Remembering that this is a journalist speaking and not a sophisticated theologian and ecclesiologist, Stanley puts the situation in this way:
"In fact, giving up your Sunday morning to sit in a cold temple listening to a kazoo band playing Nearer My God To Thee is, for most people, a perverse thing to choose to do. Ergo, it is not enough to get them into the pews by saying, “We've driven out the bigots!” – ministers now how to convince the public that church attendance is in their personal interest. And conservatives are better at doing this than liberals because the product they are selling makes a stronger claim for its value to the individual.
Think of faith as operating within a highly competitive marketplace of ideas. Faith is no longer a product that people presume they need and are looking to buy (soap or shoes). Instead it has become a luxury item, or something that they have to be convinced that they might want (a sports car or a puppy). What kind of luxury is more likely to sell? Liberal Christianity is wracked with doubt, ducks strong conclusions and often seems to apologise for its own existence. Its liturgy is a confusing blend of styles and belief systems – just take a look at this colourful consecration of an Episcopalian bishop in Los Angeles. What do these people believe, and how is it relevant to me?
By contrast, the conservative Christian product is a zinger. It screams loudly that it is the only way to Heaven, its Protestant services tend to be packed and charismatic, and its theology is straight-forward and uncompromising."
What about life in the Anglican church in these islands? I suggest it is pretty much the same situation. Liberal or progressive congregations are small, getting smaller, and on the way out. And that's a worry because we are talking about some pretty big swathes of parishes through our dioceses and hui amorangi. In part, the debate I have highlighted here at our General Synod re the 50:50 split in control of St John's College Trust Board funds is a consequence of a church with falling congregations and declining offertories. The real response of General Synod to tino rangatiratanga as a body of leadership in our church should be an examination of mission and evangelism strategy for the 21st century.
As with many matters touched on here, the biggest question before us as a church is the question, What is the gospel? If our 'gospel' is, in Stanley's terms, about a 'luxury' and not a 'necessity' of life, then we have no future in the post-modern world where many luxuries are available and few choices about necessities cannot be put off till another day. For all conservative Christianity's faults, it still conveys a conviction that the gospel is (pun intended) crucial to life. Ergo, in the two cities I have lived in over the last twelve and a half years, the largest churches have been conservative in theology (including healthy Catholic churches). I have said it before here but will keep saying it, the state of Anglicanism relative to Christianity in these islands is such that if all Anglicans disappeared tomorrow (in the rapture?) then Christianity would carry on strongly, healthily and mostly conservatively.
POSTSCRIPT: In connection with the above, Kendall Harmon is worth a watch-and-listen here.