find that our beliefs about each other would shift dramatically. Certainly when I have traveled in the allegedly conservative provinces of the Anglican Communion, it has been my experience—time and time again—that the people I meet hold views that are substantially different than what their leaders are saying. People sometimes find that surprising. But based on this data, the same could be said for the Anglican/Episcopal presence in the United States.
So… religious identity is a complex phenomenon whether in the church down the street or the one across the world.