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An Episcopal timeline victory

vgr circle 02Readers who follow the Anglican wars know that one of the official GetReligion hobby horses is that this ecclesiastical drama is unfolding on several levels at the same time. If you only focus on the American angle, you tend to lean left (Tiny conservative movement attempts to split the U.S. Episcopal Church to defend old-fashioned dogmas).

If you only focus on the global level, you tend to lean right (Tiny liberal churches in the First World causing schism by promoting doctrinal innovations that are rejected by majority of the world's Anglicans).

It's all about who's causing an evil "schism," right? Who has to wear the black mitres?

But there's another idea that we have continued to promote, another piece of a popular Episcopal wars story template that is simply inaccurate. For a long time now, many reporters have based their stories on the assumption that all of this fighting began with the ordination of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly noncelibate gay bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Things were rolling along toward tolerant modernity and then the church consecrated a gay bishop and the nasty traditionalists went ballistic.

Forget all of those other fights that have been going on for decades. This is just about homosexuality. Forget Bishop James Pike. Forget Bishop John Shelby Spong. Forget all kinds of stuff in a long and very complicated timeline.

Even if the issue is homosexuality, one need only flash back to 1979 and those controversial guidelines that showed where the fault lines were developing in the House of Bishops. The key passage read:

There are many human conditions, some of them in the area of sexuality, which bear upon a person's suitability for ordination; Every ordinand is expected to lead a life which is "a wholesome example to all people" (Book of Common Prayer, pp. 517, 532, 544). There should be no barrier to the ordination of qualified persons of either heterosexual or homosexual orientation whose behavior the Church considers wholesome. ...

So with that in mind, let us celebrate the top of this New York Times story about the D-Day that is now facing Episcopalians in Pittsburgh:

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will vote Saturday on whether to secede from the national church, part of the continuing fallout from 30 years of theological disputes that boiled over five years ago after an openly gay bishop was elected and consecrated in New Hampshire.

If it does vote to secede, as expected, Pittsburgh would become the second diocese to vote to leave the American branch of the Anglican Communion, which has 2.4 million members. The diocese in San Joaquin, Calif., voted to secede last December. Two other dioceses, in Fort Worth and in Quincy, Ill., are contemplating similar votes.

Should a split occur, the Pittsburgh Diocese intends to align itself with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, a theologically conservative province that covers six nations in South America. The San Joaquin Diocese also joined that province.

Now the lede does put this fight in the U.S. context. But, hey, it is The New York Times, after all. New York is everything, the center of the universe (and one can make a strong case for that for Episcopalians).

However, note that a glimpse of that longer timeline does make it into the lede as well, one that hints at conflict that is wider than mere sexuality. Of course, I am referring to this language -- the "continuing fallout from 30 years of theological disputes that boiled over five years ago."

I am sure that combatants on both sides might quibble with some of that, but this language is a major improvement. I know that lots of editors and reporters tend to look to the Times for leadership, when trying to decide how to frame these kinds of complex, multi-level stories. This is one case where I hope they do so. Progress! Photo: The consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson

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