Episcopal Church

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The Episcopal Church is a United States-based member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, the Protestant movement formed when King Henry VIII of England broke with the Roman Catholic Church to form the Church of England. While the Anglican Communion is one of the largest global Christian denominations with over 85 million members, The Episcopal Church represents only about one percent of American Christians. 1 2 3

The Episcopal Church has been a leading element of the “Religious Left,” with environmentalism enshrined as one of the three main pillars of the church. 4

Leadership of the Episcopal Church is substantially more liberal than the rank and file membership, and church leadership has embraced political activism as a central religious duty of the church. 5 Despite having no registered lobbyists, the Episcopal Church is an active participant in policy and political activism on issues from same-sex marriage to environmental, transgender, and immigration policy.


The Anglican Church (known in its home country as the Church of England) arose in the 16th century after a series of disputes between King Henry VIII and the Catholic Church. The Episcopal Church, which calls itself “Protestant, yet Catholic,” is a US member church of the Anglican Communion, a network of churches affiliated with the Church of England. 6 The Episcopal Church was formed in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War when “the majority of America’s Anglican clergy refused to swear allegiance to the British monarch.” 7

The rise of Higher Criticism and the Social Gospel led to the theological and political liberalization of The Episcopal Church in the 19th century. Higher Criticism, the academic study of Biblical texts and history, was gradually embraced by Episcopalian seminaries and accepted by most Episcopalian clergy. 8

The liberal evangelical approach to this new understanding of Christianity also resulted in “a commitment to social justice as a major Christian obligation.” 9

This commitment to left-leaning social activism manifested itself in the Episcopalian embrace of the left-progressive “Social Gospel” movement, which held to “social as well as individual salvation and sought the betterment of industrialized society through application of the biblical principles of charity and justice.” 10 The Social Gospel movement “championed progressive political causes,” such as “an eight-hour work day, the abolition of child labor and government regulation of business monopolies.” 11 While the Social Gospel movement gradually faded away, the Episcopal Church retained the culture of political activism and remained politically left-of-center, at least at the leadership level.

According to the 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Study, members of the Episcopal Church are politically split between conservative (31 percent), moderate (37 percent) and liberal (29 percent). 12 But while the membership of the Episcopal Church is evenly divided, church leadership is less diverse. According to a 2008 Public Religion Research Institute study, Episcopal clergy are predominantly liberal (66 percent), with far fewer identifying as moderate (13 percent) or conservative (21 percent). 13

Membership in the Episcopal Church is claimed as 1.8 million (1.6 million in domestic US dioceses), according to the Episcopal Church’s 2018 membership records. 14 This continues a long-term decline in church membership, with a  decline of 20 percent since 2007, and with membership approximately half of the 1960s high of over 3.5 million. 15 16 17

Political Engagement

The Episcopal Church has engaged in left-progressive political activism, both at the corporate and membership levels.

Most notably, the Episcopal Church was an early and leading LGBT activist organization, including advocating for same-sex marriage rights. In 2003, a New Hampshire Episcopal church elected the first elected openly-gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church. In 2009, the Episcopal Church affirmed that any ordained ministry was open to same-sex couples. In 2012, the Episcopal Church called for the repeal of discriminatory federal laws, increased legal protections for domestic partners, and implemented a liturgy to bless same-sex relationships. In 2015, the Episcopal Church extended the rite of Holy Matrimony to same-sex couples. 18

A professor of church and society at General Theological Seminary, the Rev. Michael Battle, said that modern “Episcopal activism” on a wide variety of issues, including refugee resettlement, oil pipelines, immigration, healthcare policy, Israel policy, and gun control represented a change in the church, as the Episcopal Church had “moved from the church of the establishment to a church of advocacy.” 19

At the corporate level, the Episcopal Church highlights its advocacy work on Migration, Refugees and Immigration, Ending Poverty, Racial Reconciliation, Human Rights and Peacebuilding, and Environmental policies. 20 Recent Action Alerts from the Episcopal Office of Government Relations have included, “Release Aid to Palestinians,” “Thank Congress for Passing the Stimulus Bill,” “Support the Global Health Security Bill,” and “Support Immigrant Agricultural Workers.” 21

In 2018, the Episcopal Church also engaged in shareholder activism, using the Church pension fund to put pressure on Dick’s Sporting Goods to stop selling firearms. 22


The Episcopal Church is governed by a General Convention, composed of a House of Bishops and House of Deputies, which is conducted every three years. At the General Convention, a 40-member Executive Council is elected to govern the church between General Convention meetings. The Chair and Vice-Chair of the Executive Council are the Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops and the President of the House of Deputies. 23

The Presiding Bishop, elected in 2015, is the Reverend Michael Curry. Curry is perhaps best known for his sermons at the wedding of Prince Harry of the United Kingdom and American actress Meghan Markle, as well as at the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush. 24 25 He has been a longtime activist on social justice, immigration, and same sex marriage issues. 26 During his tenure, Curry has continued his political activism, including submitting an amicus brief on transgender bathroom use, leading EcoJustice Weekend services, leading an immigration protest, and speaking at a rally for housing regulations. 27 28 29 30

In 2016, Curry attended a oil pipeline protest “to declare in person that he, the Episcopal Church and, most importantly, God stands with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in its struggle against the Dakota Access Pipeline.” 31

Curry has also affirmed that environmentalism is one of the three main pillars of the Episcopal Church. 32

