“Anglican” or “Episcopalian”? The answer depends on the value of tradition

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One question that pops up repeatedly about our graph of religion and politics is, “Where are the Episcopalians? Did you lump them in with Anglicans?”

The simple answer is that all Episcopalians are Anglicans. So, putting them in the same group is completely accurate. There are some break-away or new Anglican congregations that are not part of the Episcopal Church, but they represent less than ten percent of Anglicans in the United States.

But I get the point of the question. There are some people who identify as “Anglican” and others who are proudly “Episcopalian.”

Jordan Hylden writes that while it is both innacurate and simplistic, there is the perception among church-going Americans that an “Episcopalian” is

a member of an pro-gay, autonomous American denomination, more liturgical than most churches but firmly within the theological orbit of liberal Protestantism.

While an “Anglican” is someone

part of a conservative evangelical church with bishops, connected somehow with Africa and opposed to homosexuality.

Fortunately, we have data to sort this out. Pew’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey included 706 Anglicans/Episcopalians. When asked if they identified with the Episcopal Church or the Anglican church, 73 percent said they identified as Episcopalian; 21 percent said they were Anglican.

The key difference between these identities is the value they place on tradition. When asked if the church should preserve tradition or if it should change to fit modern life, half of Anglicans said the church should “preserve traditional beliefs and practices.” Only 28 percent of Episcopalians said this.

The issue of homosexuality may make headlines when Anglican congregations split or join another Anglican diocese, but overall, this issue isn’t the big divide. Episcopalians are more accepting of homosexuality, but not by very much. Indeed, a majority of Anglicans (57%) and Episcopalians (68%) believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society (note: this was in 2007).

The survey doesn’t have a measure of theological liberalism, but politically, Anglicans are more likely to self-identify as conservative (46% to 30%).

One final note: Both groups are from the same religious background. 51 percent of both groups were raised in the Episcopal Church. There were no major differences in how others came to the church.

Update — Immigration?

I should have thought about this, but didn’t. Thanks to Megan Castellan for this tweet:

Identifying as “Anglican” is also due to immigration — people who grew up outside the U.S. are more likely to identify as “Anglican”. Only five percent of “Episcopalians” were born in the U.S. compared to 18 percent of “Anglicans”.  Only two-thirds of these immigrants were raised Anglican, but the identification is still more common among all of them.

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  • Pingback: The complexity of Anglican/Episcopal identity | Mission Minded()

  • Kind of appalling that this set of false distinctions is being promulgated. Especially that an Episcopal priest, and recipient of an Episcopal Church Fellowship, put out that awful set of definitions that anyone with any knowledge or power of observation can knock giant holes in it.

    Jesus wept.

  • Doug

    Since around 6 in 10 “Anglicans” believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society, clearly, the majority of “Anglicans” are in the more theologically moderate/liberal tradition. Questions about tradition or whether one is a political conservative are very ambiguous.

  • Pingback: Anglican and/or Episcopalian | Past Christian()

  • TImN

    I suspect that only 5% of Epicopalians were born OUTSIDE the US. Otherwise I don’t think this makes sense

  • Bruce Rienstra

    Prof. Tobin. Your blog left me wondering what you are trying to say and why you wrote this? It doesn’t answer any questions, nor does it answer the question you are setting out, though it tries to make some assumptions. I have to agree with Wendy Dackson and her blog reply that your blog was quite unhelpful in understanding the difference between so-called “Anglicans” and Episcopalians in the United States. For me, your blog emphasises my thought that ACNA has hijacked the term Anglican and that The Episcopal Church (TEC) needs to make a concerted effort to reclaim the term “Anglican” for themselves.

  • Gregor

    Everyone should believe in something. I believe I’ll have another drink.

  • MisterDavid

    One significant factor: the Anglican Church in North America did not exist in 2007 (the year from which the figures were taken), and therefore the habit of self-identification as Anglican as an alternative to Episcopalian had really not kicked in by then. Certainly not where I am – South Carolina – where the issue is a particularly fraught one.

    I suspect that updated figures would reveal a rather more distinct difference between Anglican and Episcopalian.

  • ann jones

    “For me, your blog emphasises my thought that ACNA has hijacked the term Anglican and that The Episcopal Church (TEC) needs to make a concerted effort to reclaim the term “Anglican” for themselves.”

    we had to identify and differentiate ourselves somehow. we had to show that we refused to embrace the liberal moral relativism that has so apparently replaced biblical theology. i wouldn’t worry about any perceptions about TEC, they are fading into oblivion as a denom and ACNA may end up going the same way…

  • Pingback: “Anglican” or “Episcopalian”? The answer depends on the value of tradition according to this study | Fr. Orthohippo()

  • Harry W Shipps

    “Tradition” means different things to different people. There are many Biblical traditions traditionalists would’nt think of following.
    Discipline, Doctrine and Dogma are better guidelines.
    Disipline can be changed, as it is in the Roman Church.
    Doctrine is firmly rooted in historic theology.
    Dogma is basic. For example the Nicene and Apostles Creed.
    So where in this mix does the homosexuality issue fit? Ordination of women? Remarriage after divorce?
    I suggest Discipline.

