Artificial Intelligence and the Episcopal Church

ChatGPT flow chart from

Review by Kirk Petersen

Artificial intelligence has been much in the news of late, particularly ChatGPT, a creation of OpenAI, which instantly begins spitting out detailed answers when a question is entered.

Articles about ChatGPT generally fall in one of two categories:

  1. Gee whiz, this is so cool! (Despite its inaccuracies and other flaws.)
  2. Artificial intelligence raises significant concerns about the future of learning. As the technology improves, will AI undercut the need for research and writing skills, much like calculators have undercut basic math skills?

The pedagogical concerns are real and important, and are considered in a separate essay on our Covenant blog. This is a gee-whiz article. To co-opt a Russian proverb, the marvel is not that the bear dances well, but that it dances at all.

I asked ChatGPT a series of questions about the Episcopal Church. The answers ranged from quite sophisticated to quite wrong. Here are some of the questions and responses, annotated in italics. Some responses have been shortened.

Explain the schism in the Episcopal Church in the early 2000s.

In the early 2000s, the Episcopal Church experienced a significant schism, or division, over issues related to theology, governance, and social issues.

The primary cause of the schism was the ordination of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. (It would be more accurate to describe this as the “precipitating event”; cf. Archduke Ferdinand, assassination of.) Robinson’s ordination in 2003 was strongly opposed by some members of the church, who argued that it was contrary to traditional Christian teachings on sexuality and marriage.

The ordination of Gene Robinson and other issues related to human sexuality, such as the blessing of same-sex unions, led to a significant rift within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. …

As a result of the schism, some conservative members of the Episcopal Church, including some bishops and congregations, withdrew from the denomination and formed new, more conservative Anglican churches. The schism had significant consequences for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and the issues that led to the schism continue to be sources of tension and disagreement within the church.

Grade: A (Excellent, despite a minor quibble; nuanced and impartial)

Who is the president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church?

The President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church is the leader and chief spokesperson for the House of Deputies, which is one of the two houses of the General Convention, the highest legislative body of the Episcopal Church. The President of the House of Deputies is elected by the House of Deputies and serves as a co-presider of the General Convention, along with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

As of 2021, the President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church is the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings. Jennings was elected as President of the House of Deputies in 2015 and is serving her second term in office. (No: She was re-elected in 2015 and was serving her third term in office in 2021. This answer also demonstrates a systemic shortcoming: ChatGPT’s knowledge base has not been updated extensively since 2021. Julia Ayala Harris was elected to the role in 2022.)

Grade: B-plus (drops to a C if points are deducted for 2021 cutoff)

How many issues has The Living Church magazine published?

The Living Church is a weekly magazine (Outdated: TLC transitioned to a biweekly schedule in 2011, and to a monthly schedule in 2023) that covers news, events, and issues related to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. The magazine has been in continuous publication since 1878 and has published thousands of issues over its long history.

It is not possible to determine the exact number of issues that The Living Church has published, as this information is not readily available. (The February 19, 2023 edition, in which this review first appeared, is the 7,017th issue of TLC. “Not possible” is overstated, but “not readily available” is spot on. Editor Mark Michael did a lot of research to come up with that number. No points deducted.)

The Living Church is a respected and influential source of news and analysis for the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. (Sucking up for a better grade?) It covers a wide range of topics and issues, including theology, liturgy, governance, social justice, and current events. The magazine is published in print and online and is available by subscription.

Grade: A-minus (including extra credit for “respected and influential”)

How many dioceses are in the Episcopal Church?

As of 2021, there are 101 dioceses in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (close enough; it depends on how you define a diocese. But this neglects the fact that some of the dioceses are in other countries). A diocese is a geographical division of the church that is headed by a bishop and is responsible for the oversight and governance of the church within a specific region.

The Episcopal Church is organized into nine provinces, which are regional divisions that include multiple dioceses. The provinces are:

  1. The Province of the Atlantic States
  2. The Province of the Midwest
  3. The Province of New England
  4. The Province of New York
  5. The Province of Newark
  6. The Province of the Southeast
  7. The Province of the Southwest
  8. The Province of the Virginias
  9. The Province of the West

(Not even close. There are in fact nine provinces, and Province VII is known as the Province of the Southwest, but every other part of this section is wrong. See Wikipedia or the Episcopal Church’s website.)

