The Pittsburgh Paradigm: The Rise of Confessional Anglicanism in Southwestern Pennsylvania, 1950-2000

By Bonner, Jeremy | Anglican and Episcopal History, September 2008 | Go to article overview

The Pittsburgh Paradigm: The Rise of Confessional Anglicanism in Southwestern Pennsylvania, 1950-2000


Bonner, Jeremy, Anglican and Episcopal History


In May 2006 tensions within the Episcopal Church were coming to a head as its national assembly, the General Convention, prepared to meet in Columbus, Ohio. At stake was the nature of its commitment to the Windsor Report, commissioned by the archbishop of Canterbury in 2003, and the subsequent clarifications made by the primates of the Anglican Communion in 2005. That report was, in turn, a consequence of the 2003 election and consecration of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire, the first Anglican bishop consecrated while living openly in a partnered homosexual relationship. For almost three years conservative Episcopalians in Pittsburgh and elsewhere had been demanding a reversal of this seismic theological shift, of which, they insisted, Robinson's election was merely a consequence not the cause. Liberal Episcopalians responded in kind, arguing that the conservative opposition was representative of only a small proportion of American Anglicans and lacked a proper appreciation of the breadth that characterized a genuinely Anglican moral theology. What was talking place, argued Pittsburgh progressive Lionel Deimel, was a "neo-Puritan" conspiracy that sought to "remake Anglicanism into a narrow Christianity unable to speak meaningfully to rapidly evolving Western societies, in spite of whatever appeal [the militants'] theology might have elsewhere."1

Deimel, a lay member of St. Paul's Church in Mt. Lebanon, spoke for a significant minority within the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh who were, at the very least, uneasy with the powerful neo-evangelical presence in their diocese, and the nationwide "renewal" movement to which it is connected. However, such critics frequently overstate the narrowness of Anglican Evangelicalism or treat it as an entirely alien presence within the Church. As Diana Butler has demonstrated, this sense of being in the Church yet not of it is a familiar story for Anglican Evangelicals,2 but it has taken on added significance in the twentieth century as the bonds uniting disparate Anglican communities across the world have broadened. Furthermore, the whole basis of this movement in Pittsburgh has been predicated on a chain of events that antedate such traditional benchmarks as the launch of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (TESM) in 1975 and the election of Alden Hathaway as bishop of Pittsburgh in 1980.

Neo-evangelicalism was a force that built upon preexisting movements that had begun in southwestern Pennsylvania in the immediate aftermath of the second World War. Their practitioners, though not themselves neo-evangelicals, promoted approaches to evangelism that provided an effective base upon which later neo-evangelicals could build. Pittsburgh's theological conservatives, therefore, owed little to the two influences that had previously shaped Episcopal resistance to modernist theology, namely Anglo-Catholicism and Southern low churchmanship.' Instead, they drew upon resources derived from the wider Anglican Communion, most notably from the Church of England. They were also obliged to acknowledge a debt to two Pittsburghbased forerunners, Austin Pardue (bishop of Pittsburgh from 1944 to 1967) and Sam Shoemaker (rector of Calvary Church, East Liberty, from 1952 to 1961).

Broadly speaking, the changing character of the Diocese of Pittsburgh can be explained as the result of three different processes: deinstitutionalization (1951-1970); self-definition (19711987); and globalization (1988-2000). The development of new approaches to ministry in the 1950s fundamentally challenged the modus operandi under which the diocese-and, indeed, the Episcopal Church-had operated for over a century. This new framework helped make the diocese a laboratory for the renewal movement that arose during the late 1960s. Beginning in the late 1980s, however, the diocese began to cultivate closer ties with Anglicans in the Third World (the Global South), many of whom shared their evangelical theology. …

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