Who cares about the Episcopal Church?

The general convention of the Episcopal Church ended last month in Anaheim, Calif., with a whimper, despite these rather staggering announcements: it would, after years of internal battling, continue to elevate gay priests to bishops, and it would consider blessing same-sex unions in the states that allow gays and lesbians to marry. The convention—and these announcements—received a fair amount of obligatory coverage, but the news cycle quickly moved on. In the wake of that coverage I received the following e-mail from an editor: “I’ve been following this story and trying, without success, to think of an interesting line of argument. It’s been in the news a lot lately.” Right. It’s hard to think of an interesting story about the Episcopal Church in America because what happens within the Episcopal Church is—frankly, and with deep apologies to all my Episcopalian friends—just not that interesting.

After years of dominance, Episcopalians have become a minority religion in America. There are just 2.4 million Episcopalians in the United States, down from 3.5 million in 2001—a 31 percent falloff. (The Episcopal Church is the American branch of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide church that has 80 million members.) By comparison, there are 8 million nondenominational Christians (a low estimate), up from 2.5 million—an explosion of 220 percent over the same period.