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How To Kill A Church: Episcopalians innovating their way to obsolescence

How To Kill A Church
Episcopalians innovating their way to obsolescence

By Rod Dreher
Oct 27, 2022

Here's a clip from the Rev. Lorenzo Labrija, the Gavin Newsom-like "chief innovation officer" of Virginia Theological Seminary, which trains Episcopal priests. https://twitter.com/WokePreacherTV/status/1585607629006684160

The charismatic Father talks about how there needs to be an app that allows young people to pull a little of this from feminist theology, a little of that from queer theology, and so forth, and make them "feel that they have an authentic spirituality that connects them to the divine." Notice what makes it "authentic" is not whether or not it's true, but about whether it feels right to them. The app will provide answers when the seeker asks, "This is what I'm feeling, where does God fit into all this?"

This is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, in a line. The sociologist Robert Bellah got there as far back as 1985, calling this kind of thing "Sheilaism", after a nurse his team interviewed, who described her faith like this:

I believe in God. I'm not a religious fanatic. I can't remember the last time I went to church. My faith has carried me a long way. It's Sheilaism. Just my own little voice ... It's just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself. You know, I guess, take care of each other. I think He would want us to take care of each other.

"I can't remember the last time I went to church." Yep. Sheilaism is the last step on the way out of the faith. The Rev. Dr. David Goodhew, writing for The Living Church, a publication of traditional Episcopalians, lays out the numbers tracking the church's steep decline. He writes that the Episcopal Church will be functionally dead by 2050 absent some sort of turnaround. He could be speaking to the Rev. Labrija when he writes:

There is abundant evidence worldwide that churches which are a pale imitation of the surrounding culture do not thrive. Why join the Episcopal Church when you might as well join the Sierra Club? Around the globe many branches of Anglicanism are growing, but not those that espouse low-fat faith.

The Rev. Labrija is correct to point out that Millennials and Gen Z'ers are highly eclectic in their cafeteria Christianity, and would surely respond to being able to cobble together a DIY spirituality using technology. But that's cope; that's not a life-changing faith. Nobody lives or dies for a faith that they put together online. For all the difficulties and challenges the Orthodox Church faces today -- and there are plenty -- we are doing the exact opposite of what the Rev. Labrija recommends. You can become so seeker-friendly that you don't give anybody reason to expect they can find anything in your church. Or you can become finder-friendly.

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers--Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Leming--as well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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