Each diocese is headed by a bishop who is responsible for the spiritual and administrative leadership of the church within the diocese. The dioceses of the Episcopal Church are diverse and serve a wide range of communities and congregations throughout the United States.

Grade: D (Rises to B if you omit the section on the provinces)

Which is the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church?

It is not possible to determine the largest diocese of the Episcopal Church based on the number of parishes or congregations alone, as the size of a diocese can also be influenced by factors such as the geographical size of the diocese, the population of the region, and the number of lay and clergy members.

That being said, some of the larger dioceses of the Episcopal Church in terms of membership and geographical size include:

  1. The Diocese of Texas, which covers the entire state of Texas (No: Texas includes four complete dioceses and part of a fifth) and has more than 70,000 members.
  2. The Diocese of Los Angeles, which covers the counties of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Ventura (also San Bernadino, Orange, and part of Riverside) and has more than 70,000 members (actually, 44,000).
  3. The Diocese of Ohio, which covers the entire state of Ohio (the Bishop of Southern Ohio begs to differ) and has more than 50,000 members (the two Ohio dioceses combined have about 33,000 members; even the combined diocese would not rank in the top 10).
  4. The Diocese of Central Florida, which covers the central part of the state of Florida and has more than 45,000 members (No: 24,000, ranking about 20th).
  5. The Diocese of New York, which covers the boroughs of Manhattan, Staten Island, and parts of the Bronx (plus seven counties north of New York City) and has more than 45,000 members.

Again, it is important to note that the size of a diocese is not the only factor that determines its importance or influence within the Episcopal Church. All dioceses, regardless of size, play a vital role in the life and mission of the church. (Nice touch.)

Grade: C-minus (comprehensive data is readily available, although it’s tricky to pluck precise answers to questions like this from the tables. The Diocese of Haiti, which operates a network of more than 200 schools, reported just under 100,000 baptized members in 2021. The second-largest diocese is Texas, with more than 73,000 baptized members. Virginia, Massachusetts, and New York round out the top five.)

How many U.S. Presidents have been Episcopalian?

Several U.S. Presidents have been Episcopalian, including:

  1. George Washington
  2. James Monroe
  3. John Quincy Adams
  4. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  5. Gerald Ford
  6. George H.W. Bush
  7. George W. Bush (cradle Episcopalian, but United Methodist while in office)

(Eleven presidents were Episcopalian while in office — nearly one of every four, the most of any denomination. This list omits William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, and Chester Arthur — all ranked by historians as among the worst presidents in history.)

Grade: Incomplete

What do Episcopalians believe?

Episcopalians are Christians who belong to the Episcopal Church, a mainline Protestant denomination that is part of the Anglican Communion. Episcopalians share many beliefs with other Christians, including belief in one God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; belief in the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ; and belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God.

Episcopalians also believe in the historic creeds of the Christian faith, including the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, which summarize the central beliefs of the Christian faith.

In terms of theology, Episcopalians are generally considered to be part of the broad middle ground of Christian belief, between more liberal denominations on one side and more conservative denominations on the other. Episcopalians generally place a strong emphasis on reason, tradition, and scriptural authority in matters of faith and practice.

Episcopalians are also known for their liturgical worship, which includes the use of the Book of Common Prayer and the celebration of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, at each Sunday service. The Episcopal Church is also committed to social justice and works to promote peace, justice, and reconciliation in the world.

Grade: A

In the Episcopal Church, what are the arguments for and against same-sex marriage?

Some argue in favor of same-sex marriage on the grounds that it affirms the equality and dignity of all people, including LGBTQ+ individuals. Others argue that the Bible teaches that marriage is between a man and a woman and that same-sex marriage is therefore not in line with the teachings of the Church.

Those who support same-sex marriage often point to the fact that the Episcopal Church has a long history of working to include and welcome all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They argue that the Church has a responsibility to recognize and support loving, committed relationships between people of the same sex, just as it does for opposite-sex couples.

On the other hand, those who are opposed to same-sex marriage may argue that the Bible clearly states that marriage is between a man and a woman and that the Church should not deviate from this teaching. They may also argue that allowing same-sex marriage would go against the traditional understanding of marriage and the natural order of things.

It’s important to note that within the Episcopal Church, there is a diversity of opinions on this issue, and people of good faith can hold different viewpoints on this matter.

Grade: A-plus (stuck the landing with the last sentence)


Online Archives