An American Dilemma

The Episcopal Church (1976-2006)

In 1976, the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., met in General Convention to consider, among other things, two questions: the adoption of a new Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women.  Whether they knew it or not, the delegates were actually resolving a deeper, more disturbing dilemma: whether to remain orthodox or to remain respectable.

From its beginnings and well into the 20th century, the Episcopal Church had enjoyed the luxury of being both.  While theological debates raged in other branches of Christendom, Episcopalians agreed on the tenets of the historical creeds and quarreled instead over high church and low church.  Though, in some locales, other denominations brought social status to their membership, nationwide, the Episcopal Church was the place to be if you wanted to join the country club or meet the president of the bank.  At St. Albans, orthodoxy and respectability were old friends and sat in the same pew on Sunday mornings.

Then, in the second half of the 20th century, a rift occurred; and, soon enough, the two were no longer speaking.  The nation suddenly found itself in the grip of social revolution.  The civil-rights movement, peace movement, women’s movement, and sexual revolution quickly changed America from a stable, traditional society into a political and cultural war zone.  The media and the academy quickly sided with the revolutionaries and began to exert...

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