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A minor


Thursday, June 19, 2003

Why Are Episcopalians Rich?

At one point during my recent visit to Monroe, Aaron Booth and I were having a conversation about the Christian schools in Texarkana. One of the schools he mentioned was an Episcopal day school, and in the course of the conversation, he asked me if I knew why Episcopalians are generally some of the richest Christians. I knew I had read a couple things on this, but I didn't have a ready answer at my fingertips. So, this morning I decided to email Scott Cunningham and to refresh my memory of James Jordan's section, "What Might We Learn from Episcopalianism?" in The Sociology of the Church (Wipf and Stock, [1986] 1999), pages 15-23. What follows are some quotes from Jordan:

"The catholic party (Roman and Anglican) is frankly elitist. It strives to convert and control the elite in society, and it arms its best men for that task, giving them time for reflection and writing.


"Americans like to believe in the myth that society is transformed from the "bottom up" and not from the "top down." This flies squarely in the face of both history and Scripture. The history of Israel, as recorded in Scripture, is not a history of revivals from the bottom up, but of kings and their actions. Good kings produced a good nation; bad kings a bad nation. The order is always from the top down, though of course with real feedback from the bottom up.


"Christ is the head of the church, the New Testament repeatedly tells us. The church, however, is also a body politic, with eyes, hands, and feet (1 Cor. 12). Each part is necessary, but each part does not have the same function. There are rulers and governors - a hierarchy - in the church. There is no virtue in trying to evade this obvious fact, by objecting to the term "hierarchy," or by ignoring the issue.


"Of course, we must say by way of a comprehensive philosophy of history that the Triune God always moves all at once, reforming from the top down at the same time as He reforms from the bottom up. The point, however, is that there is a small group of elite leaders and controllers - a hierarchy - in every society. There always will be. Whoever ministers to that elite group will control society. Paul knew that. That is why he wanted so badly to get to Rome. The Episcopalians also know it. The Presbyterians and Baptists have tried to pretend that this is not so, and have thus left the elite to others, as much by default as by anything else.


"A society that is openly hierarchical, as is the Episcopalian church, does not have near the problem with envy as does a society that pretends to democracy. A society that recognizes that there are a diversity of gifts, and that actively promotes its best men, has gone a long way toward stripping the envious of their power.


"We may question whether Baptist or Presbyterian bodies really even want to minister to the elite. It is easy to say "there are not many called." So what? What about those who are? And what about influencing those who are not? Men who are big frogs in small ponds have a vested interest in keeping the pond small. They don't want an invasion of elite people, who have more money, more education, and more power than they do. Thus, they really don't want to minister to the elite. They don't want to take over the elite. They don't prize excellence, and they don't reward it. They move to cripple the capabilities of their best men, as I have described above. They cling to the myth that literature oriented toward the masses will do more than scholarly material oriented toward the elite. That this is baloney does not bother them, because they really do not want dominion [emphasis original].


"This is not to despise the poor and the simple. One of the ministries of Episcopalian churches in town after town is the Episcopal Thrift House, where the used clothing of the wealthy is made available to the poor at extremely low cost. I got through college wearing coats from the Episcopal Thrift House. These stores are staffed by volunteer ladies from the Episcopal church, ladies whose husbands make so much money that they can afford to donate lots of time free to this ministry. This kind of ministry is simply impossible among churches that do not have any wealthy members."

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