Kendall Harmon: A Disappointingly Shoddy Piece by Diana Butler Bass on Beliefnet

Posted by Kendall Harmon

I honestly cannot remember a time in my life in the Episcopal Church where I have read more mistakes in less time than in the last two to three weeks. Please do not believe everything you read and make sure to fact check and research material, a point we have stressed time and again on this blog.

A case in point is this recent piece by Diana Butler Bass. I enjoyed Dr. Bass' Standing Against the Whirlwind : Evangelical Episcopalians in Nineteenth-Century America which was well written and researched (and is quite relevant to our present time by the way), and so was baffled to see such a poorly written piece by her on Beliefnet.

The relevant section of her article for our purposes reads this way:

The Anglican Church of North America, the umbrella group for conservative Episcopalians who have left their denomination over women's ordination and full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons, has long claimed over 100,000 members. Recently, they admitted that only 69,000 persons in 650 churches in the USA and Canada have joined their association. There are 2.2 million Episcopalians in the United States and approximately 1 million in Canada. Thus, the conservative group--the one that has garnered so much media attention in recent years is a very small percentage of the entire North American Anglican membership--some 2% of the total. And with their rigid opposition to women's ordination, it is hard to imagine that this group will find much appeal with young North Americans.

Now for the record, I am not in ACNA. Certainly her description of the reason for the departure of ACNA is not one ACNA would agree with just for starters. It is over issues of Christology, marriage, the authority and interpretation of Scripture, the nature of the church, and the standards of Christian leadership that this controversy is fundamentally about.

According to ACNA's own website, ACNA still claims 100, 000 members. That claim has not changed. The reference to the 69,000 number is for Average Sunday attendance: according to the ACNA site ACNA claims "average Sunday attendance of 69,197 (as of spring 2009)" [and there is a even more about ACNA numbers here]. So follow along. Dr. Bass suggests the claim of membership in ACNA has changed. It hasn't. Then she suggests ACNA is claiming a number for membership which ACNA is claiming for average Sunday attendance. This is elementary category confusion. As anyone in parish ministry knows membership and Sunday morning attendance are very different.

Having made all these errors, Dr. Bass then compares the wrong category of numbers for ACNA and TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada:

There are 2.2 million Episcopalians in the United States and approximately 1 million in Canada. Thus, the conservative group--the one that has garnered so much media attention in recent years is a very small percentage of the entire North American Anglican membership--some 2% of the total.

Do you see how she got the 2% figure? She took the roughly 69,000 figure, which is for Average Sunday attendance, and compared it to the membership figures for TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. But this is comparing apples to oranges. The Episcopal Church has not been using average Sunday attendance figures for all that long, but you may know that whereas in the 2004 tables TEC claimed ASA of 833,672, by the 2009 tables that number is down to 768,476.

The 1 million number Dr. Bass gives for the Anglican Church of Canada membership is way off. One of the recent numbers I found was 641,845, but of course, this is again membership not Sunday morning attendance. I would honestly be surprised if average Sunday attendance in the Anglican Church of Canada is more than 200,000 actually (many of you know I lived and worshipped in Canada for two years), but let's use 300,000 for our purposes.

Now, if you use these figures, and compare apples to apples, the ASA of ACNA is approximately 6.5% of the ASA of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada combined, more than three times the percentage total Dr. Bass gives.

You would think given the large number of errors that I would be finished. But no. She continues:

And with their rigid opposition to women's ordination, it is hard to imagine that this group will find much appeal with young North Americans.

Well, this would come as news to my friend Mary Hays, an ordained woman quite involved in ACNA, to pick just one example. ACNA is trying to protect two perspectives on women's ordination, as anyone in the movement itself could have told Dr. Bass if she had asked.

What an embarrassing effort Dr. Bass has given us in this article. I sincerely hope she will improve in the future--and please, do not believe everything you read--KSH.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican Church in North America (ACNA)Anglican ProvincesAnglican Church of CanadaEpiscopal Church (TEC)General Convention TEC Data* By Kendall* Culture-WatchMedia

Posted July 27, 2009 at 8:30 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Chris wrote:

on top of that, I have to believe the average age of the ACNA parishoner is lower than ECUSA’s.

It’s a bit of oversimplifying here, but we have one entity that represents the past and one that represents the future.  I’m thinking pretty much everyone here knows which is which.

July 27, 9:33 am | [comment link]
2. Karen B. wrote:

Kendall, a nice job of pointing out the errors.  I agree they are really surprising for a writer and scholar who is generally so respected.