In 2017, Christopher Evans, Professor of History of Christianity at Boston University School of Theology, wrote that Curry is “celebrated by the religious left,” and that his “meteoric rise and media savvy have allowed him to occupy spaces of influence other liberal Christians have only dreamed of.” 33

The current President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church is the Reverend Gay Clark Jennings, the first ordained woman in this position. She was first elected in 2012, then re-elected in 2015 and 2018. Rev. Jennings is also a founding member of “the Chicago Consultation, which supports the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians.” 34 Jennings is also a columnist for Sojourners, the magazine of the religious left Sojourners organization, where she has written urging the Supreme Court to endorse same sex marriage, and argued that resistance to Trump is a “confession of faith.” 35


Like other religious organizations, the Episcopal Church is not obligated to file non-profit tax returns with the IRS. However, it publishes audited financial statements on their website. 36

Assets of the Episcopal Church have risen substantially over the past two decades, from $398 million in 2001 to $553 million in 2018. 37 Government grants accounted for $1.35 million of the Episcopal Church’s 2018 assets and $8.3 million of the Episcopal Church’s 2018 revenue of $83 million. 38


  1.   Anglican Communion, What is the Anglican Communion?, Accessed April 13, 2020.

  2. [1] CNN Staff, “Episcopal Church Fast Facts”, September 11, 2019. Accessed April 13, 2020.
  3. [1] Pew Forum, Religious Landscape Study, Accessed April 13, 2020.
  4. Episcopal News Service, “General Convention asked to strengthen further its commitment to creation care”, June 28, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2020.
  5. The Episcopal Church, Liberal Evangelicalism, Accessed April 14, 2020.
  6. The Episcopal Church, What Makes Us Anglican, Accessed April 13, 2020.
  7. [1] The Episcopal Church, Anglican Communion, Accessed April 13, 2020.
  8. [1] Holmes, David L., A Brief History of the Episcopal Church, A&C Black, 1993. Accessed April 14, 2020.
  9. [1] The Episcopal Church, Liberal Evangelicalism, Accessed April 14, 2020.
  10. [1] Encyclopedia Britannica, Social Gospel, Accessed April 14, 2020.
  11. [1] Evans, Christopher H., “How The Social Gospel Movement Explains the Roots of the Religious Left”, July 18, 2017. Accessed April 14, 2020
  12. [1] Pew Forum, Political ideology among members of the Episcopal Church, Accessed April 14, 2020.
  13. [1] Public Religion Research, Clergy Voices: Findings from the 2008 Mainline Protestant Clergy Voices Survey, June 2011. Accessed April 14, 2020
  14. [1] The Episcopal Church, Updated Table of Statistics of the Episcopal Church 2018, Accessed April 13, 2020
  15. [1] David Paulsen, “Episcopal Church’s parochial report numbers fuel discussion of decline and rebirth”, October 5, 2018. Accessed April 14, 2020
  16. General Convention, Baptized Members 2007-2017, Accessed April 17, 2020
  17. The Episcopal Church, 2004 Growth Report, Accessed April 15, 2020
  18. [1] The Episcopal Church, LGBTQ in the Church, Accessed April 15, 2020
  19. [1] Episcopal News Service, “Episcopalians differ on Church’s activism and mixing faith and politics”, March 9, 2017. Accessed April 13, 2020
  20. [1] The Episcopal Church, Office of Government Relations, About Us, Accessed April 15, 2020
  21. [1] The Episcopal Church, Office of Government Relations, Action Alerts, Accessed April 15, 2020
  22. [1] Episcopal News Service, “Episcopal Church shareholder activism works to change gun sale practices”, February 28, 2018. Accessed April 14, 2020
  23. [1] The Episcopal Church, Church Governance, Accessed April 13, 2020
  24. [1] Lyons, Margaret, “Bishop Michael Curry’s Full Sermon From the Royal Wedding”, May 19, 2018. Accessed April 14, 2020
  25. [1] Episcopal News Service, “Bush remembered as lifelong Episcopalian with deep ties to his church,” December 4, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2020
  26. [1] The Episcopal Church, Biography: The Most Rev. Michael Curry, Accessed April 15, 2020
  27. [1] ACLU, Gloucester County School Board V. G.G. – President Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Et Al., Accessed April 15, 2020
  28. [1] Episcopal News Service, “Episcopalians advocate for protecting God’s creation at Peoples Climate March and beyond”, May 1, 2017. Accessed April 15, 2020
  29. The Statesman, “Episcopal bishop leads immigration policy protest at detention center,” July 10, 2018. Accessed April 17, 2020
  30. [1] The Daily World, “Bishop Curry speaks at Aberdeen affordable-housing rally,” June 18, 2018. Accessed April 17, 2020
  31. [1] Mary Frances Schjonberg, “Presiding Bishop tells Standing Rock protectors ‘the way of Jesus honors the water’,” September 27, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2020
  32. [1] Lynette Wilson, “General Convention asked to strengthen further its commitment to creation care”, June 28, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2020
  33. [1] Jenkins, Jack, “Bishop Michael Curry walks a fine line in the political fray”, May 31, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2020
  34. [1] The Episcopal Church, Gay Clark Jennings ~ Biography, Accessed April 15, 2020
  35. Sojourners, Gay Clark Jennings, Accessed April 15, 2020
  36. [1] The Episcopal Church, Audited Financial Statements, Accessed April 12, 2020
  37. [1] The Episcopal Church, 2002 DFMS Consolidated Financial Statements, Accessed April 15, 2020
  38. The Episcopal Church, Audited Financial Statement, 2017-2018, accessed April 14, 2020
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