By Jack H. Taylor, Jr.
The American Anglican Council, the schismatic-promoting, Dallas-based cartel of conservatives in the Episcopal Church, has fallen far short of lofty membership and financial goals it established when it first organized and sought tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service in 1997.
According to the AAC's income tax returns for the years 1997 and 1998, the money it has raised through gifts, grants and contributions has dropped to two-thirds of its expectations, and membership numbers have fallen far short of what was anticipated. Such data suggests that critics who have long thought such rump groups as the AAC are greatly splintered and represent only minority views of the church at large, whether on issues of human sexuality, a focal point of the AAC, or on ordination of women, the primary concern of Fort Worth-based Forward in Faith-North America.
The AAC is headed by the Rt. Rev. James Monte Stanton of Dallas, who was a leader in the ill-fated effort to convict Bishop Walter Righter of heresy over ordination of a homosexual and has in the view of many turned heretical himself by promoting schism and ignoring the church's majority views as expressed by General Convention in Denver 2000. Bishop Stanton's wife, Diane, is the AAC's chief operations officer.
Despite its hope to become a gathering spot for dissatisfied Episcopalians, Stanton's AAC has faltering membership as well as finances, if its income tax returns are a true barometer.
In 1998, the most recent year for which returns are available, the AAC raised $405,821 in gifts, grants and contributions, compared with $660,000 it had anticipated, and only $37,773 in membership, compared with $480,000 it had forecast. That represents only 61% of the money and, at $25 per member, only 1,510 members and just 12.7% of the membership fees it had forecast.
The 1998 figures also represented a decline from the previous year. In 1997, the AAC reported $497,524 in gifts, grants and contributions, or roughly 90% of the $550,000 it had forecast, and $66,804 in membership fees, or 2,672 members, which is just 16% of the $400,000 it anticipated.
The AAC's original forecast for 1999 was for a steady increase through the first three years to $798,000 in gifts, grants and contributions and $570,000 in membership fees, or 22,800 members if measured by the $25 annual membership charge. Tax returns for 1999 are not yet available.
The AAC spent $442,375 in expenses in 1998, $106,884 on what it characterized as task group programs, $86,285 in program publications and communications and $37,084 on travel and meetings.
One of the AAC's publications, a 56-page soft-cover booklet titled Mixed Blessings: Why Same-Sex Blessings Will Divide the Church: A Response to the Report and Resolution of the Episcopal Church's Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, published in July 2000, has been sent unsolicited to new members.
It includes two essays by Diane Knippers, the AAC's treasurer and the paid ($63,000+) head of the Institute on Religion & Democracy Inc., a Washington-based conservative church group which also has faced declining revenue ($367,000 in 1996, down from $683,000 in 1992), and one essay by the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan, the AAC's first vice president and bishop of Pittsburgh.
Stanton, Duncan and six other bishops -- from Fort Worth, Florida, South Carolina, San Joaquin, Albany and Quincy -- are among the promoters of the schismatic Nassau Resolutions adopted by the AAC at its board meeting in the Bahamas in August. Among other things, they reject and condemn the recent General Convention's Resolution A045 on the ministry of women; supports heretical actions by bishops who refuse to follow church doctrine on the ordination of women -- or to even talk about it; and promotes formation of a renegade, church parallel to the existing structures of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in which it hopes to gather together in a united effort those orthodox, biblical, evangelical, Anglo-catholic and charismatic Anglican bodies that share a vision for propagation of the Gospel in a faithful expression of Anglican Christianity.
The Rev. Donald Gross, a conservative priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh who keeps abreast of what might be called the orthodox Anglican sect within the Episcopal church, said the center of the movement is the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA), led by archbishops outside the United States, mostly in Africa but also including Southeast Asia and other areas.
Among the AMiA's leadership are two American priests who are now sort of renegade bishops, consecrated in Singapore outside normal channels, the Very Rev. John H. Rodgers, of Ambridge, PA, one of the founding members of the AAC, and the Rev. Charles Chuck Murphy III, of Pawleys Island, SC, seat of other schismatic movements, including the ill-fated PECUSA Inc., led by Bishop Bill Wantland of Eau Claire, which prompted a lawsuit over misappropriation of the church's name.
American support for them comes from several groups, Gross said, but the AMiA itself is in the process of forming a new Anglican Province in the US It is independent from the Episcopal Church and from other American groups such as the AAC, First Promise, Ekklesia, Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church, the Prayer Book Society, or Forward in Faith-North America (formerly the Episcopal Synod of America). It is definitely sponsored by Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Nigeria has been added, and that one Province is numerically larger than any other and has more worshippers going to Church on a given Sunday than all of the American and European Anglicans combined.
Gross expects that any new province will not be in PECUSA, just in the USA. Sympathizers within PECUSA will work energetically to encourage and facilitate the new Province. There is a strong motivation to not split. Let's suppose (though I do not know) that the new Province is called the Anglican Church in America (ACiA).
Over the next several years, maybe a decade, it may be that people now in PECUSA and other Americans who have previously broken from PECUSA, who favor the goals of the ACiA, will negotiate union with the ACiA. This would be a continuing union, not a splintering. At the same time the number of Provinces elsewhere in the world who favor the ACiA will recognize the AciA rather than PECUSA. This process is already being shown in significant growth in support of the AMiA by Anglican Archbishops in the British West Indies, the Southern Cone (southern South America), Australia and Nigeria, who have added themselves to the original Archbishops of Rwanda and Southeast Asia.
Gross expects that the list of PECUSA groups like the AAC, which I previously mentioned, will continue to cooperate enthusiastically with the AMiA.
Gross also warned that you may not understand, but do not underestimate the spiritual dynamic behind the formation of a new united Province -- or the weakness of PECUSA in being able to stand against it.
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