Do you believe that the gospel miracles are mostly historical facts, mostly the gospel writers' interpretations, or mostly legends? (Choose one.)
Would you approve or disapprove of a merger of the Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church?
In general, do you think the Episcopal Church is too "trendy" or too old-fashioned?
Episcopal Church leaders are seething over these and similar questions on a Gallup poll, which reduce complex theological and sociological issues to simplistic yes or no answers.
The 41-question survey is currently being conducted by the Gallup organization for the Prayer Book Society, a group of traditionalist Episcopalians that opposes the updating of the Book of Common Prayer adopted by the church six years ago and the decision, nine years ago, to ordain women.
The group has also criticized the church for its involvement in social issues and for its ecumenical ties with other churches.
The society is funding the poll " . . . to compare or contrast the actions of the General Convention with the real attitudes of most Episcopalians, both laity and clergy," said the Rev. James Law, the society's survey coordinator.
One of the organization's contentions is that most Episcopalians don't support the actions of the church's democratically elected representatives.
But church leaders contend that the questions are phrased to distort issues in order to produce answers that will support the society's agenda.
"The questionnaire illustrates for me one very important fact: you let me write the questions asked and I will get you the answers you want," said The Rev. John R. Frizzell Jr. of St. Alban's Episcopal Church in Annandale. Frizzell, who has been chosen by Virginia Episcopalians as a deputy to the church's national General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., in September, was so annoyed when he got the questionnaire that he preached a sermon about it.
Citing the question about a merger with the Catholic Church, Frizzell said, "Clearly, anyone who takes seriously the words of our Lord that 'there shall be one flock and one Shepherd' is committed to the reunion of the church . . . . Yet the questions do not even recognize the complexities of reunion."
A merger of Roman Catholic and Anglican churches has never been on the agenda of either body. Even after decades of high-level theological talks, members of the two churches still cannot receive holy communion together.
The question about a Catholic "merger" follows one about another possible merger. "Certain denominations in the U.S., including the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, are considering merging into one denomination. Would you approve or disapprove of this?" the questionnaire asks.
This is an apparent reference to the 25-year-old Consultation on Church Union, which last year reached tentative agreement on the bases for cooperation and a "covenant" relationship among nine Protestant denominations.
Provost Charles Perry of the Washington Cathedral pointed out, "Never, even in COCU's heyday" -- in the years immediately after it was proposed -- "was there ever any consideration of 'merger.' "
With these two questions leading the questionnaire, "it starts out getting the people angry before they even get to the prayer book question," Perry said.
George Gallup Jr. said the questionnaire went to all Episcopal bishops, a random sampling of Episcopal clergy, delegates to the General Convention and a sampling of Episcopal laity nationwide. He said results should be tabulated in about two weeks.
National church leaders, including Presiding Bishop John M. Allin, protested directly to Gallup because the questionnaire included a straw vote on the church's new presiding bishop, a choice that will be made by the church's House of Bishops at September's General Convention. Bishop Alexander D. Stewart, Allin's executive assistant, appealed to Gallup not to release the response to this question "to the press as though this were the New Hampshire primary."
In a telephone interview, George Gallup Jr. conceded national church leaders "were indeed upset." He said the question about the next presiding bishop "was put on as an afterthought" and that the Prayer Book Society "did not intend to release the results before the convention."
Frizzell criticized the oversimplification of complex issues in the question which asked whether it should "be the role of the Episcopal Church to be an agent of political change in the United States?"
"Any Christian who believes in the biblical call for love and justice cannot be content with any social order which ignores either or both, and every social order -- dictatorship, monarchy or democracy -- will ignore them in some way."
Gallup, who said he was getting a great deal of criticism about the poll in the returned questionnaires, said he stood by the questions. "We studied them very carefully, we pretested them. I'm not uncomfortable with the questionnaire."
This is the third poll done for the Prayer Book Society by Gallup, a "born-again" Episcopal layman who toyed briefly with entering the priesthood. He is one of the few professional pollsters who surveys religious topics, but some religious researchers believe his personal religious convictions sometimes color his research findings.
"There is a conflict of interest between his churchmanship and his interpretive role," said the research director of a major Protestant denomination who asked not to be named.