    I suggest Discipline

  • slavophile

    The value of tradition? Really, that’s the difference?? My jaded intuition detects a smokescreen here: the intent to create a false impression perhaps? TEC desperately wants you to believe that the difference is minimal, when it’s actually a great gulf that cannot be passed (Luke 16:26). Or perhaps you’ve already forgotten your discipleship training (TEC) from the early nineties with its edifying suppositions like: Maybe God is really pure evil, and only tricking us into believing that He’s good. What sort of “disciple” was that supposed to make of me? Thanks be to God for the Bible, where I learned instead to, “shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness (2Tim 2:16).” How prophetic! And let’s have some honesty here in relation to “valuing” tradition, which seems to me a ridiculous concept when subject to gradation or degree. To not “value” tradition is to disdain, scorn, abandon, and neglect it. And that’s the evening news in a nutshell!

  • Byron

    In the United States, there is NO SUCH THING as “Anglican” that is not part of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church is Anglican and the only group recognized by the See of Canterbury.

    Anglicanism IS NOT a “denomination” it is “a way” of being Christian, a world-wide communion.

    Despite what people want to believe, think, say, or have been taught, in the United States there IS NO SUCH thing as Anglicanism outside of the Episcopal Church.

    Those who have left the Episcopal Church have left the Anglican Communion.
    They are a form of a “non-denominational” hodge podge, individual Christians who like the Book of Common Prayer, but don’t like gay people, women priests, or democrats. They don’t want to “love those people.”

    They should join the Southern Baptist Convention, and would but they still believe in divorce and remarriage and don’t want to have to hide their love for beer and scotch.


  • Kim O’Neil

    Byron—I like what your wrote, however, I feel the need to clarify a bit, so please indulge me here.
    If I may summarize your post, this is what I hear you saying:
    No connection to the See of Canterbury, no connection to using the label “Anglican.” In other words, anyone who is disconnected (formally or informally) from being received by the Episcopal Church in the United States cannot claim any connection whatsoever to being a true-blue Anglican in anyway shape or form! If one isn’t dubbed (recognized) by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is the hierarchical head of the See of Canterbury (Church of England) then one cannot claim to be “one of his” breed…i.e. there is no authentic Anglican “blood” or “genes.” One can pretend to have the “Patrimony,” but under the microscope and with “DNA testing”…sorry, but, no. Do I have this correct?
    I agree with this, however, we must remember that King Henry the VIII was a practicing Roman Catholic until he had all those difficult marital issues, and broke himself and his country away from the See of Peter. So if we think of the fact that at one time, there is ONE CHURCH with many buildings (different “Sees”) and we study how “the baton got passed,” we ‘kinda must revise the question a bit and deal with issues of episcopacy (i.e. who’s ‘ya daddy?). So the question must change, aye? We must really, for the salvation of our souls, be concerned with how each of us are individually related (connected, i.e. like with a belly button!) to the historical Church, as opposed to HOW (due to our US government’s protection of our “religious freedoms”) we might want to express the reality of our Christian profession. As one studies Church history, one will notice how special the “Anglican” contributions have been to Mother Church. They have always held a very special place even up to this very day… as they have led to the creation of the See of Peter’s creation of Anglican Coetibus, granting a separate English Rite within the Western lung of the Church. This is miraculous and a genuine healing of that horrid Church Schism that occurred when that great and wonderful King of our Motherland, King Henry VIII, didn’t get his way in holy matrimony! Yes, the question for our souls is bigger than “denominational” clarification. It clearly is one of unity with the historical Church of the West, and how each of us can play our parts in being about Her holiness, unity and beauty. Thanks for reading.

  • MisterDavid


    It seems you are saying that ‘Anglican’ is no more and no less than communion with Canterbury – is that correct?

    I have a problem with that (I’m an English Anglican, btw). Under your definition, a church/diocese/province could reject the Creeds, the BCP, the 39 Articles, Scripture-Reason-Tradition, and even the Trinity itself, but until it formally had its ties with Canterbury cut, it would still be Anglican. And, conversely, a group could hold, in detail, to every facet of Anglican theology and ecclesiology, but until the moment that it is formally received into the Anglican Communion, it cannot be Anglican.

    Surely that doesn’t make sense, it implies that you can be thoroughly Anglican without actually being a Christian at all.

  • Byron

    What I said is, if Episcopalians break communion with the Episcopal Church they have essentially broken communion with the Anglican Church.

    No church in the United States, outside of the Episcopal Church, is a part of the Anglican Communion. It doesn’t matter how many friend you have in Africa who like your “theology.”

  • Byron

    Thank you, Kim for your gracious and clearly articulated post.

  • Ken

    There is an “official” Anglican Communion that consists of 44 churches and even has its own web-site. The Episcopal Church (of which I am a member) is the only U.S. church that is a member of the Anglican Communion. If you talk about churches that worship in the Anglican tradition, I think that is a much broader term and includes all of those churches that broke away from the Episcopal Church after both the revision of the prayer book in 1979 and the recent unpleasantness created by those (on both sides) who wanted to fight about their sexual preferences in church.

  • Thank you Tobin for this very interesting article.

    Another aspect of the debate between conservative Anglicans and Episcopalians in the US is the public persona of Episcopalians being ’embracing’ and ‘accepting’ while waging $40 million of legal action against the property, bank accounts, wages and pensions of anyone who wants to leave the Episcopal structure over matters of doctrine and practice. Not so kind in private perhaps, but acting like a voracious corporation it seems: