The most recent Gallup poll results are out, and they confirm what Americans already know, which is that organized religion is in precipitous decline in the US. The grim news, which cuts across denominations and faith traditions, spells rough times ahead for Grace Episcopal, aka Planet Malm. Prospects probably are not much better for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
According to Gallup, in the past 20 years the percentage of Americans with no formal church affiliation has more than doubled, from 8 percent to 19 percent. The number of respondents saying they are unsure, or who refused to respond, doubled during that time, from 2 percent to 4 percent. Other polls back this conclusion, with one revealing that only 2 percent of Americans in 1955 claimed no religion, but one in five now having no religion.
Moreover, one in four Americans never attend church, while fully one half of Americans report that they want clergy to have only limited involvement in their lives. And almost 2/3 of Americans distrust church, with confidence in church hitting an all-time low
That contrasts starkly with the clericalism of St. Dysfunction, with its absurdly overpaid and underproductive clergy. I mean, in what other job can you make $200K a year, spend a month at the beach every year, and operate almost entirely without oversight? Nor am I aware of Bob Malm ever volunteering at a homeless shelter, personally serving the needy, or even gracing Thanksgiving dinner at the church (a practice that has ended since I left the parish) with his presence? (Pun intended.)
It’s also true that church conflict, left unaddressed, can fester for decades to come, harming the church for generations. Given that Dysfunctional Bob manipulated perceptions of parishioners at multiple levels, particularly apropos this conflict, it will be very difficult for members of the church to recognize and address the problems facing the parish.
Nor is the diocese likely to be much help. Every bit as squirrelly as Dysfunctional Bob, we’re talking about a diocese that actually is willing to say in writing that perjury doesn’t count as long as it doesn’t result in conviction. And Melissa Hollerith’s connections to the very upper echelons of the Episcopal Church suggests that her perspective on such matters is unlikely to receive any criticism from the hierarchy. In other words, the only thing the Episcopal church appears to be good at is litigation, and ironically enough, that is almost always predicated on church canons — the very canons the church ignores when it so chooses.
One closing observation: As a priest in DioVA once said to me, “May God help whoever comes after Bob Malm. It surely won’t be pretty.”
That’s spot-on. If Grace Church is to survive, it must shift from its culture of clericalism and idol worship of its rector. Yet Grace is highly resistant to change, and members will turn on each other if they believe their prerogatives are threatened. To make matters worse, the heart of the problem with Dysfunctional Bob and Sugarland Chiow is that they have taught parishioners all the wrong ways to resolve conflict. In short, Grace is wedded to a self-destructive approach to conflict resolution that all but guarantees the continued decline of the church.
As things unfurl in the coming months, it will be interesting to see how the handful of real Christians at Planet Malm respond to things, and if their views are treated with respect.