I might suggest to truly compare apples to apples, you use TEC domestic dioceses’ ASA figure: 727,822 (these and the other figures you cite are for 2007, though the file at TEC incorrectly says 2009 - it’s the 2009 Red Book, with 2007 Stats.  That would mean ACNA’s ASA is 9.5% of TEC’s domestic ASA (and in reality higher, because ACNA’s ASA figures are for 2009, while TEC’s figure is for 2007, and TEC has probably lost another 50,000 members in the last two years.)

Note too, that an ACNA membership figure of roughly 100,000 is perhaps quite conservative.  I imagine the 69,000 ASA figure is well-documented and supported.  It is easy to count “bums in the pews” as the Brits would say, and fairly simple to come up with a consistent way of reporting ASA across the different constituencies of ACNA.  Membership is of course trickier, which is probably why they’re admittedly using a very broad approximation.  But an ASA/member ratio of nearly 70% is astoundingly high.  TEC’s ASA to member ratio is 34% (for its domestic dioceses).  Granted, most evangelical parishes often have a higher ASA to member ratio - typically a larger % of attendees are very active in the parish because the church leadership expects it.  So if the ASA/member ratio of ACNA were 55% (which would be excellent), the actual membership figure might be more like 125,000.  If the ASA/member ratio of ACNA is similar to TEC’s, the membership would be more like 203,000.

Also, if I recall correctly, there have been NO stats published for the Anglican Church of Canada in many years, perhaps since 2002 or earlier?  Scott Gilbreath, a Canadian Anglican blogger and statistician blogged about Canadian Anglican stats several times - I’ll see if I can find those links.

July 27, 9:54 am | [comment link]
3. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

While I agree on the need to compare apples with apples, I hope ACNA is going to start being rigorous in its methodology when it comes both to statistics and record-keeping.

A less than positive straw in the wind is the recent decision to close the archives in Pittsburgh as a cost-saving measure. I also know that much of what both the diocesan communications department and the ACN offices generated in electronic form in recent years was not well preserved.

Data storage and preservation is costly and unglamorous, but histories like mine or Diana Bass’s Standing Against the Whirlwind (which I agree with Kendall is an excellent study) cannot be written without it.

Catholic and Reformed

July 27, 10:03 am | [comment link]
4. Karen B. wrote:

Here’s a link from Scott Gilbreath’s former blog re: statistics in the Anglican Church of Canada:  (Dated Dec. 2006)

The Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) does not have recent statistics for any essential numbers: priests, members, regular Sunday worshippers, regular givers, etc..  You name it, the ACC doesn’t know how many they got.  The most recent data available are for 2001.

  The 2007 Anglican Church Directory, an annual reference book published by ABC Publishing, in the section that normally carries national statistics, now carries a sentence that reads: “Figures will be available in 2008 after the installation of a new statistics-gathering system.” However, the same sentence, with the date reading “2007,” appeared in the 2006 directory. The church last published statistics in the 2005 directory and those were from 2001.

  “I get comments from people: ‘Why don’t we have statistics?’” acknowledged General Synod treasurer Peter Blachford, whose financial management and development department is responsible for collecting the data.

  Karen Evans, one of two librarians at the church’s national office in Toronto, said the library gets several inquiries each month about church numbers from journalists, students, directory publishers, other churches, members of the general public and national church staff who need accurate figures for such things as grant applications.

  “People are not impressed” that the most-recent data she can provide is from 2001, she said in an interview. “People sound contemptuous, or puzzled and critical. We look like an organization that is not transparent, not self-discerning and aware.”

The last comment applies to a lot of what the ACC does, but let’s not get into that right now.

Statistics Canada has counts of Anglicans in Canada, but they are derived from the census, so they also refer to 2001.  There’s another problem, too.

  [T]he 2001 national census reported that about two million Canadians identified themselves as Anglican, but the Anglican Church of Canada’s 2001 figures show that there are 212,577 people identified as regular givers out of a total of 641,845 people on parish rolls.

Now why would there be such a huge discrepancy between those sets of numbers? Why do so many Canadians tell the census they’re Anglicans when they haven’t set foot in an Anglican church for years?  Here’s a possibility, which I mentioned in a previous post: Those who identify as Anglican were most likely baptised as infants in an Anglican church, but as adults most of them have had little or no contact with the church.  Have liberal theology and gospel-free sermons driven them away?  We don’t know: Without a well-maintained database from which to do statistical analysis, it’s hard to be sure.

The Anglican Journal story goes on to describe how another Canadian Protestant denomination handles data gathering—and does a much better job of it than the ACC.

  Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, the United Church of Canada, meanwhile, maintains an impressive, up-to-date directory of detailed statistics, but its collection system differs from the Anglican church.

  The national office in Toronto sends its questionnaire directly to the church’s 2,300 “pastoral charges,” or parishes that may include one large church or several smaller churches. The response rate is impressive – 92 per cent – and Tom Broadhurst, information and statistics co-ordinator, and his two-person staff call parishes that have not responded. . . . Last year, he and his staff contacted more than 400 churches to verify their data.

The United Church of Canada (UCC) has an information and statistics co-ordinator with a staff of two.  Right away, it’s obvious that the UCC considers this a far more important function than does the ACC. The UCC sends questionnaires directly to parishes, whereas the ACC sends questionnaires to the 30 diocesan offices who, generally speaking, would have little idea how many regular worshippers attend services in each of their parishes.  The UCC conducts telephone follow-up with parishes that do not respond.  The ACC apparently does not.

The UCC’s system works; the ACC’s doesn’t.  Sounds like the best thing for the Anglicans to do is simply to copy what the United Church already does.

July 27, 10:05 am | [comment link]
5. Townsend Waddill+ wrote:

If the ACNA’s average Sunday attendance is almost 70% of its total membership, that is an amazing statistic.  On the other hand, I understand the ASA of the Episcopal Church to be approx. 35-40% of total membership.

I applaud the ACNA for having such committed disciples that most of them are in church almost every Sunday.

July 27, 10:30 am | [comment link]
6. robroy wrote:

I saw this several weeks ago and pointed out the sad errors. I am banned at commenting.

Kendall+ already talked about the ACNA numbers and her comparing apples to oranges.

About her first point. She talks about “oft-reported” figures of the SBC of 18 million now at 16 million implying an 11% decline. I personally had never heard of the 18 million figure. The reported membership numbers of the SBS is found here in graphical form which is what I am familiar. As one can see the numbers has increased to about 16 million and stayed there. Last year, membership dropped 40,000 which represents a 0.25% fall. (In contrast, the TEClub fell at a rate 7 times that and the even more liberal UCC fell at a rate of 25 times that.) So I googled “Southern Baptist” “membership” and “18 million”. Most of the links provided weren’t relevant. They contained references to things like, “I was 18 when I became a member of the Southern Baptist”, etc. Out of the first 100 or so links, I found only one reference to the 18 million figure. It was in an essay by a son whose father was an SBC pastor. The 18 million may have been merely a typo. The “oft report” figure is hardly oft reported.

Ms Bass is getting invited all over the world to lecture how liberal churches can grow (by the TEClub and the Church of Australia, etc). Her research is to find anecdotal examples of liberal parishes that are bucking the trend. Her “research” has as much academic integrity as the tobacco industry “researchers” who found examples of people that live long despite their smoking and then concluded that tobacco is safe.

July 27, 10:30 am | [comment link]
7. Jeremy Bonner wrote:


I agree with you that it’s a wonderful testimony, but wouldn’t you expect to see such a statistic at this point? All those who joined ACNA left for something and want to exercise their spiritual muscles in ever way possible. The real proof will be in the ASA of five, ten or even twenty years from now. My guess is that it will be lower, though still well above 50% of total membership.

July 27, 11:05 am | [comment link]
8. Ken Peck wrote:

#5, do I detect a bit of sarcasm in your message.

Perhaps, unlike TEC, ACNA is basing it’s “membership” on those who are in regular attendance. If TEC did that, it’s “membership would be far, far less than the 2.2 million routinely claimed.

And it is also quite possible (dare I suggest probable?) that those sufficiently committed to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as received by his Church as to leave an organization they sincerely believe is apostate would be more faithful to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread. and in the prayers”.

July 27, 11:31 am | [comment link]
9. Frances S Scott wrote:

A small part (maybe large part?) of the membership/attendance difference in TEC vs. ACNA stats might be related to the difference in average age;  it is difficult for the aged and infirm, nursing-home residents, hospitalized, or in some cases, perhaps already buried, to make it to church on Sunday.  Frances Scott

July 27, 1:58 pm | [comment link]
10. Knapsack wrote:

No, no, you all don’t understand.  Listen carefully— Liberal USA Christianity is growing, & conservative Christianity is slowing in growth if not outright shrinking.  And pay no attention, none at all, please, to Philip Jenkins.  Thank you, that is all.

(What, count all those out of control breeding populations of color in the Global South? Are you kidding me?  It’s just not done, no, not at all.  Not the thing, you understand.)

July 27, 2:15 pm | [comment link]
11. robroy wrote:

Frances, I am so glad that I had just put my cup down before reading your comment. ;^)

BTW, I again had the pleasure of attending Wellspring Anglican in Denver. I was struck by fact that I, being in my mid-forties, was one of the older ones as opposed to being one of the few, “younger” ones. Also, there are many families there who have also adopted internationally (Korean, Chinese, African,...). Made my kids feel very welcome.

July 27, 2:44 pm | [comment link]
12. robroy wrote:

As to Ms Bass’ third point, it is laughable that Jimmy Carter cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for is decision to “resign” from the SBC. (BTW, this “resignation” was done in 2000, so it is hardly breaking news). I checked the U.N. website for the text of the document. As you might have expected, access to the pulpit is not a universal human right. And Albert Mohler looked at this non-news story, Sorry, President Carter ... This Argument Falls Flat. Dr. Mohler points out,

Any honest observer [which Ms Bass is not] will be compelled to clarify that Mr. Carter’s action was an exercise in public relations. Individuals are not members of the Southern Baptist Convention, and there is no mechanism for individuals either to join or to resign from the denomination.

July 27, 2:51 pm | [comment link]
13. Milton wrote:

robroy, where were you banned?  Certainly it couldn’t have been at Fr. Jake’s old blog recently.  Membership in that exclusive club is closed now!  smile

July 27, 6:54 pm | [comment link]
14. robroy wrote:

Milton, at Ms Bass’ blog at where this shoddy piece was posted. I think it was for this comment:

Recall Ms Bass’ statement: “The only growing Christian churches in North America are “non-denominational,” and those congregations are difficult to classify theologically because they are so diverse.

Frank Lockwood, the BibleBelt Blogger points out (

“In a historic shift, more people are now attending Assemblies of God churches on weekday nights than worship in Episcopal Churches on Sunday mornings.”


“In the past 45 years, Episcopal Church membership has dropped from 3.4 million in 1964 to 2.1 million in 2007. At the same time, the inclusive membership in the Assemblies of God has skyrocketed, from 572,123 in 1964 to 2.9 million in 2008.”


“The Assemblies of God had average Sunday morning attendance of 1.8 million (and another 443,000 attending Sunday night services) in 2008. In the Episcopal Church, total average Sunday attendance dropped to 727,822 in 2007 [which is a 5% drop from the previous year].”

Ms Bass, are the Assemblies of God “difficult to classify”? Let me help. They…are..Pentecostals. That wasn’t so hard, was it?

I haven’t been able to post anything else there since. I don’t think she appreciated the dripping sarcasm of my last bit. I see that Kendall+‘s response was posted, but he might get banned there, too.

July 27, 8:37 pm | [comment link]
15. Jim the Puritan wrote:

I just don’t know where this canard comes from that younger Christians are more “liberal” than their older brothers and sisters.  My experience has been that younger Christians are much more traditional, conservative and Bible-centered, and more serious about being followers of Jesus every day, not just on Sunday mornings.  That’s certainly true at my church, and I suspect it’s true of most of the churches that are growing. 

I’m thinking in particular of one new and growing church near where I live that’s made up primarily of college kids, surfers and young professionals, where both pastors are surfer types in their mid-thirties.  They may meet in a rented movie theater and all wear jeans, shorts and t-shirts to worship, but they are traditional Calvinists and also believe in hands-on social activism such as ministries to the homeless (far different from a “.7% to the MDGs”).  It may be that some are confusing the social activism with the beliefs.

July 27, 10:29 pm | [comment link]
16. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Thanks to Kendall and especially to Karen (#2, 4) for setting the statistical record straight.  Likewise, thanks to robroy (#6, 12) for similarly exposing the indeed shoddy, highly misleading use of stats by Diana Bass.  Her mask slipped, and her haughty, dismissive attitude toward conservative Christians came through all too clearly. 

So I don’t think these blatant errors were merely a case of haste or carelessness (as the charge of shoddy work implies in the title to this thread).  I suspect it was more a case of wishful thinking.  She really, really wants the ACNA to be what the PB has claimed it is, a tiny, insignificant group of malcontents.  And misogyistic malcontents to boot.  And therefore, lo and behold, that’s what she finds.  What a coincidence.

David Handy+

July 27, 11:57 pm | [comment link]
17. GreeleySaid wrote:

Actually, the ASA from the 2009 Red Book (2007 data) should be 708,344, since the totals include 4 dioceses that (mostly) left TEC to create ACNA.

July 28, 1:11 am | [comment link]
18. Avtomat wrote:

“The Anglican Church of North America, the umbrella group for conservative Episcopalians who have left their denomination….”
Not everyone! I was never an Episcopalian

July 30, 7:44 pm | [comment link]
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